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Author Topic: Glorifying 'Woo'  (Read 1450 times)

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Offline SabbyTopic starter

Glorifying 'Woo'
« on: January 14, 2014, 12:45:42 AM »
Update, since I seem to have conveyed myself rather poorly here :/ I hope this is clearer, but I'll leave the old explanation there anyway.

The instances I'm referring to (take any random appearance of a Shaman to heal a main character in films) are ones I take issue with simply for the disconnect between the things they impart and the importance they carry. It's word salad being propped up as wisdom, and it's almost universal. What frustrates me is I don't understand why this is so universal. What is the appeal of it? Why do so many writers resort to it? What is it about the reader/viewer/player that makes it so prevalent?




It seems no matter the kind of media I end up watching, there's this unwritten appreciation and even respect for the 'mystical'. Shamans, mystics, fortune tellers and spiritual peddlers of any kind are always presented with near reverence in films. Recently I played Far Cry 3, and a few lines of vague dialogue about 'the will of the forest' were treated with such respect and importance, and even ended up being the entire foundation of the main characters story arc. Vague nonsense was used as his transformation from a blind sheep to a free spirit.

Personally, I'm getting sick of it. Every time a main character almost dies, right on cue there's a Native American shaman to raise him back to health and drone silliness that means nothing, while the scene is telling me to sit down and soak it in as if it were important.

Why is this woo so glorified in films and games? Is it white guilt, or a secular need for worship?
« Last Edit: January 14, 2014, 07:15:29 AM by Sabby »

Offline Inkidu

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Re: Glorifying 'Woo'
« Reply #1 on: January 14, 2014, 06:29:57 AM »
I would argue that reverence for the nature isn't necessarily the need to worship God, or gods, at least, not anymore.

It probably comes from some form of societal guilt at industrial and post-industrial humankind for not living what is seen as an idyllic, simple lifestyle that came out various environmentalist movements throughout the sixties, seventies, and onto into today.

There's a few tropes that go along with it, but I think Magical Native American might be a good starting point.

The truth is people have always tried to ascribe a more noble aura to the agrarian shaman. There is the Native American shaman, the African medicine man. The term is generally referred to as the Noble Savage, and if you want to read a book that subverts the hell out of it, go find William Goldings The Lord of the Flies.

Personally, I'm kind of in your camp, Sabby, I often think it's more disrespectful than not.

EDIT: Let me ask you a question.

In Far Cry 3 you were sick of the Rakyat mysticism regarding their island, right?

However, you're also playing Dishonored, so how do you feel about the more Lovecraftian Outsider?

If what I'm thinking is right the former irks and the latter would not.

Although I found Far Cry 3 a bit of a subversion of the magical nature thing. It turned him into a monster who was actually just a little bit better than the people he was fighting. Literally a lesser of two evils.
« Last Edit: January 14, 2014, 06:39:06 AM by Inkidu »

Offline SabbyTopic starter

Re: Glorifying 'Woo'
« Reply #2 on: January 14, 2014, 06:56:10 AM »
See, my issue with Far Cry 3 wasn't the presence of the woo. I can deal with woo. It was the reverence. Your introductory character, the one who is your walking tutorial, couldn't form a coherent sentence, it was just me asking "No, wait, what do I do now?" and him throwing an adlib at me. "Follow the voice of the forest and you will find the path" It's his only interacting with me, and thus it's the entirety of the character. Considering I eventually do become 'one with nature', his ridiculous, nonsensical mumblings is what set me on the path.

With Dishonored, I don't consider it to be woo. The more mystical elements are presented as an organic and believable part of the world. It feels like it should be there, and I actually gain something from it, most likely in the way the writers intended for me.

Quote from: Skeptics Dictionary
Woo-woo (or just plain woo) refers to ideas considered irrational or based on extremely flimsy evidence or that appeal to mysterious occult forces or powers.

This is what I'm referring to when I say 'woo' is glorified in the media.


Offline Kythia

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Re: Glorifying 'Woo'
« Reply #3 on: January 14, 2014, 07:00:47 AM »
I haven't played any of the games, but in fairness "woo" doesn't seem to apply in this case (all I know is the quote you just gave).  Guy tells you to listen to the voice of the forest and become one with nature, you do so.  That's based on pretty solid evidence and, while it may appeal to mysterious occult forces, they are real ones.

