John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is Episode 275 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. We are coming to you one day earlier than usual because Tuesday, I’ve heard, is the Election Day in the U.S. Craig, is that right?
Craig: Oh, is it? I don’t — they should probably say something about it on the news.
John: I heard a rumor of it. So I thought maybe we’d get this episode out the day before the election. Also in the theory that some people may be a little bit stressed out about the election–
Craig: Oh, yeah.
John: And may want to hear about anything other than the election, so we will not talk about the election whatsoever in this podcast.
Craig: No, I would honestly would love it if somebody could just knock me out until the day after, just put me under. I can’t take this anymore, I can’t.
John: I’m sorry. I can’t either.
John: So today on the podcast, we are going to be looking at how movies and TV shapes the English language and how writers should think about their role in all of this. And we’ll also examine the uncomfortable overlap between rom-com characters and stalkers.
But first a reminder, t-shirts, today, this Monday that you’re listening to the podcast, is the very final opportunity to buy one of the two Scriptnotes t-shirts. There’s the blue shirt, there’s the gold standard shirt, they are both lovely but this is your last chance to get them. And when I say it’s your last day, I mean, daytime because at 5:00 p.m. today Monday Los Angeles time, they are closed forever. You will not be able to buy a t-shirt after 5:00 p.m. today on Monday.
Craig: I better buy some shirts.
John: You better buy some shirts. I think, Craig, we will find you a special friend of the show magic cohost discount. I think you’ll get maybe like $0.50 off. So–
Craig: I was not expecting that kind of generosity today.
John: Well, I’m feeling very generous today.
John: But everybody else, you need to like click the links that are on the show notes and buy your shirts because if you don’t buy your shirts you’re going to feel really sad when you’re wandering around the Austin Film Festival without a Scriptnotes t-shirt.
Craig: I mean, it does seem, honestly, like a lot of people have those shirts on. It’s the must have. It’s the must have wear of Austin.
John: It proves that you’re part of the inside crowd. So I want to thank everyone who bought a shirt or two shirts, you guys are awesome. I want to thank people for buying enough shirts that we are now on the wall of fame forever at Cotton Bureau as one of the most popular t-shirts ever made at Cotton Bureau.
John: You guys are the best.
Craig: How many — so they made like, what, four or five different kinds of shirts there?
John: [laughs] They did, yeah. They’ve made a whole range of different shirts and our two shirts are both on the wall.
Craig: You know, again, I’m reminded of this fact that often slips my mind that people listen to this. There are more than just you or me.
John: So last week, we crossed 100,000 listeners–
Craig: My God.
John: In a week, which is nuts.
Craig: That is insane.
Craig: And so, god, the amount of money you’re making, it just keeps going up, right?
John: You know, I feel like I should do a blog host that like lays out exactly what money comes in because there’s this whole idea that this is a money-making venture.
Craig: Where do you think that idea comes from? I don’t know where.
John: I think it comes from you, Craig.
John: What? So anyway, the t-shirts are a lovely thing. They will start to pay for some of Matthew’s time.
Craig: I like that.
John: That’s really what it will do.
Craig: It start to pay for some. I assume that we remain a money losing operation, you know, we — is that right, or–
John: I think we are. We approach breakeven. It really depends on how much of [unintelligible] salary you want to throw towards this podcast.
Craig: Oh, I see.
John: That’s what it comes down to.
Craig: Well, that really comes down to, you know, how much nonsense you have been doing throughout the day. I don’t know.
John: Yeah, there’s plenty of nonsense.
John: There’s plenty of scaring ducks away from the pool.
Craig: [laughs] That’s the best job ever. Have you given him a firearm?
John: I have not, but Stuart gave him like the best techniques in terms of like tennis balls can be effective, you could just–
John: Go out there and wave your arms. Basically, you don’t want the ducks to root in your pool because they will stay in your pool and that is not good for the pool or for the ducks.
Craig: Yeah, I don’t even–
John: The podcast becomes extra relatable when we talk about our swimming pools.
Craig: Listen, man, I haven’t mentioned a thing about that. I live in a very modest home.
John: You really do live in a very modest compound.
Craig: [laughs] Rich-guy laugh right there.
John: On last week’s episode we were talking about one of our listeners who we believe to be Martin Sheen, and we wanted him to do a voice over for us on a future Three Page Challenge. Literally moments after we recorded the episode, I found out that it wasn’t Martin Sheen, it was Michael Sheen, another incredibly talented actor but not Martin Sheen. This is Michael Sheen who is the star of Frost/Nixon, Masters of Sex, the Twilight series. He’s great on 30 Rock. He’s Welsh. We love him. He’s apparently a listener. So we actually have audio for this.
So Michael Sheen was on a podcast called My Dad Wrote a Porno and this is how he came to find about that show.
Michael Sheen: I think it was one of your guests, one of your previous guests. I think it was Rachel Bloom.
Male Voice: Right.
Michael Sheen: Who I heard on another podcast called Sciptnotes, which is about screenwriting.
Male Voice: Yes.
Michael Sheen: And they do a thing at the end which is One Cool Thing and her One Cool Thing when she was a guest on it was this. That sounds interesting.
Male Voice: That sounds ridiculous.
Michael Sheen: I’m going to have a listen to that.
Craig: He was in the Underworld. He was in — he was the head of lycans, he was the head werewolf.
John: I have not seen Underworld, but come on.
Craig: Oh, you haven’t. Those movies are good.
John: So the one movie Craig has seen that I have not seen.
Craig: Well, there’s a bunch of them.
John: Well, not the one movie.
John: There’s a bunch of movies but like the–
Craig: There’s the–
John: Craig, your shtick is that you’ve not seen any movies.
Craig: Well, here’s the deal. If you put good-looking people in leather and have vampires fighting werewolves, Bill Nighy as an ancient vampire. Ooh.
John: Oh, that’s pretty great.
Craig: Yeah. Plus they have guns. Here’s the genius of Underworld. They were like we like vampires and we live werewolves and we like the idea of them fighting but we also like the Matrix. Let’s do all of that.
John: Let’s do all of that.
Craig: Yeah, just do–
John: Let’s do all the scenes.
Craig: Do all of it at once.
John: Kate Beckinsale. Done.
Craig: Yes. Kate Beckinsale–
Craig: Moving around in like super tight leather, it’s great. The whole thing top to bottom, incredibly entertaining movie series, super geeky. If you — I mean, you’re a D&D guy, you would actually probably enjoy the – oh, and then there’s some Interview of the Vampire kind of stuff thrown in there.
Craig: It’s like 12 different movies that they just blended together in a smoothie. And Michael Sheen — so first of all — sorry, Michael Sheen. That’s really embarrassing although it can’t be the first time, right? I mean, he’s had this before.
John: I mean, better than Charlie Sheen. If we had confused him with Charlie Sheen.
Craig: That would have been a little weird. And also it’s not fair because Michael Sheen’s real last name, I’m assuming, is Sheen and Martin Sheen’s real last name is Estévez. So Martin Sheen, that’s not even he’s real name, right. So we should have known.
Craig: We should have known it was Michael Sheen. Michael Sheen is fantastic. He’s one of those actors that’s never bad. You know that kind of actor that’s never bad. Because even like — look, Robert De Niro is an amazing actor. He’s been terrible at times.
John: Yeah, he has been.
Craig: Miscast, wrong role, didn’t seem to care, whatever it was, just he was bad, you know. Michael Sheen, never bad.
John: Do you think Michael Sheen is blushing right now as he hears you extoling his many virtues?
Craig: Well, I don’t know. I mean, I don’t – is he a blusher. I guess, you know, Welsh people probably — they’re — you know, they’re fair skinned.
John: Yeah. So a little blushing could happen.
John: But that’s fine. I mean, I think it only shows how great of an actor he is that he lets that emotion come through.
