Angst is living up to its name as a topic of discussion. As I read the angst comments, I began to see various layers and components conflicting with each other needlessly, or somewhat needlessly … maybe. As I analyze the various pieces, they divide into two sides. One side of angst can be evaluated objectively, while the other side can’t, nor ever should be.
So, I wade into the rising waters of angst, hoping to stick my finger in the dam. Color me totally crazy for broaching this topic (I blame Joe. It was his idea). I may lose my pension and my bowl of gruel.
Read at your own risk.
Angst: An acute but unspecific feeling of anxiety; at least that’s what one dictionary says. Other dictionaries say other things.
The very definition of angst allows for, even demands, a certain measure of subjectivity. That alone makes it hard to reach a consensus. Add to that all the different layers of angst and … well, speaking with authority becomes tedious at best.
So I speak, but with no authority what-so-ever.
I see angst operating in 2 realms: the realm of story and characters and that of the viewers. There is character angst, anxiety displayed in the characters. There is viewer angst, anxiety provoked in us by character angst or disturbing situations they face. Viewers may even feel angst that the characters don’t, or don’t yet. Viewer angst is subjective and varies from one viewer to the next. [Here’s a confession I may regret. I HATE animal angst. (I blame childhood Bambi trauma) Do not ask me to watch Old Yeller or White Fang or Where the Red Furn Grows. I even thought Beethoven was stressful. So I’m sure my angst meter differs from some (OK, most) other movie-goers.]
THE OBJECTIVE SIDE OF ANGST
We can define various types of angst and even evaluate whether or not the angst is believable in its context.
Adolescent angst is pretty uncompelling, except to one demographic (you get 3 guesses and 2 don’t count). Smallville was used as a recent example. Rather than angst, this produces in me boredom and uncontrollable eye-rolling.
Baseless angst is contrived, manipulative, and unnatural to the story and to our previous understanding of the characters. It may be used as a plot device to move the story in a direction. Ring any bells? This produces angst in a lot of us, but when unresolved for, I dunno — 12 episodes, leads to ravaging frustration and raging anger. Or maybe that’s just me.
Gratuitous angst, whether natural or not, exists for the sole purpose of provoking angst in the viewers. It is unnecessary to the story and serves no discernible purpose for the development of the characters. After the fallout clears, everything is pretty much the way it was, and many viewers wonder, “Why did they do that,” and “they should never do that again.” That may ring some bells, too. This angst provokes immediate anger in me (after the stomach clenching subsides). I do not like being toyed with.
Then there’s organic angst (don’t know which of you first used the term, but I’m borrowing it. I’ll give you half my bowl of gruel). It is endemic to the story and natural to the characters as we know them. I think we’ve been calling it “good” angst. Maybe “believable” is a better word.
Even believable angst can be introduced and played out in dishonest ways, decreasing most people’s tolerance for it, especially if there’s already a history of baseless, gratuitous angst.
What we have so far from Aisle of Terror is believable in that it flows naturally from the story and is in keeping with Chuck and Sarah as we know them. How can this mom hunt not generate angst in Chuck and Sarah? Granted it was a loaded setup, but given that, their actions and angst were believable.
I knock it down a little on the honesty scale for its over-dramatized introduction. If the fight is drawn out too long, it won’t seem true to the C/S relationship we’ve watched develop this season. However, if their internal conflict is resolved and replaced by an external one, one that flows from the inevitable fallout from the mom debacle, then the angst will still be believable. However, drawing out the residual angst too long will become manipulative and dishonest. The main story needs to move along or you end up with a soap opera, the very definition of baseless angst.
THE SUBJECTIVE SIDE OF ANGST
How we react to what we see is totally subjective. In this group of highly-intelligent, mostly like-minded viewers, we all demonstrate different thresholds of tolerance for believable angst. Some people are fed up and never want to see it again in any of its forms. I will never say you are wrong for that. Some people want to see more. While I personally hope you don’t hold any sway with TPTB, I will defend your right to want more angst, albeit with trepidation, gulp. Everyone I’ve read, whether my angst meter is in synch with theirs or not, has presented a good defense for their take on the angst.
My angst meter? Thanks for asking. (you didn’t?) My current angst meter reads hopeful. I don’t mind one more round of C/S conflict since it is honest … as long as it doesn’t drag out. Don’t let the sun go down on your angst, er anger. I don’t mind external pressure, it’s part of life. I’m OK for now, as long as the conflicts resolve soon and Chuck and Sarah emerge stronger for having worked through them.
Angst … we can appraise it objectively, with the acknowledgement that we all have different angst meters. I can argue the merits of the angst I see, but I can’t impose my angst meter on any of you. … You may love Beethoven.
Borrowing from the song Both Sides Now:
I’ve looked at angst from both sides now
From theirs and mine, and still somehow
It’s angst’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know angst at all.