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REVELATIONS 2012-11 (Nov)

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Masterdramon writes...

Hey Greg! Hope that you're doing well, and that the holiday season is treating/did treat (depending on when you read this) your family happily.

What follows is a paper I recently submitted to my Contemporary Political Theory class at Pomona College, interrelating several of the concepts from the book we discussed that week ("You Are Not a Gadget" by Jaron Lanier) with the notion of namelessness in traditional gargoyle culture.

My professor (unfamiliar with the show, but very intrigued when I explained it to her) really got a kick out of the piece, and I earned a more-or-less "A-" equivalent for it. But as long as I've got it sitting around, I figured you might enjoy giving it a read as well.

[NOTE: You may want to review this post you made on Ask Greg in 2004 beforehand, as it is cited frequently: http://www.s8.org/gargoyles/askgreg/search.php?rid=387].

Now, without further ado, the essay. It has been edited from the submitted version only by rearranging paragraph breaks...

The 1994 animated television series Gargoyles posits a highly intelligent species which dominated the Earth prior to human genesis and ascendance.

These gargoyles possess a unique culture which predates humanity's by a significant period, but the first on-screen depiction of the gargoyle species takes place in the 10th century, after millions of years of convergent evolution between the two cultures.

Indeed, the pilot episodes depict the essential death of one lingering component of gargoyle culture, at least for the series protagonists: that gargoyles lack personal names. This idea is first discussed in a conversation between two gargoyles and a human boy:

TOM: I'm Tom. What's your name?
GARGOYLE #1: Except for Goliath, we don't have names.
TOM: How do you tell each other apart?
GARGOYLE #1: We look different.
TOM: But what do you call each other?
GARGOYLE #2: (shrugs) Friend.

For context, "Goliath" is the leader of the clan of gargoyles to which the protagonists belong, and their liaison to the humans with whom they share an uneasy alliance; those humans felt incapable of dealing with a nameless entity, and Goliath did not bother to reject the name they selected for him.

Still, he does not use the name in communicating with his own clan until a betrayal by their human allies and a magical curse cause the protagonists to sleep as statues and then reawaken in 20th century Manhattan.

Here they meet and befriend Elisa Maza, a police detective who is both confused by and - for reasons she has trouble articulating - uncomfortable with this traditional lack of names. The following exchange takes place between Elisa and the clan's elderly mentor:

ELISA: Are you coming on the tour…uh, what do I call you, anyway?
GARGOYLE: Must you humans name everything? Nothing's real to you till you've named it, given it limits!
ELISA: It's not like that! It's just that…well, uh…things need names.
GARGOYLE: Does the sky need a name? Does the river?
ELISA: The river's called the Hudson.
GARGOYLE: (sighs) Fine, lass…then I will be 'the Hudson' as well.
ELISA: Great! Hudson it is.

From that point onward, that particular gargoyle is known as Hudson, and only Hudson.

The younger gargoyles who survived the centuries follow suit; the two who conversed with Tom become Lexington and Brooklyn, for example. And Goliath more-or-less fully accepts the moniker afforded him by the Dark Age humans.

As Gargoyles creator Greg Weisman points out, "naming is clearly addictive," and once they are established the convenience they offer makes doing away with them virtually impossible. Thus, for the Manhattan Clan of gargoyles, namelessness largely remains a thing of the past for the remainder of the series.

In "You Are Not a Gadget," Jaron Lanier describes the phenomenon experienced by these gargoyles using the term "lock-in."

As Lanier puts it, "lock-in…removes design options based on what is easiest to program, what is politically feasible, what is fashionable, or what is created by chance." Furthermore, the process "also reduces or narrows the ideas it immortalizes, by cutting away the unfathomable penumbra of meaning."

Despite originally referring to programming language, this is a perfect description of the process that "Hudson" has been subjected to in the previous scene.

Names are a method of defining identity, which necessarily must involve "giving it limits." But in traditional gargoyle culture, identity has greater meaning than that; it is amorphous, and changes with the circumstances.

The gargoyle who first made a compact with the humans at Castle Wyvern is the same gargoyle who mated three times and produced three progeny; he is the same gargoyle who fought the evil Archmage and received a wound that blinded him in one eye; he is the same gargoyle who slept for centuries and once awakened, found himself fascinated with the television show "Celebrity Hockey."