Craig: Especially when he’s the werewolf guy.
John: Yeah, for sure. Oh, so he’s a werewolf not a vampire. That’s crucial distinction.
Craig: Oh, yeah. I don’t even know how you could have thought he’d be the vampire. He’s clearly–
John: No, but I think he’s a vampire though in the Twilight series.
Craig: Oh, yeah, he is. Maybe that’s why you thought that, yeah.
Craig: Okay. Now I can understand why you would think he’d be a vampire because he played a vampire in an incredibly popular film series. He was–
John: That’s how talented of an actor he is. He could be both a vampire and a werewolf.
Craig: He’s so much better as a werewolf, I’m telling you. So much better.
John: Well, regardless of, we’re lucky to have him as a listener and we’re lucky to have our 99,000 listeners as well. So thank you everyone who listened and bought a t-shirt.
And now on with today’s show.
Craig: All right.
John: So back at Episode 260, we implored listeners to stop using the phrase begs the question. You remember that, Craig?
Craig: I do, I do. We begged them.
John: So we begged them to stop using begs the question because beg the question and begging the question really means to use circular logic, it doesn’t mean to raise the question or to invite the question. And my theory, which I had no evidence to support actually, was that the misuse of begs the question probably came from film and TV writers who were trying to use legal terms in courtroom dramas and didn’t really know what it meant and then they started using the same terms in places that really had nothing to do with legal situations.
So I — my theory, which I really can’t prove and I’m not going to do like the sophisticated data analysis to figure out like when it happened, but my theory is that we are kind of partly to blame for how begs the question has become misused and how it doesn’t mean what it kind of originally was supposed to mean.
Craig: Well, there’s no doubt that we, we meaning Hollywood, right, what is that? Is that a synecdoche when I make we into Hollywood, but I don’t know what it is? But we–
John: Charlie Kaufman would know what that meant.
Craig: He would know. Hollywood essentially powers the great bulk of American culture, let’s call it nonmusical American culture, and then by extension an enormous amount of global culture. And the way that we present language absolutely matters and it does impact things. Look at, for instance, one of your favorite movies and I love it, too, Clueless.
John: Oh, yes.
Craig: So Clueless, like Valley Girl before it, it popularized certain little local expressions that suddenly then become everywhere. “As if” became–
Craig: A thing. What I just said, “Start a thing,” that’s what Mean Girls made a thing a thing. Stop trying to make the blank a thing, right? So–
Craig: It is actually kind of remarkable how much influence movies do have on popular language even if movies aren’t inventing that language, in fact, they rarely invent any language but they do gather up bits and pieces of things especially when they’re making movies about young people, like Fast Times at Ridgemont High and on and on and on, and then they megaphone it and amplify it. And sometimes in their megaphoning and amplifying they get it wrong.
John: Yeah, sometimes they do and sometimes they lock in some weird mistakes and changes that really are not part of the normal way that the language is used. So writers have always been doing this. So going back to Shakespeare, Shakespeare was using the language he heard around him but he was also inventing new language and a lot of things he was inventing and putting on stage for the very first time became parts of our language. Similarly, the language as spoken, the language as written for a long period of English history have been very different things but eventually as the written language started to more resemble the spoken language, the spoken language kind of drifted towards what the written language was doing and vice versa.
And so I think when we look at sort of the changes that movies and television make on our language, you have to be in mind like, yes, people may have been speaking that way but because it’s now on a fixed form and that dialogue is frozen in that movie, we start to think like, “Oh, that’s how people speak,” which in the case of Valley Girl or Clueless, that wasn’t necessarily how a large population was speaking, but now everyone was hearing it and everybody was imitating it, consciously or subconsciously.
Craig: Yeah, and this is, of course, the problem that we have when we watch old movies, I mean, movies from the ‘30s or ‘40s or ‘50s and we think, “Oh, that’s how people all spoke back then.” No, no more than the world looked black and white back then. It was a crafted presentation. Movies have always been special amplified presentations of reality. So it’s a mistake to look back at old movies and think, “That’s how people must have spoken.” Not at all.
John: So here’s a great example, so let’s listen to a clip from The Philadelphia Story. This is in 1940 and just listen to the language that they’re using.
Cary Grant: I suppose you’ll still be attractive to any man of spirit though. There’s something engaging about it, this goddess business, something more challenging to the male than the more obvious charms.
Katharine Hepburn: Really?
Cary Grant: Really. We’re very vain, you know. This citadel can and shall be taken and I’m the boy to do it.
Katharine Hepburn: You seem quite contemptuous of me all of a sudden.
Cary Grant: Not really. Not of you. Never of you.
John: So this Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn talking in The Philadelphia Story and where are they from, Craig?
Craig: Well, they’re from a magical land that’s right between the United States and England. It’s called Middle Atlantic Land.
John: Exactly. It’s a really peculiar accent that has features of British English and some Briticisms but it also has other weird special characteristics. And so, we’ll put a link in the show notes to an article by Dan Nosowitz for Atlas Obscura which is talking about how people in movies before 1950 spoke so strangely. His article is called How a Fake British Accent Took Hollywood by Storm. And that’s kind of what we’re hearing. It’s like they’re not trying to be British but they’re trying to not sound American and they’re trying to sound kind of fancy. There’s just like there’s no other kind of good word for it.
John: It’s sort of rich, it’s fancy. It’s a highly cultured way of speaking, but it’s really off.
Craig: It is really off. I mean, you have words like, for instance, I think he says challenging in there and it’s challenging, challenging. And I don’t even think the British would say challenging and the Americans certainly wouldn’t say challenging. And then really, really, really. It is a reflection, I think, of Hollywood’s desire to aim high and present a classy product. The people involved were beautiful, classy people that we would aspire to. They weren’t non-Americans because we’re Americans and we need to be American, see, but better. And this was at a time when I think there was a sense that class mobility was more of a thing, that you would aspire to speak that way and wouldn’t you be putting on the Ritz if you did.
John: Yeah. So imagine, this is the movies after all, this is the pinnacle of sort of like everyone watching the same bit of culture together. Everyone is watching people speak this accent and, yes, this accent may have existed in pockets before and people may have been trying to speak in a fancy way. But like this was kind of an invention. This was an invention and in 1942, like two years after this movie, there’s actually a very famous book by Edith Skinner who has a book called Speak with Distinction where she defines “good speech” and it has basically these characteristics that we hear these actors speaking, which is non-rhoticity, which basically means dropping your Rs. And so words like here and Charles, you don’t hear the R in there. There’s no scrape to that R. There’re weird things that she wants you to do with the tempo of words and how you’re hitting your accents on things. It’s a very peculiar way of speaking that lasted for quite a long time in movies even though it didn’t like necessarily break out into the larger world. I think people still aspired to that accent.
Craig: There was a time before, really before sound came in, where acting was incredibly performative. Nobody was meant to be acting naturalistically. If you look at a movie like, say, Nosferatu. Everyone is what we would call emoting, overacting. It was a kind of act that you might do on stage in a big, big theater house where people all the way in the back needed to see that you were scared. And you had to act things really big because you couldn’t say words, right?
And then when sound came in, Hollywood understood, “Wait a second. There is a more naturalistic way to be. We should start acting the way people actually act.” And so you have this wave coming in and, you know, very famously, James Dean is one of the — and Marlon Brando, this kind of naturalistic acting. And you could see how it wasn’t like a — there was no revolution. It was just a gradual thing that occurred. And just as that happened, when you watched the motion from — in the way people talk, just dialogue and sounds from ‘30s, ‘40s, ‘50s, even ‘60s. And then by the time you get to the late ‘60s, it’s already disappearing. And you have, you know, you’re looking at movies that are heralding the coming ‘70s era, you know, a movie like Easy Rider. There is no interest in putting on airs. If anything it is how can we be the most real and normal that we can be.