Offline Inkidu

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Re: Glorifying 'Woo'
« Reply #4 on: January 14, 2014, 07:04:51 AM »
See, my issue with Far Cry 3 wasn't the presence of the woo. I can deal with woo. It was the reverence. Your introductory character, the one who is your walking tutorial, couldn't form a coherent sentence, it was just me asking "No, wait, what do I do now?" and him throwing an adlib at me. "Follow the voice of the forest and you will find the path" It's his only interacting with me, and thus it's the entirety of the character. Considering I eventually do become 'one with nature', his ridiculous, nonsensical mumblings is what set me on the path.

With Dishonored, I don't consider it to be woo. The more mystical elements are presented as an organic and believable part of the world. It feels like it should be there, and I actually gain something from it, most likely in the way the writers intended for me.

This is what I'm referring to when I say 'woo' is glorified in the media.
Well, I'm not going to get into how flimsy or not it is and stick using spiritualistic or occult more than evidence (since we're talking about fiction anyway). However, woo is kind of what a lot of what the magical Native American and his related tropes run on. I get what you're saying. There's a disconnect between what Denis is telling you and how the game works.

Willing suspension of disbelief aside, it does sound pretty hokey. Though again after weighing the events of the game I have to say it might as well be the video game version of The Lord of the Flies. I think by the end if you aren't thinking that their mystical reverence for that jungle isn't crazy you've missed something. That's just my interpretation though.

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Re: Glorifying 'Woo'
« Reply #5 on: January 14, 2014, 07:08:18 AM »
With video games in particular, there are a couple things that almost beg for the concept of 'woo'.  One is the idea of unrealistic damage (because no designer wants to consider months of recuperation after the baddy takes you to one health unit), and the other is 'what the hell is my character's motivation?' 

Offline Inkidu

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Re: Glorifying 'Woo'
« Reply #6 on: January 14, 2014, 07:09:46 AM »
With video games in particular, there are a couple things that almost beg for the concept of 'woo'.  One is the idea of unrealistic damage (because no designer wants to consider months of recuperation after the baddy takes you to one health unit), and the other is 'what the hell is my character's motivation?'
They're getting better of the latter, but the former stays the same. :)

Offline SabbyTopic starter

Re: Glorifying 'Woo'
« Reply #7 on: January 14, 2014, 07:12:17 AM »
I think I'm not properly conveying my issue with this, so I'll try and restate and update the OP.

I have no issue with the presence of woo.

The instances I'm referring to (take any random appearance of a Shaman to heal a main character in films) are ones I take issue with simply for the disconnect between the things they impart and the importance they carry. It's word salad being propped up as wisdom, and it's almost universal. What frustrates me is I don't understand why this is so universal. What is the appeal of it? Why do so many writers resort to it? What is it about the reader/viewer/player that makes it so prevalent?

I hope that makes more sense.
« Last Edit: January 14, 2014, 07:16:19 AM by Sabby »

Offline Inkidu

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Re: Glorifying 'Woo'
« Reply #8 on: January 14, 2014, 07:15:58 AM »
I think I'm not properly conveying my issue with this, so I'll try and restate and update the OP.

I have issue with the presence of woo.

The instances I'm referring to (take any random appearance of a Shaman to heal a main character in films) are ones I take issue with simply for the disconnect between the things they impart and the importance they carry. It's word salad being propped up as wisdom, and it's almost universal. What frustrates me is I don't understand why this is so universal.

I hope that makes more sense.
Oh... you mean the nonsensical proverbs. Like a bad version of say:

"Wisdom and virtue are two wheels on the same cart,"

or

"Don't chase two rabbits, or you will lose them both"?
« Last Edit: January 14, 2014, 07:18:31 AM by Inkidu »

Offline SabbyTopic starter

Re: Glorifying 'Woo'
« Reply #9 on: January 14, 2014, 07:19:55 AM »
No. Lets take the medicine man scene, since I've seen it so often and it seems to be a good example. The main character is healed by a Native American. Fine, no issue there. But the characters interactions with the shaman are always presented with such a heavy sense of importance, like the shamans intervention and his words (which are usually very typical and vague) carry some weight that is disproportionate.

If that were only a singular event, I would have no issue, but it's such a prevalent scene, and there are so many like it, and I just want to understand why.

Offline Inkidu

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Re: Glorifying 'Woo'
« Reply #10 on: January 14, 2014, 07:22:14 AM »
No. Lets take the medicine man scene, since I've seen it so often and it seems to be a good example. The main character is healed by a Native American. Fine, no issue there. But the characters interactions with the shaman are always presented with such a heavy sense of importance, like the shamans intervention and his words (which are usually very typical and vague) carry some weight that is disproportionate.