Does one name - Hudson - really encapsulate all of these aspects of his identity?

In-and-of-itself, all it signifies is that the place Hudson awoke in was modern-day New York (a cut line from the episode's script even has Elisa commenting, "Good thing we weren't facing Queens," emphasizing with humor how off-hand and esoteric the choice was).

That name was "locked-in" as the full and entire representation of the character from that point onward, solely because it was politically feasible (it makes dealing with Elisa and later human allies far more expedient), it was fashionable (every other intelligent being in 1994 New York has a name, so why not the gargoyles?), and it was created by chance (quite literally in this case, as the "Queens" quote illustrates).

And the result is that the very meaning of his identity is narrowed. He is no longer capable of being someone at a particular moment, and someone else in the next.

He is always Hudson.

There is an even greater story here, however, which Weisman's later musings have helped to illuminate. As he once observed, "Gargoyles don't seem to have a native language. They acquire human language, perhaps much the same way that they acquire names…And language, in many ways, is just sophisticated naming."

This is a compelling point. As he later notes, a different and arguably much more persuasive response that Elisa could have offered is that the river is called "the river."

Languages are systems for describing objects, concepts, actions, etc. using strict and uniform definitions, confining them to names that society calls words.

But does a name like "the sky" really fully encapsulate the meaning inherent within the depths that humans observe from below? Does it even begin to provoke a holistic understanding of its astronomical, religious, chemical, or poetic contexts?

And even more to the point, what of metaphysical concepts like "justice"? Can a single clear definition even exist for such a weighty and nebulous notion - and if not, does sticking the name "justice" to it not necessarily limit it?

Lanier certainly appears to believe so. As he conceives it, the system of symbology under which all current human languages operate is itself a lock-in; at best, a "middleman" between intent and "directly creating shared experience" that he wants to work to cut out.

His method for doing so is improvements on virtual reality, until researchers develop "the ability to morph at will, as fast as we can think."

Lanier envisions a world where the rather simplistic words "I'm hungry" will not be the only way to communicate the sensation which has brought them on - instead, he sees potential in the power of virtual reality technology to place us in the bodies of others, as a way to intimate the sensation itself.

Humanity would no longer have to be limited to extracting some piece of the concept it calls "hunger," giving it that name, and using it as code so that others who know the symbology of the English language will understand some approximation of that concept.

The concept would simply be understood, and communication would be a straightforward matter of imparting that understanding.

But perhaps there is an even better solution than this - although one that is, unfortunately, largely forgotten.

Presented with the puzzle that gargoyles are highly gregarious and intelligent by nature and yet appear to lack any notion of their own language, Weisman has mused that perhaps, long before human language evolved and became the locked-in method for communication, the gargoyle species possessed "mild psychic abilities that left them with no need to create language."

While emphasizing that he was only asserting a possibility, the communication he imagines - where it was not "words that they intuited (or transmitted or read or whatever) but emotions, maybe images or sensations" - sounds exceedingly similar to what Lanier hopes to achieve through virtual reality.

Such communication would be consistent with what audience knows about pre-human gargoyle culture, where definition and identity are situational as opposed to consistently codified.

But if that is the case, it leads to a rather lamentable conclusion. As Weisman puts it, "perhaps the very language skills that gargoyles learned from the human race dampened their psychic intuitiveness;" in other words, lock-in of a very particular method of communication (symbology) "locked-out" another method that presented communicative possibilities human technology can currently only dream of.

The initial insistence on not using personal names, then, can be considered a lingering hold-out of a bygone era where every concept was considered unlimited, and every sensation intimated in their full depth.

In dealing with nascent human cultures, gargoyles must have gradually accepted the limiting of concepts like "sky" or "river" because this made interspecies congress significantly more efficient, but they resisted the longest on the limiting of the very depths of the self.

But with the permanent instatement of "Hudson" and the rest, there does not appear to be room to return to the possibilities an unlimited identity presents. Human language has killed them.

Of course, both the gargoyle race and their culture are fantastical constructions, but that does not necessarily mean that humans cannot learn from their fictional example.

While humans do not seem to share these "mild psychic abilities" (although there are some who would vehemently disagree with that statement) that Weisman hypothesizes, that there are methods of sensation and communication which precede language skills is clearly documented.