John: Yeah. And normal is often a code word for authentic. It’s basically, it’s how do you make it feel like these people are actually really in this space and they are the characters that they’re portraying. Which in The Philadelphia Story, that wasn’t — I mean, that wasn’t the urgency. It wasn’t about like getting the perfect voice for like where that person was supposed to come from. Everyone sort of spoke like they were in this magical kind of movie world. And I think a lot of people kind of wanted to be in that magical movie world. I think this woman, Edith Skinner, she was being a prescriptivist. She was talking about good speech was trying to sound like you’re in this kind of movie. So I want to talk about prescriptivism as it relates to sort of language overall and English overall because I think the greater trend, and I think something we all notice as writers is there’s all these rules which are applied to us that we learned from grade school on about how English is supposed to work.
And many of those rules are really arbitrary. They really are just things that have come down over the years from people who want English to be something that it’s not at all. And so, this isn’t quite our gold standard episode where we talk about like the history of gold as an economic tool. But I want to take a little bit of time here to talk about like why English is the way it is and sort of clear up some misconceptions about how English came to be because I don’t think we’ve never done that in our 275 episodes.
Craig: Well, I just thought it came to be when Americans invented it.
John: Well, we did invent it. We kind of perfected it. I mean, other people had tried but we just — we nailed it.
Craig: Nailed it.
John: We just got it done. Nailed it.
So let’s go through the very short history of English. Because I remember when I was in high school, I watch like this — I think it was Bill Moyers’ PBS series which was like the 10-hour version of the story of English. But here is the sort of a few minute version story of English so you can be a little bit smarter than some of your other friends at a cocktail party.
So a root language that most of the languages that we are familiar with in Europe is called Indo-European, and no one actually speaks Indo-European right now. But they could trace it back and they can figure out that it’s the origin of English, Spanish, Hindi, Portugese, Bengali, Russian, Persian, Punjabi, so a huge chunk of our currently spoken languages trace their way back to this Indo-European language. The branch that we ended up on was Proto-Germanic. And so that’s Dutch, German, Swedish and the original English that was spoken in the Isle of Britain by the Anglos and Saxons was very much like sort of how German works now. It had a lot of those — Craig, did you ever learn German? Did you ever take German?
Craig: No. I grew up fearing Germans. I can’t imagine why.
John: That’s fair enough. But, you know, German does a lot of things. When you first start learning German, you take a German class, they’re like, wow, you have to — it feels like you have to conjugate everything. It’s because there’s declensions on nouns and nouns come in different cases and they do a lot of special things. English used to do that or at least Old English used to do that, the stuff that was spoken by the Anglos and the Saxons in the Isle of Britain. So if you look at the original poem of Beowulf, it’s Old English but it’s basically unintelligible to us now because it does all that old difficult stuff. It’s written in a language called West Saxon. And so the nouns, the adjectives, the pronouns, verbs, everything has these special endings and forms. And so if you’ve taken other languages, you know, that in Spanish or in French, you have to modify the ends of words to match up with things.
Craig: Yeah. I hate that.
John: Yeah. Isn’t so rough like it’s — all this extra work. And basically, we used to do all that in English and then we just sort of stopped. The reason we stopped is probably, mostly because of the Vikings.
Craig: Thank you, Vikings.
John: Thank you, Vikings. So Vikings spoke a language that was sort of Old Norse, which was very much — it was one of the old Germanic languages but they had different endings on their nouns. And so when they came to Britain, as adults, they were trying to speak this language that was being spoken here and they could sort of do it but they couldn’t do it very well.
Craig: They were just too dumb. They were literally too stupid to learn the language. They’re like, “We’re not learning your language. We’re changing it. It’s too hard.”
John: So as someone who is currently living in Paris, I have so much sympathy for the Vikings because I spoke some French before I got here. But a lot of the parents at my daughter’s school showed up here like not knowing a word of it. And it’s really tough as an adult to sort of get up to mastering things. So you end up sort of just like getting by and I think that’s probably what the Vikings were doing is they would show up as adults and like, “Argh. Okay, we’re getting by.”
John: And what they basically did is they kind of just — they were like ordering at a restaurant where they didn’t quite speak what was there and everyone could understand them but they couldn’t quite make it all work.
Craig: I’m not sure that’s what the Vikings were doing but, okay.
John: Yeah. There was also raping and pillaging, too. There’s probably a bit of that.
Craig: Touch of it.
John: Touch of that. They showed up, their nouns had like the same root but they had different endings, so they just sort of stopped using the endings of the nouns. They brought a lot of their words relating to ships and things like that and everyone just sort of got by. Meanwhile, also in the Island of Britain, there were the Celtic peoples who were already there and they had some impact. Probably the biggest impact they had was, you know how in English, we do this really strange thing with the verb, “do.”
John: Really kind of a verb, how we use it. Nobody does that. But the Celts sort of did something like this, which is that we use did and do in order to form questions. Like, “Did you go to the park today?”
John: But we also use it in negatives in ways that’s really strange. So this is a sentence that should make sense in English, “I no go to the park today.”
John: We can’t say that or, “I not go to the park today.” You can’t say that. You have to put the did in there. It’s a useless did but you have to put the did in there, “I did not go to the park today.” And that’s a really weird thing in English and the linguist, John McWhorter, thinks that probably came from the Celtic people who are already there in the England.
Craig: Yeah. They might have been drunk when they were coming up with that.
John: Yeah. But you know what? It’s part of our language now. It stuck around. So that’s how we do it.
Craig: Hey, it’s — you know what? I love it personally because I speak it. I’m really — I’m so good at English. I have all the best words.
John: I have all the best words. Well, our best words came from the French. So the Norman invasion of the Island of Britain happened in the 11th century and they brought in all of their words. In a lot of cases, we had the same words already kind of from the same roots but then we ended up using the French words as well. And so we sort of — we didn’t quite double our vocabulary but we got a lot of like duplicate words. And so that’s why in English, we have both the word royal and the word regal which are from the same root but we sort of got both of them, and, hey, bonus words.
So the French was the last sort of big impact of like new words. Then in the 15th century, we start with modern English. We start with printing presses. We start with the King James Bible. There’s the great vowel shift which I barely understand but essentially all of our vowels shifted sort of one notch on the sort of the loop of vowels. And it’s part of the reason why all of our spelling is so strange because we used to pronounce things very differently and we used to pronounce things the way that they were kind of written down and everything just shifted because our vowels shifted and the letters that we pronounce shifted as well.
Craig: Yeah. You end up with these bizarre cases like — was it Ogden Nash who famously said you could spell the word fish, G-H-O-T-I.
John: Yeah. That’s so great. So let’s see if I can remember, it’s the GH from enough, right?
John: The O from —
Craig: That’s the tricky one.
John: I don’t remember what O sounds like in–
John: Oh, you’re absolutely right.
John: And then the TI is the TI in like question and a lot of those words.
Craig: Exactly. So, that obviously is bananas. And somebody — I was talking to somebody who — I can’t remember who it was or where he was from but English was not his first language. And I said, you know, is it hard to learn English? Because everyone across the world, you see people learning English. It is becoming the most global language. And he said, in his experience, it was actually quite easy because there were so many quirky things. So you understood like, “Oh, that word just sounds like this.” It’s not like I have to —
Craig: You know, continually apply certain things. Like it’s easy for me to learn the word women because it’s just distinct. It’s women. That’s it. Boom. Done.
Craig: And no feminine or masculine or things like that.
John: Well, yeah. There’s a lot of simplifications that happened. So we lost our genders on all our nouns, great, helpful.
John: We also basically stopped conjugating at all. So we conjugate the first person plural. And so I speak, you speak, he/she/it speaks.
