Friday, 27 April 2012

Lifting Some of the Veil on Maytag

On a random intro note. I hereby quote the wise, worldly and creepy Grandpa Joe from the excellent webcomic Scary Go Round, "Lies are like a flower. The truth is like a brick."

Those characters have an amazing flair and personality in them. You will enjoy it dear readers.

So. We've delved into villainage, world-views and archetypes, touched on dynamics and rattled the cage on a few rather unspoken topics. Mostly just because people don't talk about them much, not because they're particularly taboo.

So lets take a slight tangent and take a case study about a character who is particularly interesting, both in terms of how she was initially portrayed and how the storyline progressed her. And ultimately, the world view that she represented.

The character in question is Maytag, from the webcomic Flipside.

Maytag is a revolutionary character. I have seen the jester character played before, and she is modelled solidly after that archetype. The initial storyline and plot follows a number of usual anime tropes with the shy guy and not so shy girl.The plotline of Flipside has a lot to be desired and has a tendency to meander a bit. It has some wonderful ideas, but it's a story you read for the journey, not for the incredible plot.

However Maytag subtly shakes our idea of her from the moment she appears. Reading back it's blindingly obvious, but the initial read through, you'll probably miss the incredible complexity and totality to which she is her character. She doesn't play it. She is it.

Furthermore, the first 6 or so chapters are chock full of psychological references and incredibly deep thoughts. But you'll probably miss that the first time round.

In fact. This next bit will have spoilers. So really. Hop on over there and read it through, you'll get what I'm talking about a lot more.

It's worth the read, trust me.

However, get a bit further on in the story, and several twists happen that will pull the rug under your feet and put those subtle little details the author keeps hinting at into perspective.

You see, what makes Maytag so interesting is not the initial personality (which is fun and incredibly entertaining), but the fact that she is genuinely, wholly and completely like that. Unlike the usual expectation, she isn't wearing a mask. She is whole heartedly and genuinely selfless. In any other character, her complete lack of morals and willingness to strip down, or whore it out, would label her a complete slut. Which is what the initial main character, Crest calls her. As the author names it, she's a nymphomaniac, and unashamedly so.

What defines her as a character is the fact that she is her character to the hilt. She is genuinely like that, and she does so because she is completely happy to share freely, regardless of what kind of sharing is being talked about.

And when I say genuine, I mean the kind of genuine displayed in the following story:

An atheist was talking to a catholic Bishop one day, and he mentions to the clergyman the sad fact that one of his brethren had departed the earth.

The Bishop, beaming brightly, cries, "Oh that's wonderful! He's gone to meet the Lord!"

This is the kind of genuine I'm talking about. Where one proclaims a matter of faith or something they believe in, or something about themself, and they wholeheartedly believe it. Their immediate reaction is completely in following with what they talk about. It never occurs to them that there might be another way of seeing things, so to speak.

Maytag's treatment of other people exactly mirrors the Bishop's faith. She cares, and she does so completely genuinely.

Go deeper, and you find more details about her character that the author has clearly spent a great deal of time thinking about. These details, apart from the surprising on outlined above, are ones that take a deep knowledge of humanity, and an understanding of psychology that is exemplary.

Maytag doesn't just preach selflessness. She acts it out. Further, when a character berates her, even though she is deeply hurt, she says - and this is right in the beginning - these following beautiful words:

"The only way you could ever lose me as a friend is if you decide that. And even then the door is always open to you."

But she's not all honey and roses. Maytag is a double edged sword with her refreshing lack of the usual moral distinctions. Her behaviour could be diagnosed as deeply sociopathic and on many levels she's an incredibly horrible person. What's so refreshing about her is that these traits are wound up in the good sides so tightly that you can't have one without the other, and she presents them in a duality. They're a paradox that actually makes sense. They're a beautiful paradox.

To put that into a better context. Consider the beginning pages of Chapter 2, particularly page 8. And the conversation and actions that happen from there on in. Our current main character, Crest, has been caught cheating, and after escaping with Maytag, they've been cornered by a sorceress who is out to exact a punishment on Crest. The conversation that follows is illuminating:

Maytag: "Listen Dice, we're reasonable women... Let's make a deal. Let Crest go... And I'll take his punishment for him..."

Everyone: Shocked...

Maytage: Dead serious face.

Dice: "Oh really...? And why shouldn't I just follow orders instead?"