As with gargoyles, members of the species Homo sapiens did exist well before the development of the earliest known language, and while current understanding of those early cultures is limited at best, there is also a much more immediate example to turn to.

Newborns spend a few years before they learn to define the world around them in the code of words - the sun is an experience to them long before the strictly defined, limiting name of "the sun" is ever applied to it.

The depths of what could be learned from observing children raised without learning language skills, interpreting sensations and intimating them to others via methods of their own device, are boundless; of course, the enormous ethical travesty presented by such experiments means they are not a viable avenue for inquiry.

So instead, humans turn to fiction - attempting to realize through others what that they have long since lost, and yearn to find again.

Greg Weisman has often described gargoyle culture, and pre-human gargoyle culture specifically, as something of a wish fulfillment for him. "I'm such a human," he laments with a written-out sigh, "But I aspire to gargoylosity."

Well, if the virtual reality morphing that so excites Jaron Lanier can indeed allow humans to experience sensation as a pre-human gargoyle (or a pre-language human, or a baby, or even a cephalopod) did/does - if it has the potential to turn the clock back as well as forward, and show what it is like for things simply to be, without the cumbersome and restrictive middleman of naming them - then perhaps that is an aspiration that more humans should share.

Greg responds...

At first, when you mentioned 'You Are Not a Gadget', I couldn't help thinking the follow-up statement would be 'You Are a Chip, a Dale or a Monterey Jack'. Talk about lock-in.

Anyway, is it immodest to say that your essay warmed my heart? I enjoyed reading it. And I found it quite insightful. I do believe my own thinking has evolved since I wrote that ramble on gargoyles' latent psychic abilities. My thinking now is less psychic and more intuitive based on sensory clues.

But it doesn't change my positive response to your thesis. And it also speaks to one of my goals - perhaps even needs (NEEDS) - as a writer. Using words, multiple, multiple words, in an attempt to reach beyond the lock-in that comes with words like river or sun or Hudson or, most especially, Greg. The original version of Hudson's line was something like: 'Nothing is real to you until you've named it, defined it, given it limits.' More words to more fully illustrate the concept. And often in my writing I find myself trying to paint pictures with more and more words in an almost poetic sense. That verbosity is often counterproductive when writing dialogue. But I LIKE to think it lends - even when cut back and cut down - a certain depth to the dialogue. But it's a constant push and pull in my writing between trying to find just the one right word and using many, many to paint that fuller picture.

Response recorded on December 30, 2012

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Malini writes...

Hello, Mr Weisman,
This isn't so much of a question as it is a mini-review:
Holy cow. "Darkest" was so intense that I was an emotional wreck by he end of the episode. I was feeling sorry for every character (well, every character who isn't a flat out villan) who appeared in the episode. The supreme irony I noticed? For someone who said that he didn't want to be like Batman, Nightwing is sure shaping out to be a lot like his mentor. I have to give especial props to Jesse McCartney and Jason Spisak for their excellent acting during Dick and Wally's confrontation. Just... wow.

Greg responds...

Agreed. Jesse and Jason just rocked that. (Props to Voice Director Jamie Thomason too!)

Response recorded on December 01, 2012

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YJ Fan For Life! writes...

Wow...talk about kicking things up a notch! "Satisfaction" and "Darkest" have been stellar...just when I thought the show couldn't get more twisted, the knife cuts a little deeper. It hurts -- but in a good way!

Anyway, question about the way in which episodes have been organized in Season 2. Unless, I'm reading too much into it, the first 10 episodes feel very clearly divided into 3 arcs.

Ep. 1-3 - The Krolotean threat, the 5-day timespan, the mystery of the 16 hours culminating in the League leaving for Rimbor. That last one especially felt like a dramatic endpoint.

Ep. 4-6 - Red Arrow's recovery, the re-introduction of Wally, Blue Beetle's spotlight. And the ending of "Bloodlines" being a super-dramatic endpoint.

Ep. 7-10 - The short timespan, the Aqualad/Artemis undercover plot.

If this was intentional, would you mind elaborating on your thought process behind this method of organization?

Also, if there was a similar organizational method in Season 1, I'd love to hear about that as well!

Greg responds...