John: And then we speak. You all speak. They speak. So it’s only that third person is singular that we–
Craig: How great is that?
John: Yeah. It’s so simple.
Craig: That literally — that would turn, like I took French in high school. That would have been — that’s like three-quarters of it is gone because you’re not conjugating.
Craig: And then, oh my god, it’s not enough that you have conjugate everything. And then there are irregular conjugations. And then there are the imperative conjugations. If I want to command somebody to speak, I say, “Speak.”
Craig: That’s it. It’s as simple as that. No wonder people are learning this language. It’s not hard.
John: So one of my husband’s friends is an English teacher here in France. And so, it’s so fascinating to hear his explanation of like how things work in English because I don’t think he’s actually right a lot of times because he will say like, “Oh, you don’t have this form but you just do this.” And I was like, “I don’t think that’s actually accurate but I think it actually makes sense most of the time. So, fine, it’s fine for you to say that.” Like we basically don’t —
Craig: [laughs] He is a bad teacher.
John: We really don’t have the subjunctive in English.
Craig: Yes, we do. We have the subjunctive.
John: We have subjunctive but we use it so rarely. So it’s not a crucial thing for you to understand.
Craig: I use it frequently.
John: So give me an example of when you love to use the subjunctive in English.
Craig: Well, the most common use is following an if. If I were to go to here, if I were to do this, if I were to do that. I wish — if and I wish are probably the two most common. I wish that I were a little bit taller. I wish I were a baller. I wish I — that would be a bad version of that song. I agree. But accurate subjunctive. I’m a fan.
John: I’m a fan of like the hortatory subjunctive. Like, may we all be so lucky.
Craig: Ooh, I like that.
John: So that’s, we be.
Craig: Yes. May we all be, yes, there but for the grace of God go —
Craig: No, that one doesn’t quite work.
John: Yeah. But we don’t have to think about it nearly as much as other languages do, which is kind of great. Other sort of weird advantages to English that have come up is like we’re very phonetically rich so it’s very easy for us to bring in words from other languages and sort of make them fit and work. Other languages tend to have fewer phonemes and so it’s harder for them to sort of get a word — to be able to pronounce a word that’s not a native word for them, but they make it work. Every place can sort of incorporate words. But English seems to be especially greedy at taking in new words.
Craig: Yeah. I can’t think of too many — in French, I think we can cover everything. I mean, there’s the — there’s, you know, the kind of nasal thing or the back of the throat R.
Craig: But we’re capable. Those are really just, you know, little sprinkles on top of sounds we already have. In Italian, there is a sound that we do not have.
John: All right. What is it?
Craig: It’s this particular kind of plural case or sometimes you’ll see in some words they’ll also have a GLI. So GLI, which sounds like glee. In Italian, it’s actually LYE. It’s hard. I can’t quite…LYE. It’s LY-combined together-E. LYE.
John: Yeah. Yeah.
Craig: That’s a weird sound.
John: Yeah. And so it’s — we’re not perfect. We don’t sort of have everything. But we have just like a huge range of things. And so even as I listen to some adults here mispronouncing something in French, I want to tell them like, “No. No. We really do have that sound, you’re just try apply the wrong vowel for that.”
John: It’s like, you know, just like your ghoti-fish example, like we really do have that sound to make that. You’re just thinking of the wrong letter for it. And if you could think of the right letter for it, you’d make it to be able to work.
But English has some significant downsides. And I think it’s worth pointing what’s not so great about English. Because we got rid of all of our endings on words, word order ends up mattering a lot more in English than in many other languages. So you have to put things in a certain order for them to make sense. In some languages like Latin, for example, you can put stuff in kind of whatever order it pleases you because it’s very clear what that noun is doing in the sentence. Here, we have to use helper words and a lot of word order for sentences to make sense.
Craig: I like it that way.
John: You like it that way?
John: Because we’re used to it. It’s natural to us and it’s a hard thing for some people to learn from other languages.
John: We have strange ambiguities and we’re sort of missing some things that other languages have. So, an example which I already used when I was trying to lay out the conjugations is we use the same word for you, singular, and you, plural. And it doesn’t trip us up that often, but there are weird cases where you’re talking about more than one person and if we had a different form of you for that would be helpful. We used to have thou, which was that second person singular and it just — it disappeared. You took its place. But it was useful.
Craig: Well, you can see how colloquially people fill it in themselves. So where I grew up in New York, there was “you’s.” And obviously, in the South, in huge swaths of the South and even to the mid-South, it’s “ya’ll” which is incredibly common, and then, there’s “you all” which I hear all the time. I hear that out here in California. So, people will add little zippitys on there to kind of get themselves into a second person plural as opposed to second person singular.
But there’s also cases in, for instance, in French, you know, they have the formal and informal which we do not have. So, “vous” could be second person singular if you’re talking to somebody fancy.
John: Yeah. And the explanation behind the “vous” being formal in that situation is it’s also like of a royal we. It’s the same kind of idea where like you’re giving somebody extra respect as if they’re kind of two people by using the “vous” form with them.
Craig: It’s ridiculous.
John: We also lost our version of a sort of — or we sort of use you for. We don’t have the thing to say like a generic person like sort of not anyone specifically, but a general person.
Craig: We have one. Yeah.
John: Yeah. We have one. Yeah.
Craig: Which doesn’t quite work, but then, there’s — but we often do use “you” to mean you, a person who’s not here who but like one.
John: Yeah. You can’t get there from here. Like, who’s that “you?” It’s not literally you.
John: Because of how our language evolved, we ended up with a ton of words that are misspells and hard to figure out how to pronounce. And so, one of the great advantages of English, I think, is that we have a huge dictionary and a huge range of words you can choose from. But if you’re trying to learn the language, man, that’s a lot of words.
And so, we have “tree” and we have “arbor” and there’s no apparent connection between the two of them, but they are connected and there’s just a lot more to sort of master if you’re going to try to master English as a language.
Craig: Yeah. I love vocabulary. I do.
John: You’re a crossword player. So, like, for you, it’s great.
Craig: We prefer puzzler or solver, sir.
John: I’m so sorry.
Craig: Solver, yeah.
John: You’re a solver.
Craig: I don’t play crosswords.
John: I’m a giver-upper on crosswords.
Craig: I’m going to get you started. I am. I feel like you would be great.
John: I literally tried the New York Times this afternoon. I tried the Thursday Puzzle. Is the Thursday Puzzle hard? Because it was hard for me.
Craig: Yeah. Well, this Thursday had rebus. So, that can be tricky. I don’t know if you – a rebus is when one square holds more than one letter.
John: Yeah. And today’s, one was AG, and it just completely stumped me.
Craig: Right. Yeah. Thursday — start with Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. Just work on those.
John: All right.
Craig: Get your sea legs, feel good about yourself, and then just know that Thursday will always have a gimmick.
Craig: So, be looking for — always, Thursday, there’s always a gimmick.
Craig: Friday and Saturday are tough ones. They are just difficult, usually gimmick-less, but difficult. And then, Sunday is like a Thursday. It’s like a big Thursday.
John: Well, now, I know.
Craig: But, yeah, go Monday and Wednesday. You should be able to do Monday easy-breezy.
John: Cool. I will try a Monday puzzle when Monday comes.
John: Because I will be looking to do anything other than focus on Tuesday.
Craig: I know, seriously. You may not be able to come home.
John: Ugh. We won’t talk about that.
John: All right. So, let’s get back to our discussion of English. And so, just like we had the woman who was talking about the accent that everyone should speak with, we have a lot of people who are talking about like how everyone should write and the words that people should use. And these prescriptivists for the English language, a lot of them are coming from Latin because they were church people. And, church people, I don’t know if you’re aware of this, Craig, but church people like rules and they want an orderly universe. So, it comes from–
Craig: Like commandants even.