Maytag: [Classic Mentalist play.] "Because I know how you really feel about Crest, Sweetie..."

Dice: "WHAT-??" Shocked, embarrassed. "THAT'S RIDICULOUS I DON'T--!!"

Maytag: Aren't you jumping to conclusions? I never said you love him...!"

Dice: "Urk...!"

Maytag: "Gotcha. <3."

"Dice, I'm a poker player. You think that flimsy little tough girl act can fool me?"

"It's ironic how you give him a hard time for being shy... Because you're the one who's too scared to express her feelings!"

Dice: Very Embarrassed. "Shut up with your bullshit! I'm with Hellmouth! And that's the way I like my men, tough and confident!"

Maytag: "Then why are you blushing?"

"You hate the way you're treated, don't you? That's why secretly, you wish you could be with Crest instead."

Dice: "Shut up! Shut up, God damn it!! I don't need to hear this shit from a fucking Jester Girl."

Maytag: [Classic Maytag genuine 180] "I know, I'm sorry... But please, Dice.... Let me take the heat for him! I don't wanna see them cut Crest's eyes out, do you?!"

Dice: !!

Gives in, cries.

Maytag: Looks ominously intense. Angry.

Dice: Crest... I'm sorry... I can't...

Maytag pegs Dice in the shoulder with a silence dagger. "Sorry for manipulating your feelings like that, Dice. I don't dislike you... But I can't let you stand in our way."

See, this is why I call Maytag revolutionary. And keep in mind, this is the same person who gives unconditional friendship, and would lay down herself to save someone who she barely knows (Or in her case, knows very well. Because she can read him like a book.). She epitomises this Flipside of terrifying sociopathic manipulation that falls well into Machiavellian territory; and complete and utter selflessness (this is something she manages to show over and over throughout the comic. The above example being just one of many sacrifices she makes or is willing to make. She's utilitarian, but would give literally anything at the drop of a hat to minimise the suffering of another. She'll waltz into your head, tinker with the deep stuff on the inside, change you irredeemably, then laugh and put a knife in your knee when you drop your guard. (literally).

I could go deeper into what makes Maytag such an interesting character, but I think you're starting to get an idea. Keep in mind the above piece is from the first two chapters. There are 36 so far, and more coming. I didn't notice most of this until after somewhere mid way through when Maytag does a few things that were so genuinely selfless and poignant that I was rocked to my core. It made me question the standards to which held my own personal interactions with people.

The thing about Maytag's character development is that it isn't defined by sudden moments of powerful revelation, but instead by long periods of hard work and effort. And sacrifice. In one particularly horrifying and heartwrenching scene she gives her arm, still attached, up to a carnivorous monster created by the experiments of a mysterious doctor character who seems to be a reoccurring theme. The thing is, she would have given more, if the monster hadn't been so horrified with themselves that they'd fled, vowing true change. Maytag comforts her hunter and captor while said captor is literally eating her.

As she says herself, "Monster? That's a completely subjective term. It's meaningless."

In fact. Maytag goes into her own philosophy in a discussion with this monster. And this is one of the things I love about Maytag. She's actually switched on. She doesn't just have these trite little conversations that are only there to show how smart the character is or put forth an ideology. She is always smart, and always delving deep.

Bloody Mary: "He (scientist, called Melter) was right. I was amazed at how quickly I started to enjoy the killing."

Maytag: "Well... most people, if put in your situation, would more or less become the same way." [Note the careful use of 'most'. This is a half justification. Maytag doesn't actually agree with Mary, but she phrases it in such a way as to give that impression. I do this quite regularly if I don't see a point in discussing a certain thing, or want someone to talk deeper on something - since it's a prompt.]

Bloody Mary: "But, remember what you said before, about acceptance and stuff? I that's what I'm trying to do, too! People kept calling me a hideous monster..."

"Well, once I decided to accept that I truly am a monster... Things became much easier."

Maytag sighs: Hmmm..

Bloody Mary: What?

Maytag: It's just that there's a difference between my philosophy and yours..."

"The difference between objective and subjective reality."

Bloody Mary: Small voice. "Subjective...?"

Maytag: "Umm... How to put it... Basically objective things are fact, indisputable. Whereas subjective things are opinion... They differ based on a person's personality and perspective."

"My philosophy is to accept the facts in front of you, no matter how terrible... Because quick acceptance allows you the best possible mindset for dealing with any situation."