201-203 definitely and intentionally portrayed the Krolotean threat, but I'm not sure it was us creating a "clearly divided arc". And after that I think you're off target. Ending your second section at episode 206 seems a bit arbitrary. You could just as easily end at 207, where things REALLY changed. Or create four "arcs" or whatever suits you.

So, basically, no. We broke Season Two down into two sections: 201-210 and 211-220. Anything else is just, well, the ebb and flow of events. Some episodes flow more directly into others, but I'm not sure I'd use the term "arc" to define that.

As for Season One, you could break it down as follows:
101-102 - Pilot.
103-108 - Intentionally designed to feature one character per episode (without losing complete track of the rest of the Team in the process).
109-113 - Finishing out the first half of the season.
114-126 - The second half of the season.

I think that's as intentional as we got.

Response recorded on December 01, 2012

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Bridge writes...

hi greg its me again, i made an error on the comment about spectacular spiderman, what i meant to say was conceal dr conners's identity as the lizard instead of using disclosed.


Greg responds...

Um... okay. Thanks for the correction.

Response recorded on December 01, 2012

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Divine writes...

I am doing a college project and wanted to know your own opinion on Young Justice becoming its own live action movie. Do you think it would be a success and if you have any comments or suggestions I will be glad. Also is it aimed at young children or teenagers? Thank you

Greg responds...

What class is THIS project for?

Anyway, I'd love for YJ to be remade as a live-action movie. I'd hope it would be successful. And, like the show, I assume it would be aimed at ALL ages.

But I'm not sure what comments or suggestions you're looking for. How can I comment on something that doesn't exist?

Response recorded on December 01, 2012

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Tupka writes...

I have a couple of questions about the Cave.
1. To what extent did the League use the Cave? Was it just a base and meeting room, or did people live there? Or were the living quarters and gym added when the Team moved in?
2. Did you (or rather, someone on the design crew) map out the Cave, or are storyboard artists given free reign? For example, in Homefront, they follow a specific path. To what degree was their route mapped out?
3. Also in Homefront, they run past what appears to be old generators (that promptly overload). What are those?

Greg responds...

1. No one lived there back when the League used the Cave as their full-time headquarters, but it was built with enough forethought to include living quarters and various amenities.

2. Brandon has the basics of the Cave mapped out (at least in his head). I'll admit, I at times get confused, and he's had to - more than once - sketch it out on a napkin for me (or somesuch).

3. I'm not sure which scene you're referring to. Was it the Boiler Room scene?

Response recorded on December 01, 2012

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Kitty writes...

Hi! I would just like to say that you are doing an awesome job. When the beginning of season 2 aired I freaked out because of the time skip and the "loss" of some of our heroes. But I forced myself to be patient and wait it out... and then you brought Artemis and Wally (my fave characters!) back into the mix in such an awesome way! So kudos for the great plot twists!

Here's my question: How old is Zat---- Just kidding!!
No questions, just praise! Keep up the good work :]

Greg responds...

Thanks for having patience. It really is appreciated.

Response recorded on December 01, 2012

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Anonymous writes...

Greg, did you and Brandon team up with David Karp in order to maximize on our feels tomorrow?

Greg responds...

I'm sorry, but I don't know who David Karp is, which I suppose makes it clear that we didn't team up with him. I'm sure he's probably a really nice guy though.

Also, I'm not sure I would know how "to maximize on [your] feels" if I tried.

But, congrats! You succeeded in maximizing how OLD I feel.

Response recorded on November 30, 2012

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Jon writes...

1) Okay, so the League definitely knows that Lex Luthor is a member of the Light at this point. So how's he getting away with openly running a major corporation?

2) Was Project Cadmus a US government program in this continuity? Or a privately-run corporation?

Greg responds...

1. How do they stop him?

2. Privately run.

Response recorded on November 30, 2012

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JSA Fan writes...

Hi Greg.
I just wanted to compliment you and your colleagues for Satisfaction. Your follow-up of the Artemis and Roy storylines made this one of my favorite episodes.
Not only do we get emotional impact, we get the Roy/Mercy battle....one of the most bad-ass sequences in the whole series.
There are certain moments and scenes from the previous DC animated series and earlier YJ episodes that stand out for me. The battle joins that list. Kudos to everyone involved in the episode.

Greg responds...


Response recorded on November 30, 2012

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