It sucks, but how EXACTLY?
April 17, 2010 8:36 PM   Subscribe

Just saw 'Ragtime' the musical. Was really off-put by its preachy, black & white tone. I'm wondering if there's a word this type of entertainment. Where all the bad guys are perfectly bad, all the heroes completely virtuous, and everything absurdly predictable within a certain trite political worldview. I feel like 'melodrama' doesn't quite get to it, and neither does 'propaganda.' The film equivalent would be 'Crash' I guess (not Cronenberg's, of course).
posted by leotrotsky to Media & Arts (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
"Manichaean" = stark contrast of good and evil.
posted by Jaltcoh at 8:41 PM on April 17, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: It's "didactic," as in this review of Do The Right Thing. Excessively preachy towards the audience.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 8:43 PM on April 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: TV Tropes calls it Anvilicious.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:43 PM on April 17, 2010

Hmm. There's a lot of it about. I once heard Jan Mark give a talk about the absence of what she called chiaroscuro--as in, a proper representation of light and dark--in a lot of children's (and adult) literature, and in a lot of political discourse. But that's a name for what is lacking, not the name for what lacks it.
posted by lapsangsouchong at 8:44 PM on April 17, 2010

I don't know what it's called, but if you've ever read a Dan Brown book, it's that.
posted by Happydaz at 9:02 PM on April 17, 2010

Best answer: It's been a number of years since I've seen Ragtime, and I can't say how the new revival changes things, but I wonder whether you can really say it's purely black&white. Surely Colehouse isn't pure evil; he's driven to violence in a misguided search for justice as a response to unspeakable horrors brought upon him and his family. Younger Brother too does evil in the name of good, and so forth. It's a story of well meaning people tangled up in an explosion of history who go too far in their well meaning ways to the point where some commit acts of violence and terror. So really, I think we're fishing for the wrong word. If anything, I don't think Ragtime takes a black & white view of good and evil, it's really rather nuanced in that regard.

On the other hand, there is something irritating about the show that I think you're hitting on when you describe it as being like Crash; everyone is going to be doing a lot of running into each other in socially unexpected ways. Ragtime's prologue lays it out pretty clearly: "An era exploding, / A century spinning / In riches and rags, / And in rhythm and rhyme." It's like a Dickens novel: there's a series a increasingly ridiculous change meetings and coincidences between different social classes. Wikipedia tells me that this is part of the style of Picaresque Novels, which might be an area for further reading here.

The LA Times Review of Crash includes a nice tidbit:
As another critic once said about another movie bearing the same title, " 'Crash' isn't plotted, it's programmed.' " The logarithm is fairly simple: Money plus power plus a pale complexion equals total inhumanity. (Jean learns the hard way that her only friend in the world is the woman who cleans her house.) Power plus pallor minus money fares slightly better. (Ryan's bigotry is motivated by the suffering of his sick father, who lost his janitorial company when the city began giving preferential contracts to minority-owned businesses, and he gets his moment of slo-mo redemption.) Pallor minus power minus money plus small-town idealism (as embodied by Hansen) gets a kick in the head.
I think that pretty much sums it up for me. Ragtime is programmed, and once you set the elements of class and race in motion, it's pretty obvious how everyone will collide and how the resulting chaos will ensue. Perhaps one could call it serendipity, or racial/classist determinism, but there's something rather grating about it. Maybe others have good words for this problem.
posted by zachlipton at 10:12 PM on April 17, 2010

Honestly, I think the closest term to what you describe is simply "comedy," though if you're not in an ancient lit class, you'd probably do best to append the qualifier "Classical" beforehand, and particularly of what's called the "New" era of ancient Greek comedies (as opposed to Aristophenes' satires of the Old period.)

Of course, by that I don't mean so much plays that are funny, as those that have happy endings, one in which the disruption of the social fabric that causes the central conflict, or "agon," of the play is mended at the end, usually involving a marriage, and often brought about through the direct intervention of the Gods. The characters are mainly "stock," the plots are familiar and morally simple, and the play, as a whole, is usually reaffirming to the culture of the polis.

In terms of influence, a fairly direct line can be drawn from this form of greek comedy through the Roman comedies, the medieval Morality plays, the Italian Comedia Dell Arte, in turn influencing Shakespeare and the Elizabethans, the light or comic opera, operetta, and thus feeding right into the Musical Comedy tradition, and vaudeville.

So perhaps the best way to put it is that Ragtime is a bit "classical" for your tastes.
posted by patnasty at 12:36 AM on April 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

I might call this sort of thing "schematic."
posted by staggernation at 6:32 AM on April 18, 2010

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