John: Yeah, even that. Like, divinely inspired texts.
John: And they’re reading the bible or they come from a background where the bible is in Latin and Latin is a very orderly language. It has a lot of special rules. And so, they’re looking at how cool Latin is. When you look at English, it’s like, well, English should be more like Latin or at least we should try to make English a little bit more like Latin.
And so, a lot of the rules that we’ve been taught over the years come from these prescriptivists who are looking at English saying like, “But in Latin, you do it like this. So, therefore, the rule should be that you do it like this.” That comes up a lot in cases with our pronouns because even though we got rid of most of our cases for nouns, we still have them for “he” and “him” or “she” and “her” for “I” and “me.”
A lot of the rules you see people trying to apply to English come from Latin where they’re trying to say like, “Oh, well, this is how you do it in Latin. So, you should do it this way in English.” And when we mess things up in English or when we are chastised for things in English, it’s often because people are looking at how we should be doing things because they were done a certain way in Latin.
Craig: Yeah. There is a — I mean, I will freely admit that I’m a grammarian. And the joy of grammar for me is not one of any kind of metaphysical superiority. There is no significance in and of itself to grammar. The joy is in — it’s in the fastidiousness itself. It is a joy of joyfulness. I am begging the question here. I like the specificity. I do think that there are a lot of cases where being grammatically correct actually does better express intention and meaning, but not always.
Craig: Most of the time, I just like grammar because I like being in control of the algorithms of speech and of writing.
John: Absolutely. And so, the kind of grammar you’re describing is how people use language and how to use language effectively to communicate the meaning that you’re trying to communicate which is great and like there’s reasons why, I think, it’s important to understand these rules, as they’re set down as rules, to make sure that what you’re trying to communicate actually is getting through on the other end and to be able to anticipate.
If you break any of these rules or tenets, the person on the other end may perceive you in a way that you don’t want to be perceived or perceive your ability to use the language negatively because of a choice you’ve made not to follow a certain set of rules. And so an example would be, “Craig and I host a podcast.” Great. “Me and Craig host a podcast.” Well, that actually is not wrong, per se. There’s lots of good defense for using “me” as a subject in that case. But most people would say no. And if you’re going to do that, you’re going to have to be aware that people are going to assume that you’ve made a mistake there.
Craig: Yeah. It’s a signifier. I mean, what we often look at with grammar is the signifier of education.
Craig: And the thing about “Me and Craig host the podcast”, I mean, my sister texted me the other day. She’s a brilliant attorney and she wrote, “Me and this other guy did a blank, blank, blank.” And I understand, when you’re casual and when you’re texting, when you’re chit-chatting, it’s totally fine. But, if you were to write something and publish something, it is essentially saying, “Me hosts a podcast” and now, you sound like Tarzan or Cookie Monster and it’s ridiculous.
So, it really does come down to signification for most, but for me, also, there is a certain beauty to the sound of “Craig and I host a podcast” because it flows and it flows into my understanding of how I host a podcast should sound. There’s an assonance to it as opposed to dissonance. I feel dissonant. Similarly, I’m the person that gets irked when people make the mistake when it’s the — when it’s an object and they’ll say, “She went to the store with John and me,” right? That’s correct.
“She went to the store with John and I.” I hear that all the time. Now, the signification is you’re trying to sound smart, but you actually screwed it up and now you sound dumb. So, it’s about — it’s a weird thing. It’s like music to me and just the notes sound wrong if you’re using “me” when you should be saying “I.”
John: Absolutely. So, I would point listeners to a great podcast hosted by John McWhorter who’s a good linguist who talks about specifically the “Billy and me” sort of problem. And it’s a weird thing. He actually makes a very compelling case that “I” is actually the special case and there’s a weird thing with “I” that you basically — “I” has to go right before the verb. And if there’s really anything between “I,” it breaks.
And so, basically in English, it’s evolved to be the case where the “I” has to be right next to the verb, otherwise, you have to use “me” or something else there. Because, think about a sentence, like, “Craig and I, not knowing what we wanted to do decided to blah, blah, blah…” The most space you put between “I” and the verb, the more the whole sentence breaks down. Another example he sort of gives is that “Who’s there?” You don’t say, “I.”
John: I is never the answer to the question. “I” is basically only the pronoun that goes right before the verb when you’re talking about yourself.
John: And it’s a strange case.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, the — and by the way, speaking of crosswords, a common crossword answer is “Is it I?” So, there’s a famous bible quote, “Is it I, my lord?” and that is correct. So, “Who’s there?” “It is I.” That is grammatically correct. Almost no one says that because he’s absolutely right. I is demanding the verb following the — you can do in a positive. That’s when you have a little phrase set apart by commas that work like parenthesis. So, you can say “I, angrily, went to the store” or–
Craig: “I, in need of a book, went to the bookstore”. The longer that a positive comes, the more broken down the sentence is, and frankly, almost no one will put in a positive in there because it is ugly-sounding. Again, it’s musical.
John: It is absolutely musical. So, that’s where I want to get to the whole point of this discussion of English is that the writing that we are doing for screenwriting is very musical writing. And, so, the same reasons why you would not want to have a character say, “It is I,” are the reasons why you need to think about the grammar choices you’re making when you’re writing screenplays.
So, let’s talk about it. So, first, let’s talk about screenplays as a whole form. They are written in the present tense. I’ve read screenplays that are written in the past tense, more like a book. It feels weird that the standard has become that we write screenplays in the present tense and that every moment is happening sort of right in front of you. They’re a reflection of the experience of watching the movie. The same way the movie is flowing right in front of your eyes, the screenplay is flowing right in front of your eyes in the present tense. Craig, have you read any scripts that are not present tense?
Craig: No. I’ve never seen that and I can’t imagine how that would feel because it seemingly clashes with the dialogue. Now, there are books where, you know, most novels are written past tense, third-person past tense. And then, when people are speaking, but then, that’s why when people speak in books where the prose is third-person past tense, the novelist is constantly adding to the dialogue “He said,” “She said,” “He asked,” right? To put the dialogue in the context of the past. Sometimes, there’ll be cases where an author will make dialogue very present feeling and they will often — like, Stephen King is famous for this. He will set some dialogue apart in italics as a kind of stream of consciousness or thought which does feel very present. And, so, it’s set apart from the book by its italicization.
But, with what we’re doing, everyone is speaking in the present and there is no “He said/she said,” because there’s no narrator. So, I can’t imagine how that would feel to say, “John walked outside. He took a look around. John, ‘This is wonderful right now, but so wrong.’”
John: Yeah. So, the thing I want to point out though is like we say it’s the present tense, but it’s also not only the present tense. So, in previous podcasts, we’ve talked about the present-progressive which is that like “He is sitting,” “He is doing something.” It’s that interruptible form of the present that English has that a lot of the other languages don’t have, by the way, which is useful and delightful.
And we’ve been strongly encouraging people to use it when appropriate because it’s not passive writing. It’s actually writing that reflects ongoing states in ways that movies are about ongoing states. And so, it’s a very useful form of the present tense to be using.
Craig: Completely, completely. We should be able to use all tools in the present tense toolbox.
John: Every once in a while in scripts, you will also see the future tense used and they’ll often be in callouts to the reader saying like, “We will come back to this later on,” like they tend to be parentheticals, you know, not parentheticals over dialogue, but parentheticals to the reader in scene description that’s reflecting the sense that like you are in the present tense right now where I am, but trust me. There is a future coming and this will become important.
So, you will occasionally see breaks out to the future, even breaks out to the past where we say like, “We met this character on page such and such,” but those are not the normal flow of screenwriting. They’re very special cases.
Craig: Right. Yeah. Those tend to indicate some kind of meta awareness where we are now breaking the reality of the movie. You could say in the description something like, “Vanessa is unhappy with her job. One day, she will be a billionaire, but not now, and not for a while.”