If that were only a singular event, I would have no issue, but it's such a prevalent scene, and there are so many like it, and I just want to understand why.
Is it like the Native American version of say, "God has guided you to me"?

Offline SabbyTopic starter

Re: Glorifying 'Woo'
« Reply #11 on: January 14, 2014, 07:24:15 AM »
I really don't how else to restate myself.

Offline Inkidu

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Re: Glorifying 'Woo'
« Reply #12 on: January 14, 2014, 07:30:57 AM »
I really don't how else to restate myself.
Well I'm looking for a more-specific instance of what the medicine man/shaman says. You're being kind of general and vague about it. Like give me a scene from a movie or a book, is the pseudo-Native American stuff from Avatar (film) for instance? Is it some scene from Dances With Wolves? I'm going to need a little more than Dennis spouting stuff about the island. Because when he tells you the jungle will guide you it might seem hokey because there's no mechanic that does that, but in Native American folklore the equivalent line would mean remember that moss grows on the north face of trees, and don't eat the yellow snow.  I know you've seen a lot of instances of it, but if you can't really pull one or two instances of the worst it's hard for people to nail down what you're talking about.

Because I've seen several scenes were it's done well and imparts some genuine wisdom. :\

Offline Kythia

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Re: Glorifying 'Woo'
« Reply #13 on: January 14, 2014, 07:34:44 AM »
I think I get you.

In universe its simple.  Native American shamen (e.g.) actually do have the power to heal you or raise you from the dead.  That's a pretty big deal.  And while their cryptic utterances may seem trivial, the in-universe explanation is presumably that you're insufficiently enlightened/in touch with nature/whatever to understand them.  That's why you're not healing yourself or raising yourself from the dead.

Out of universe, there are likely a few reasons.  First, philosophy is hard and takes a lot of time to understand.  Vaguely worded statements have all the trappings of philosophy and signal that "this is deep" without you having to pore over line after line of dialogue establishing a position from first principles (you should play Socrates Jones BTW).  They're Native American Shamen or whatever because then there's no influential real world religion to be offended by the misrepresentation.  Arguably no real world religion at all, but that's an entirely different conversation.  Finally - that I can think of for the moment -  and you touch on it in your "secular need for worship" (you should read de Botton's "Religion for Atheists") it's tied in to a feeling of "there must be more to this" that is prevalent and growing.  Same as the western popularity of faux-Buddhism, crystals and whatnot.

Offline SabbyTopic starter

Re: Glorifying 'Woo'
« Reply #14 on: January 14, 2014, 07:45:42 AM »
Your asking for specifics words, when my issue is the general incoherency of the words and the disproportionate respect/importance of them. I can try and give an example if it will help you to understand what irritates me.

To start with, lets keep it to realistic settings that are for the most part supposed to reflect the word as we know it. So Kythias points about how it may make sense 'in setting' are irrelevant. As I said with my explanation of Dishonored, I don't count it's mystical elements as woo since they have an importance that is proportionate to their presence.

Okay, for an example, a western movie where the main character is injured and found by a Shaman. The Shaman heals him, and before they part ways, he says something to the effect of "Your body is weak, but your spirit is strong, like a wolf. Look to that, for it shall guide you"

Now, the dialogue itself isn't the issue. In the scene, as I've typically experienced it, there is usually a very somber and serious tone, often with a drawn out conclusion, like watching the shaman leave to a sunrise with very moving music meant to evoke reaction from you, as if something very important just happened. The events end up having a lasting effect, as they are referenced by other characters as if they were an otherworldly event that lended great or new meaning to the main character.

My issue is that the scene is trying so very hard to make me respect this or to see importance in it, and it never succeeds. My issue isn't with the attempt itself, it's the consistently limp execution, as if there was some need to impart this kind of message, but rarely a successful attempt.

Offline Inkidu

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Re: Glorifying 'Woo'
« Reply #15 on: January 14, 2014, 09:14:35 AM »
Your asking for specifics words, when my issue is the general incoherency of the words and the disproportionate respect/importance of them. I can try and give an example if it will help you to understand what irritates me.

To start with, lets keep it to realistic settings that are for the most part supposed to reflect the word as we know it. So Kythias points about how it may make sense 'in setting' are irrelevant. As I said with my explanation of Dishonored, I don't count it's mystical elements as woo since they have an importance that is proportionate to their presence.