"But what you're talking about is something totally different. You're talking about accepting people's opinion of you as though it were fact."

"If you do that, you're letting other people define you."

"And that's a shame. Because only you have the power to define yourself." [She's damn good isn't she?]

"You shouldn't give that power away so easily... Not even to creepy sorcerer children!"

Bloody Mary: "But... What else can I be...?!"

Maytag: "I know... You've been given an impossible choice. Cannibalism or a painful death."

"But, maybe there's more options than it seems..."

[The fundamental difference between a victim mentality and a problem solver mentality. This argument is Clara vs Seta. Maytag is trapped right now. She has no way out. Or that would probably be most character's solution, and the author would need a deus ex machina moment to save them. But Maytag has turned it around. She's in charge now. You'll see in a second.]

Bloody Mary: ...?

Maytag: "For example... My arm can be regrown. So what if I just growing it back so you keep eating it? Then you could live without killing people!" [Bet you guys never thought of that eh?]

"Or, slightly more realistic... You could become a cannibal crime-fight! Save the good people by eating the bad!" Jokingly jabbing the air for emphasis.

Bloody Mary sighs. Deadpan face.

Maytag: "Um... Let's see... What else..." Sighs thoughtfully.

Bloody Mary: "It's pointless." [Victim mentality. I give up.]

Maytag: [Ever the fighter, optimist, and never the victim.] "Well... How about this..."

"You could just be my friend!"

Bloody Mary. Everyone in the whole world. !

Maytag is a manipulating little b***h. But nothing quite matches the shock she gives everyone when she genuinely offers friendship to the people who treat her with hatred and in this case, like lunch. I'll put this question out there. How much would you, or any of your characters sacrifice for each other? If death is the cowards way to be heroic...

Let's continue, and pick up some of that more Machiavellian Maytag:

Bloody Mary: Flabbergasted. "How can I, Maytag...! It's impossible!" [Ever the victim.]

Maytag: "Then there's always that other option. We make your body the way it used to be... Find a cure!"

Bloody Mary: !!! ...! "Do you think that's really possible?"

Maytag: [There's a possibility she could be termed as a variant of the INTJ character profile.] "I can't see why not... If we can just find a sorceror powerful enough. And I think I know the perfect person..."

Bloody Mary: "Do you...?!"

Maytag: "Yes definitely."

Bloody Mary: Shocked. "Maytag... You'd... Really do all this for me...?"

Maytag: "Of course! I'd do anything to help a friend." - 80% chance she lets me go...- [Aaaand there's the Machiavelli. But the difference here is that she really means it.]

This chapter blew my mind. Not because the concepts were alien, but because, for the first time, I saw a truly selfless character do something truly selfless. And beyond that, that everything in the comic showed her to be true to her nature.

Please understand. What I just spent ages talking about and typing out. This only covers a fraction of Maytag's personality. There are layers on layers of it. It's deep, well thought out, and most importantly, true to life. Maytag is a very specific rare type of person. Very, very rare.

It's a bit sad then, that most of the remaining characters aren't nearly as deep as she is. Where Maytag is heavily fleshed out, most of the others barely even come close. This may be because they're up against a phenomenal comparison, but it also might be because, even though they are mostly true to their characters, having an entire cast of characters as complex as Maytag would stress even the most accomplished of authors. And the readers too.

Consider the world views being presented here. The themes are complex, and it's mucky and gritty. There's nudity all over the comic, but it's plain and straightforward, not fanservice. But while Maytag presents a number of views, the most dominant ones are of selflessness, endurance and redemption.

Flipside is by far one of the deepest comics I seen when it comes into delving into the notions of human freedom, psychology and emotion. And when it shines it lights a bonfire in the dark, it's heartwrenching and heartwarming. You will be challenged personally, because you will understand where they're coming from, and it won't just be a few trite little moments. Maytag shares Truth.

And Truth is universal.

And so I'll leave you with a powerful piece of truth. I knew this well before Flipside, and it's helped me through many a dark year.

Maytag: "When bad things happen, I don't let them cause me pain. I accept them. That's why I'm so calm. I've already accepted my own death."

Bloody Mary: "What?"

Maytag: "Crying and begging, that would be a pathetic way to die! That's not how I choose to die. But you... You need something that I can give you."

"That's why I want to be your friend."

"I've decided that I want to spend the last moments of my life giving you comfort. So please... Call me Maytag."

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