So, you know what I mean? And that’s a direct communication to the reader that is floating above the reality of the movie. It’s understood that people in an audience will not have that experience. It’s there so that that reader can get closer to the movie experience because, of course, we are trying to make something audio-visual with text only.
John: Absolutely. I think that also ties into why we say that screenplays are written in the third-person, but really they’re often written in a sort of a second-person plural. That’s why you’ll see “we’s” in screenplays and I some people hate “we’s” in screenplays. Craig and I are fans of “we’s” in screenplays because it is a collective experience. We’re going through this process together. So, it feels very strange to see an “I” or a “me.”
Craig: Yeah. That would be weird.
John: But I think I’ve seen it in a Shane Black script, but in general, you will sometimes see a second-person plural “we” to describe this experience of what’s happening and what we’re doing together.
John: So, we hear, we see.
Craig: Again, if you were to say “I” or “me,” you are making a winking comment to the reader. You are not doing something that could possibly be shown on screen because you, the writer, are not there. You don’t exist for the audience nor should you unless there is, again, some kind of special case — so, yeah, no question.
John: Right. So, that’s all the stuff that’s not the dialogue, but, really, I think the crucial thing I want to get to here and the part that actually has an influence on culture is the dialogue because that is the writing that the audience is taking with them.
And so, let’s talk about sort of the things you’re doing in the writing of dialogue that are going to impact how people are using their language 30 years from now. So, well, a lot of the mistakes you see listed on websites are spelling mistakes. Guess what? People can’t hear your spelling mistakes. That’s the lovely thing about being a screenwriter. It doesn’t mean spelling is not important. It’s incredibly important. But like a spelling-mistake in dialogue is just a spelling-mistake in dialogue. It’s not a thing that the viewer is going to encounter.
Craig: No, it’s not. But it can snag the reader.
Craig: Typically does snag the reader. So as the writer — I think it’s — you want to spell things correctly not for the audience but for the readers so that they understand that you are — well here is the illusion that you’re creating for the reader. As opposed to all the — I mean, the mega illusion of a movie for an audience, the mini illusion for a reader is that you the writer are in complete control of the story. Every word, every moment has been carefully designed with intention and purpose and that they’re in good hands. And when something is misspelled, particularly when something is misspelled in a way to indicate that the writer just didn’t know the real word, they stop and think, “Oh, this person is not that smart or didn’t take the time to proofread, or literally doesn’t know what a word means.” And that can get shaky for you. It hurts the read.
John: It does hurt the read. So, I sort of deliberately set you up for the like spelling doesn’t matter. Of course it matters. And if you’ve listened to our Three Page Challenges, we will single out on spelling mistakes because that is the first experience the reader is going to have with you and your script.
But let’s take a look at what else is communicated in dialogue. Well, can the listener understand what the character is saying? You’re trying to balance accuracy to, like, how the character would speak, and clarity so the listener would actually understand what’s happening there. And so, you know, if you’re doing an historical drama there’s going to be a balancing act between how that character really would have spoken in that time and what a viewer in 2016 will actually be able to understand that character saying.
Craig: Correct. We had a Three Page Challenge where somebody was faithfully reproducing Jim’s dialogue from Huckleberry Finn and the problem was it was unintelligible essentially. And what may have been intelligible to readers in the 1800s no longer so the case here for a reader of the screenplay. I mean, you know, English class you have a teacher working you through it but we don’t want to make a screenplay work. We want it to be something that is absorbed freely, without effort by the reader. So that’s where our effort comes in.
This also becomes tricky when people are writing dialectically for characters in whose skin they do not live. Very frequently — well not as frequently as it used to be and happily so. But I would read scripts where writers who clearly were not black were writing black characters with black dialogue. And it was just hard. It was hard to get through. It felt fake and weird and way too confining and it’s not great. I remember early, early on in my career, I wrote a movie for Shawn — I’m sorry for Marlon Wayans and there’s so many Wayanses I was bound to maybe slip up and say the wrong one.
Shawn was in the movie but smaller part. And I remember before I started writing Marlon said to me, “Oh and by the way, don’t write it black. Don’t do that. Just write it. I’ll make it black, don’t worry.” And I said “You got it buddy”. It was a weight off my shoulders because I’m not black.
What happens is there is this weird circular feedback where white writers will watch movies written by white writers pretending to be black people and they’ll think, “Oh, that’s how black people talk then.” But really what they’re doing is an imitation of white people imitating black people. And at that point it’s just a mess and it becomes a self-serving and self-fulfilling prophecy, and it’s no good. So you have to make these careful judgments about how you’re going to present dialogue when you are trying to alter your grammar or pronunciation to match the style of another person that you are not.
John: Yeah, but at the same time, Craig, I want to make sure we’re not giving — we’re not letting writers off the hook for even — I don’t want to say attempting to reflect the voice of a character because there’s a way that a person could misapply what you’re saying there. And say, like, well I should only write — I should only put white people in my movie. Or I shouldn’t try to make the African-American characters in my movie sound like human beings who are living in 2016.
John: In the situations where I have encountered this, my focus has always been on writing the dialogue that reflects what the character is saying and then understanding that there will be a discussion about the actual words that the actors are going to be saying no matter what their background. That stuff may change based on what’s going to be comfortable coming out of their mouth. And it’s the same kind of discussion no matter what background of actor you’re talking about.
Craig: Yeah. You have to — part of what we do is, because no matter who you are as a writer, you will be writing people that you’re not constantly, almost all of them. And when I say people you’re not, I mean, obviously, you’re not any of the characters that you’re writing but if you are let’s say a Latina woman, you are sooner or later going to be writing characters that are not Latina women.
Craig: So part of our jobs is to understand the music and cadence and rhythms and patterns of all different kinds of human speech. But where I think it – you kind of have to draw an interesting line. For instance there’s a colloquialism among African-Americans where they’ll say I’m — where you or I might say, “I’m getting ready to do something” there’s a colloquialism where they’ll say, “I’m fixing to.” Right?
Now, in very colloquialized African-American speech, that will get contracted down to “I’m finna” and you can — and I see like on Twitter, like, on the very famous Black Twitter you’ll see “I’m finna” sometimes people say “I’m F-I-N-N-A” or F-I-T-N-A or — and, you know, so, for me if I’m writing character and I hear that pattern, I might want to say, you know, “I’m fixing to dah, dah, dah” I don’t know if I would write “I’m finna to” because it’s starting to get a little — I don’t know. It’s weird. You have to draw this interesting line you know?
John: Yeah. You don’t want to go into pantomime. You don’t want to go into this place–
John: Where you’re sort of aping a culture that you don’t really understand. You’re using words that you would have no business ever using. So that’s absolutely true. But I think what your example is with finna is a great example of this other thing which we noticed which is — we talked about with Clueless, we talked about with Valley Girl where you like you see speech happening and then you’re reflecting that speech. And if you had a movie that was using that throughout, people would start using that more often, and at a certain point it would become commonly accepted. That same thing happened with like, and the way that modern people use like to mean a bunch of things that have nothing to do with like. Where she was like this, or it takes the place of “said” or it takes the place of any kind of filler word, “like” is there. And same with literally which means not at all what literally is supposed to mean.
Craig: It means the opposite now.
John: But people say literally. So, the thing that I find myself being careful of but using more often than not is “wanna, oughta, and gotta,” which is basically the shortened versions of “want to, ought to, and got to,” because spelling out got to, in most characters’ dialogue feels really bizarre and it actually is not the right sense and tone for what a character would say.
