One of my favorite pieces of music is “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Opus 43, Variation 18: Andante cantabile”, by Sergei Rachmaninoff. I shall quote from the prolific files of Wikipedia:
“The piece is a set of 24 variations on the twenty-fourth and last of Niccolò Paganini’s Caprices for solo violin… The slow eighteenth variation is by far the most well-known, and it is often included on classical music compilations without the rest of the work. It is based on an inversion of the melody of Paganini’s theme. In other words, the A minor Paganini theme is played ‘upside down’…” *
Basically, Rachmaninoff took Paganini’s song, turned it upside down, and came up with something that, at least to my ears, it is more beautiful than the original, played right-side up.
What does that have to do with anything? I finally started watching “Firefly” last week. Yeah, I know, kinda behind times as usual. I was kind of busy in 2002. But better late than… you know. People talk about “Firefly” all the time. They talk about Joss Whedon and what wonderful female characters he creates. So I started watching “Firefly”. I’m a little more than halfway through, and I like it. It’s good. But not great. I don’t understand the rabid hype. Great female characters? I don’t see it. They’re okay but I don’t see anything outstanding. For the most part, they’re still the same characters.
Why does that worry me? Welp, I’m glad you asked. (Yeah, I know, nobody ever does, but it’s my blog and I can pretend they do.) It worries me because as long as we keep telling the same stories, we keep leading the same lives. Our world isn’t always a pleasant place. Our society does not place equal value on all humans. That in itself creates a lot of resentment and even hatred. But as long as we continue to tell the same stories about the same characters, I don’t truly believe that anything will change.
Telling the same stories and using the same characters over and over again isn’t creative. It’s the same old material. All you’re doing is re-using what someone else thought up. You’re continuing existing tropes and myths, ignoring everyone and everything else in the whole world. If we are to have any hope of changing things, we need to turn those stories upside down. Stand them on their head. Why must the prostitute in “Firefly” be female? Why must the dreamy, discombobulated character who has to be watched and guarded at all times be female? Why must the self-serving mercenary be male?
There may not be any new stories to tell, but there are plenty of characters we’ve never heard from before. I want to read about those characters, and I want to write about them, too. Stories like those make me think. It does us good not to just accept what everyone says is true. Listen but don’t blindly believe. Question what they say. Mix it up. Look beyond what you read. There’s so much more to learn and to know, but you have to be willing to look for it. Sometimes you have to turn it completely upside down to find the beauty.
“Hey, look, why can’t the first part of the second party be the second part of the first party? Then you got something.” **
** “A Night at the Opera”, the Marx Brothers