Okay, for an example, a western movie where the main character is injured and found by a Shaman. The Shaman heals him, and before they part ways, he says something to the effect of "Your body is weak, but your spirit is strong, like a wolf. Look to that, for it shall guide you"

Now, the dialogue itself isn't the issue. In the scene, as I've typically experienced it, there is usually a very somber and serious tone, often with a drawn out conclusion, like watching the shaman leave to a sunrise with very moving music meant to evoke reaction from you, as if something very important just happened. The events end up having a lasting effect, as they are referenced by other characters as if they were an otherworldly event that lended great or new meaning to the main character.

My issue is that the scene is trying so very hard to make me respect this or to see importance in it, and it never succeeds. My issue isn't with the attempt itself, it's the consistently limp execution, as if there was some need to impart this kind of message, but rarely a successful attempt.
Okay, I think I get what you're driving at. I'd consider it a combination of my first post, general bad writing, and the fact that most of the tropes of Westerns have fallen into the cliche pile from about forty plus years of overuse, most others you can drop the last reason. In general I think they want the character to sound pithy and there's a long history of the wise-man/mentor character in literature.

It's sort of what people have accused the Jedi off being in universe and out. Mistaking cryptic and vague phrasing for something wise. :\

Offline SabbyTopic starter

Re: Glorifying 'Woo'
« Reply #16 on: January 14, 2014, 09:20:41 AM »
Okay, I think I get what you're driving at. I'd consider it a combination of my first post, general bad writing, and the fact that most of the tropes of Westerns have fallen into the cliche pile from about forty plus years of overuse

Huh... I had never considered that. Interesting.

Offline Shjade

Re: Glorifying 'Woo'
« Reply #17 on: January 14, 2014, 10:33:11 AM »
There's also the very simple explanation that goes like this:

Dude just raised you from the dead. Chances are you're going to take whatever he tells you pretty seriously even if he sounds like a complete loon.

Why?

Dude just raised you from the dead.

If his first words after you recovered were, "Bitches don't know 'bout my resurrection," I have a feeling you'd give that phrase more consideration than it really deserves because of the context in which it's said.

Offline Inkidu

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Re: Glorifying 'Woo'
« Reply #18 on: January 14, 2014, 11:07:40 AM »
There's also the very simple explanation that goes like this:

Dude just raised you from the dead. Chances are you're going to take whatever he tells you pretty seriously even if he sounds like a complete loon.

Why?

Dude just raised you from the dead.

If his first words after you recovered were, "Bitches don't know 'bout my resurrection," I have a feeling you'd give that phrase more consideration than it really deserves because of the context in which it's said.
*snerk*

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Re: Glorifying 'Woo'
« Reply #19 on: January 14, 2014, 11:16:15 AM »
If his first words after you recovered were, "Bitches don't know 'bout my resurrection," I have a feeling you'd give that phrase more consideration than it really deserves because of the context in which it's said.

'You've met with a terrible fate, haven't you?'

Offline SabbyTopic starter

Re: Glorifying 'Woo'
« Reply #20 on: January 14, 2014, 11:20:50 AM »
'You've met with a terrible fate, haven't you?'

*shudders*

Offline Shjade

Re: Glorifying 'Woo'
« Reply #21 on: January 14, 2014, 12:23:34 PM »
'You've met with a terrible fate, haven't you?'

Soundtracked that for you. :3

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Re: Glorifying 'Woo'
« Reply #22 on: January 14, 2014, 12:46:41 PM »
*shudders*

I think this would be a good example of 'why the woo'.  For a large number of people, that sort of thing gets a visceral reaction - if it makes no sense and it comes from a mysterious source, it means something.  Game writers like visceral reactions:  The player can't put into words why a certain phrase gives them an ominous or portentous feeling, but the writers know that in 70-90% of the people who play, guys that smile too much look creepy, and word salad makes you hungry half an hour later.

No wait, that's fortune cookies.

Word salad makes you want it to mean something (because words should mean something), and if the character giving you the word salad has a Mystic BackstoryTM, then it must be a mystical meaning.

Offline SabbyTopic starter

Re: Glorifying 'Woo'
« Reply #23 on: January 14, 2014, 12:49:24 PM »
Seems equal parts laziness of the writers and predictability of the readers, but it's a better answer then any other I've gotten.

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Re: Glorifying 'Woo'
« Reply #24 on: January 14, 2014, 12:53:35 PM »
It can also be applied to things like the Voynich Manuscript and the Codex Seraphinianus.  (Both documents have baffled people as to their meaning, but since they are elaborately constructed works, they surely 'have to' mean something.)