Craig: Yeah. Well, there are characters who are educated and fastidious and prickly. And they might say, “I have to,” or “I am going to.” But “gonna” I’m constantly using “gonna” and “gimme” you know. Yeah, and those are perfectly common. And nobody reading a script is going to stop and say, “What, it’s ‘going to’ you cretin”. Like, everything that we discuss on this show, because we are so anti-rule, it’s about having the skill to go far enough and not too far. It is — dialogue and how to manipulate speech, how to break speech and grammar on purpose to match the way people naturally speak as opposed to the way people unnaturally write is the hardest and perhaps impossible thing to teach. You either got it or you don’t.
John: So let’s bring this all the way back around to how this all started off which was begging the question, which was my plea for writers to stop using “begging the question” incorrectly. And really ask the question like when is it okay to use the phrase incorrectly, because you know what, that’s what the character would actually say? And so examples are “who” versus “that.” “Which” versus “that.” “Less” versus “fewer, farther, further.” “Between” and “among.” All the examples I just gave, I’m actually kind of fine with a character using the incorrect version of that. Like you’re supposed to use between two things and among several things, whatever, nobody necessarily does that. So I’m fine with the character doing any of those things. It’s when you’re trying to pull a strange esoteric phrase in and use it incorrectly that my hackles go up.
Craig: Yeah, you know, we’ve said a lot on the show that one of the best ways to think about characters, and create or achieve verisimilitude, is to think of them as liars, because people are liars. People are constantly lying, and people are constantly bending and breaking language. So what it comes down to is what’s going to draw more attention, more unwanted attention, using between incorrectly, or using among correctly.
Craig: And that’s really what it comes down to, where do you want attention to fall? I think of grammar all the time, in a way with my characters, to divide them by class and education. And just as to bring it back around to the non-rhoticity, strange Middle-Atlantic accent, that was seen as a sign of erudition, education, class, money. So people who have those things, I try and write in that way, even between — look, I have a movie with talking sheep. The smart sheep’s grammar is perfect. It’s perfect. She actually — she corrects somebody who says, “Who?” asks the question who, and she says, “Whom?” Because of what it refers to.
The other sheep just speak, and some of them have terrible grammar, but she’s the smart one. She has excellent grammar. So that’s how I think of these things. When you’re talking about how to write characters in relation to grammar, the tricky part for writers is you can’t manipulate the rules and break the conventions, and differentiate between characters based on how they speak if you don’t know the rules.
John: Absolutely. And what you just said there, you as the form that does not exist in English. That’s English for us.
Craig: Right. That’s right. If one does not know the rules.
John: Our language is crazy, but it’s good, I love it.
John: Our next topic will be shorter. This is an article that you posted in the outline called, how – actually what was the actual real title of the thing?
Craig: It’s called “How Rom-Coms Undermine Women” by Megan Garber. This is an article in The Atlantic. And it runs through something that I think has probably occurred to all of us. You know, there’s a convention in romantic comedies that a boy is in love with a girl, and she is in love with somebody else, usually the wrong person, and he is the good guy that only if she could see how wonderful he is, and how truly he loves her, she would be in love with him. And he tries, and he tries, and it’s not working, and somebody at some point says to him something like, “If you want her, you got to go get her.” And so he does some grand romantic gesture like for instance showing up at her house, and holding up a boom box in front of her window, and playing, you know, a wonderful song, or showing up at the airport where she’s about to leave the country, or showing up at her workplace to sing a song, or showing up at her home to show her the cue cards with his devotional written on it.
But the point is, he’s showing up somewhere he’s not supposed to be and doing some big thing and in real life that makes you like a creepy stalker.
Craig: And so the question is, are we teaching this really bad thing to people as normal? And the hard part is, I think that, well, I’m kind of curious about what you think, but my personal feeling is that these things do happen in life, rarely, but they’re not stalkery if they work and they super are stalkery if they don’t. So, it’s kind of a weird thing. What do you think?
John: I think it is absolutely valid to point out the trope of it. And we’ll put a link in the show notes to the TV tropes guide to stalking is love, which is basically all the situations in which someone is calling out like — someone’s love behavior is actually really kind of stalking and a little bit crazy.
Another recent article was about how to talk to a woman who’s wearing headphones, which was such a great example of like this really clueless male behavior, and just like really offensive, and yet, we would sort of get a pass in movies a lot which is not cool either. So I think sort of like the discussion of language, it’s one of the situations where screenwriters are culpable to some degree for perpetuating these ideas, and yet I agree with you that they are out there because they also do sometimes exist.
The thing which I disagreed is, or at least a short coming of this article to me was that I don’t think she recognized that the female characters in romantic comedies also do these kind of things as well.
John: You look at Rebecca Bunch in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, you look at Nancy in Tess Morris’s movie, Man Up, they are deceiving the men around them, they’re doing things that are not good or appropriate, and things that would seem like a dangerous person would be doing if they were not in the genre of romantic comedy. So I think it’s troubling.
And maybe it’s just a thing to be aware of the same way we should be aware of the messages we send out with our action movies and with all sorts of other genres of movies, where we portray a world that is not accurate and which if these things happened in the real world would be hugely upsetting.
Craig: Yeah. I think actually audiences are very good at understanding that movies aren’t real. I do. If you were to make a list of things to write about, of concern, that audiences were taking seriously, I think far before you got to, you know, Lloyd showing up and holding up a boom box, you would get to people shooting each other in the head. Now we do have a bit of gun violence going on in our world, no question about that, but certainly not to the tune of what you see in movies. Fist fights even. There’s constant fist-fighting movies. I’ve never been in a fist fight in my life. Never. Not once.
John: That’s true. People break bottles over heads, which you should never do. It’s a horrible thing. Head injuries are terrible.
Craig: You’ll kill someone. You’ll kill someone if you do that. People are breaking chairs over each other’s heads, they’re punching each other in the head all the time. In the head. Car chases. Have you ever been in a car chase, John?
John: Not a one, I’m delighted to report.
Craig: Yeah. No, I’ve never pursued somebody in a vehicle. People are pretty good at understanding the difference between these things. One thing that mitigates all of this stuff is that when we go to see a movie, a romantic comedy, there’s a contract before the movie even begins, between the movie and the audience, and that is that these two people could be wonderful together. That they are not bad people. They’re good people, and fate has torn them apart, a la Romeo and Juliet. The enemy in a weird way is not the woman who’s resisting stupidly this man’s advances, nor is the enemy the man who is perhaps going to somewhat extreme measures to get this woman to see how wonderful and deserving of love he is. The enemy is fate. Fate has gotten in the way.
Now, occasionally, you’ll get a romantic comedy where it’s the anti-romantic comedy, and you know, they don’t end up together and that’s fine, too. But that’s our understanding of these things. That said, the problem with the romantic comedy stalking behavior is similar to the problem that I think people have in real life, anyway, men and women, which is what is the line between being passive and quitter, and being obsessive and stalkery?
Craig: It’s a hard thing to navigate. Courting, courtship is difficult.
John: Yeah. The lesson we learned on today’s Scriptnotes. I don’t know that I have more to say, other than I think, it’s useful to be aware of it, be aware of it as a trope, and if there’s a way to hang a lantern on it so it’s clear to the audience that you’re in on this, the troubling aspect of this behavior, too, maybe do that. But I agree that like we don’t go to movies necessarily for lessons about how to date and marry. We end up taking them in, just the same way we take in language by accident. And that’s I guess one of the things about our culture. It’s how we get some of our education.
Craig: Yes. And another one just came to mind is While You Were Sleeping. Remember that movie?
John: Oh yeah, absolutely.
Craig: She’s just like completely is obsessed with this dude, completely obsessed with him. And then when he is hit by a train and goes into a coma, she like insinuates herself into his family’s life and poses as his girlfriend, as his fiancé.
Craig: That’s definitely, if you did that in real life, you would have to go to the bin.
Craig: But when Sandra Bullock does it, we’re like, aww.
