there should be a word for this

Of late, it feels like I’ve seen a bunch of TV shows and films (of varying quality) in which there has been embedded the promise of another, slightly different show or film I’d much rather watch, and I am suffering greatly from lack of a term to describe that particular response – you’d think TV Tropes would be able to help but sadly one cannot search for “vague feeling of dissatisfaction that comes from wanting to see a different film only hinted at in the film that was actually produced.” I should also probably clarify before I continue to discuss this that I am not suggesting for a moment that my whimsical preferences would constitute a better artefact than the one produced, irrespective of other flaws and limitations of the text. The truth is response-focused criticism is a delicate art, and one of its major pitfalls is responding to perceived problems by latching onto ‘better’ alternatives. Of course, I partially blame this tendency on people who will respond to your attempt to explain why you didn’t like a text, or particular element of a text, by demanding you justify that reaction by telling them how you would do it better. Which is an utterly ludicrous perspective to take. I don’t need a Michelin star of my own to recognise a dead rat when it’s served to me.

The best term I’ve been able to come up with for the moment is “long form Mondegreen” which doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue but it’ll do for the moment. A Mondegreen, he says, turning all Wikipedia, is simply a form of misheard line or lyric that strikes a deeper chord within the individual than the correct version. I can’t remember who originally coined it but it comes from a mishearing of ‘The Bonny Earl O’Moray’ which contains the following stanza:

Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,
Oh, where hae ye been?
They hae slain the Earl O’ Moray,
And laid him on the green

The misheard version goes:

Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,
Oh, where hae ye been?
They hae slain the Earl O’ Moray,
And Lady Mondegreen

Which, I would agree, is infinitely more interesting – who is this Lady Mondegreen? And why has she been so brutally slain as well? The difference between a Mondegreen and a misheard lyric lies in the personal resonance . I mean, for a very long time I was absolutely convinced that Dido was singing “I want to be a hamster again” in Hunter, which struck me as apposite because I’ve long found her a rather tepid, emotionless singer (as it happens she wants to be a hunter again, not a hamster, I guess the clue was in the name) but I would argue it’s not a mondegreen because, although it’s funny, I don’t actually feel any greater emotional connection to Hamster. I think everyone has their own personal collection of Mondegreens. One of H’s most cherished is from Jay Brannan’s Can’t Have It All, which contains the line “do you want a lover, do you want a life” which is persistently misheard as “do you want a lover, do you want a light.”

A long form Mondegreen, then, is simply a story embedded within a text that has greater value to you than the actual text. It doesn’t have to be massively profound. For example, we watched X-men First Class. It’s quite a fun superhero film, if you like that sort of thing, containing very many pretty people doing cool things, although I will admit the completely ridiculously thing that jarred us both out of the film was a throwaway scene near the beginning where James Mcavoy emerges, smiling, from the Sheldonian having apparently been granted a professionship from Oxford … aged all of twelve. Well. Twenty. But for God’s sake, it does not work over here like it does in America, where they seem to give professorships out like smarties. But, anyway, entertaining film. However, if you ask me, a much superior product would have been: Young Hot Magneto Fights Nazis (that’s a working title).

21st Century Fox? Call me.

I also had a bit of a similar reaction to The Avengers (or The Avengers Assemble as well call it over here) – then my preferred film was Loki And Hawkeye Run Around Being Awesome Together.

So maybe it’s just a generalised reaction to superhero films.

Although not necessarily. We just finished the fourth season of True Blood, which I didn’t think much of, but that’s a subject for another post and, again, I think they missed a trick with: Eric And Bill Kick Ass Without Goddam Sookie. And we’ve also been vaguely watching Studio 60, which was a Sorkin project that failed for very obvious reasons, the least complex of which is “not being very good” but I think we could all get behind: Zany Comedy In Which Chandler From Friends And Josh Lyman Make A Not Very Good TV Show And Fall Over Things A Lot And Sorkin Does Not Attempt To Write Black People Or Women.

Or is this just me?


4 Responses to there should be a word for this

  1. Sarah Frantz says:

    Oh, honey, what do you think slash fiction is for?

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