John: Aww. That’s actually one of the reasons why I love the new opening to Crazy Ex-Girlfriend this season, where basically it just explains like she’s just a girl in love, and like you can’t call me crazy because I’m an ingénue. And an ingénue in love is crazy, so therefore, I’m just an ingénue. Just a girl in love.
Craig: It’s kind of like, we’re now kind of at the fun part of our culture where we can take these things apart, but keep the little bits inside that are true, get rid of the junk that is like, look, part of this article is like Hitch is really screwed up, and the movie, the premise of Hitch is screwed up. This is a guy who’s basically the pick-up artist who is teaching men how to consciously and insidiously manipulate women into being with them. That’s gross. And you know, they’ve been trying to develop that pick-up artist book for years, as a movie, which I just think is atrocious.
Craig: They shouldn’t do that.
John: They shouldn’t do that. So if nothing else, maybe we’ll stop that movie from getting made, and it will all have been worth it.
Craig: Yeah, I don’t think so. We don’t have that power.
John: We have none of that power. We have the power to talk about cool things. So my One Cool Thing this week–
Craig: Segue Man.
John: Is Time Travel: A History, by James Gleick, is a book that is — I’m reading right now that I think is just delightful. So Craig, how long back ago do you think time travel was invented?
Craig: You mean the concept of time travel?
John: The concept of time travel.
Craig: Or actual time travel?
John: The concept of time travel.
Craig: Because actual time travel was developed 14,000 years from now.
Craig: The concept of time travel, oh, I would say, I don’t remember anything like that in Shakespeare, like maybe turn of the century like 1800?
John: Yeah, 100 years ago, H. G. Wells. So what’s so fascinating–
Craig: Oh, 20th Century then.
John: 20th Century, so it’s — the time machine, it’s his story, is really where you can start to think about time travel as you and I think about it now, which is that a person develops a way to go forward or backward in time. So there were other stories in which people like with A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, they get hit on the head and they show up–
Craig: Wait a second. Yeah, what about Dickens and A Christmas Carol? He goes back, the Ghost of Christmas Past. He goes back in time.
John: It’s not a conscious choice.
Craig: It’s a ghost.
John: It was not a conscious choice to go back in those times. So there’s been many situations like a dreaming of previous times, a dreaming of alternate time lines, that – Fantasias have happened, but that sense of like the future is a place that you could travel into is actually a brand new concept. And we didn’t use to have a sort of space to think about like the future as this new area out in front of us.
And so all the paradoxes of like, you know, like what if you can go back and kill Hitler? We’d never thought of that before. There was never like a what if you could go back and kill Caesar? That was not a thing. It’s only because — and Gleick makes a very compelling argument for the only reason why we have our current thought of time travel and Terminator and sort of all the iterations of timelines and stuff like that, is because of the inventions of this last century and the scientific discoveries of Einstein and everything else that sort of put it in the public culture, but also the acceleration of culture so that it’s only when generations started being born where they recognize like, wow, my life is nothing like my parents’ life, and my kids’ lives will be nothing like my life. That’s when we started to have a future, and started to think about the future as something different than the present.
Craig: That makes total sense, yeah, because like back in the old days they’d be like, well, why would I want to go into the past? It’s like now, but just a little bit lamer.
Craig: The future will be like now, but like a little bit better.
John: Maybe, hopefully, who knows?
Craig: Yeah. Ish.
John: So I’m quite enjoying this book, so I’ll have a link to that in the show notes.
Craig: Well, keeping on track with Science, my One Cool Thing is a young woman named Maanasa Mendu. Maanasa Mendu is 13 years old. She lives in Ohio. She’s a middle school student. And as part of a competition, she created something that’s kind of amazing. She was looking at the shaking branches on a tree in her yard and thought, as we often do, you or I, boy that reminds me of the action of Piezo-electrical materials. And it turns out that she created with, I think it was like 10 bucks worth of Styrofoam and plastic, created a device that essentially captures naturally occurring vibrations in the environment along with solar and wind, and creates electricity from it, and was able to power a small light bulb with this little $10 thing she made, hanging off of a tree. It’s incredible.
So she won this prize from 3M, the Post-It company, among other things, and I’m just fascinated by there’s this potential that we have in this country that just blows my mind constantly when I think about somebody like Maanasa Mendu. She’s 13 and she might have actually invented something amazing.
Craig: Just think of what’s going to happen, you know, when she’s 25. It’s just amazing. So Maanasa Mendu, you are my One Cool Thing.
John: Very, very cool. So that’s our show for this week. Our final reminder that this is your very last chance to buy one of the two Scriptnotes shirts, so click on the links in the show notes, or just go to johnaugust.com, there’ll be a link on the side bar there for where you can get your shirts. So thank you to everyone who bought shirts. We’re excited to make them, and send them to you.
As always, our show is produced by Godwin Jabangwe.
John: It’s edited by Matthew Chilelli.
John: Our outro this week comes from Eric Pearson. If you have an outro you’d like to send to us, you can send us a link to firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s also a place where you can send questions for us to answer. I think next week we’ll try to answer some of your questions.
On Twitter I’m @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. That’s a great place for short questions. You can find us on iTunes, just search for Scriptnotes and while you’re there you can also download the Scriptnotes app which lets you listen to all the back episodes of the show.
John: Fancy. So scriptnotes.net is the place for that. There are also USB drives available at email@example.com that have all the back episodes.
One of the questions, Craig, we have to figure out is, the new MacBooks do not have USB drives. Or not USB-A drives and so do we still make drives anymore? I don’t know if they are going to continue to exist.
Craig: Well, if you connect them through the dongle, it should be fine, right?
Craig: I mean, there’s, like, a — because I ordered the new MacBook Pro, and with it I also ordered just a little USB-C, regular old USB adaptor.
Craig: In case, you know.
John: Okay. They’re available with Craig’s dongle and if you would like–
Craig: You know Sexy Craig has a dongle for you.
John: Probably the dongle is as much as the drive so–
Craig: You know, like, you like the drive of the dongle?
John: Ugh. We almost got through the whole episode–
Craig: Ooh, yeah, almost got through it.
John: If you listen to the transcripts, you won’t hear Sexy Craig’s voice at all. That’s a thing actually–
Craig: Not even a little bit.
John: On Twitter last week, people were saying, like, I listened to the show for the first time after only reading the transcripts. I didn’t understand what Sexy Craig was, and now they understand what Sexy Craig is. And they’re horrified.
Craig: If you can even wrap your mind around it. I mean, can you ever understand it? I don’t think so.
John: Apparently both of our voices are completely wrong for how we sound in print.
Craig: Oh, okay.
Craig: I wonder how people think I sound.
John: Yeah, probably authoritative, but I don’t know.
Craig: Crazy, sexy?
John: If you’re a person who mostly experiences the show through the transcripts, and only heard our voices recently, we’d be fascinated to know. So tell us on Twitter what you thought we would sound like before you actually heard us. That would be interesting for me to know.
Craig: Me too.
John: Cool. Craig, have a wonderful week.
Craig: You, too, John, and I’ll see you–
John: On the other side.
Craig: See you next time on the other side of the wall. [laughs]
John: Oy. All right. Take care.
- Scriptnotes Gold Standard T-shirt
- Scriptnotes Midnight Blue T-shirt
- Michael Sheen on 30 Rock
- Philadelphia Story
- Robert Lowth
- Megan Garber in The Atlantic
- Stalking Is Love
- “How to Talk to a Woman Who is Wearing Headphones”
- Time Travel: A History by James Gleick on Amazon
- Maanasa Mendu
- John August on Twitter
- Craig Mazin on Twitter
- John on Instagram
- Get your 250 episode USB
- Find past episodes
- Outro by Eric Pearson (send us yours!)
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
You can download the episode here.