Manipulative vs Emotional

It was really interesting yesterday I went to bo0k club and we talked about a book I really didn’t like. It is called Me Before You by Jojo Moyes.  Here is my review

Me Before You (Me Before You, #1)Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I’m sorry but I thought this book was terrible. It was like a Nicholas Sparks novel but more incompetently written. The dialogue was cringe worthy.The story was something you’d see on a bad soap opera but without the campy fun those can have. I certainly didn’t care about any of the characters or the story. It felt like something you’d get from Harlequin or a dime romance novel but without the sizzle those books can have.The ending was unpardonable. Too sappy for me…

Oh and the alternating narrators annoyed me so much. It came out of nowhere and wasn’t helpful to the story at all. Please stop it authors!

Well and the overall messaging of the book is kind of disturbing. Everything from rich parents who never look into anything to help their quad son like voice recognition software…No wonder he wants to kill himself! Also we have a woman who has the jerk boyfriend that’s an obvious foil for our perfect match. And a lead character who seems to not be aware of the internet, chatboards and is a total manic pixie dream girl trope.

I am strongly against assisted suicide but usually when it is argued it is people who have a terminal illness. Not a man who has special needs but openly admits to being able to live a perfectly happy life. That’s called regular suicide. As I said the ending is unpardonable.

Don’t listen to the good reviews guys. This book kind of sucks…

View all my reviews

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Now some in book club liked the book, which is awesome and we had a great discussion.  However, one question I didn’t feel I sufficiently answered is someone asked me what the difference was between being emotional about a story and being manipulated?  Don’t all books manipulate our emotions in one way or another?

It is true that all books or movies try to get some emotion out of the viewer/reader.  But manipulate is a little bit of a different word.  Look at the definition:

Manipulate

control or influence (a person or situation) cleverly, unfairly, or unscrupulously.

In a novel an author can stack things so against a person that they make it nearly impossible for the reader to not have a particular response.  This is when you leave feeling manipulated.  It’s when you know a situation is more complex but the writer has failed to show the nuance or character development and then they ask you to agree with them emotionally.

There is a popular Mormon song called Hands that I hate when it is sung at church because I feel it is manipulative.  It stacks the deck so high and tries so hard to ring emotion out of me that it makes me uncomfortable and not in an artistically interesting way.  I think especially with religion you should be able to walk away from an experience whether movie, TV, book or song feeling a spectrum of emotions and not just devastation/inspiration.

jungleOne of the most manipulative books ever written is Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle and it was intentionally so.  The Jungle is fascinating on a historical perspective but as prose it is tough to get through.  It’s basically propaganda written to manipulate the reader to agree with the political position of the author.  You read the book and everything bad that can happen to a person happens to this family and what is the Savior?  Socialism.  Socialism saves the day!

fault in our starsI haven’t read the book but for me the movie The Fault in Our Stars was manipulative and left me angry.  For me where it really went into manipulative territory was with the Peter van Houten character.  Here’s what I said in my review:

“This is where the movie lost me.  William Dafoe plays the author Peter Van Houten as one of the biggest jerks in movie history.  He’s right up there with the dictators, despots and murderers.  I’m serious.  It took me out of the movie it was so over the top. It kind of made me angry at the movie for manipulating me and making me feel such anger and for what? What does that anger do?  It’s not like 12 Years a Slave where I learn about evil and human history.  This is a man who would never exist so it is anger merely there to make me, the viewer, angry.

It’s like this movie pretends twitter, social media and news doesn’t exist.  This is a popular enough book for it to be big in the US when written in Amsterdam and yet an author will say to 2 kids with cancer flown across the world:

“You are a side-effect to an evolutionary process that cares little for individual lives. You are a failed experiment in mutation”

Give me a break movie.”

me earl and dying girlThe recent film Me, Earl and the Dying Girl had a similar  premise and tone of Fault in Our Stars and it was a little bit manipulative especially in a lie the narrator tells you.  However, it didn’t anger me like Fault in Our Stars because there wasn’t a character like van Houten that emotionally stacked the deck in such a one-sided way.  The creators gave me some room to like or dislike all the characters  and their choices and still be a valid response.

book thiefIn contrast, The Book Thief is a story that is emotional but at least for me I didn’t feel manipulated.  The odds are not unrealistically stacked against the characters.  There was some unpredictability to things and they were people who I really cared about.  For example, the character of Rosa Hubermann you can walk away from that book feeling like she is a bad person despite what happens to her.  You could also think she is a good person.  There is some of all of it within her and many of the other characters there is room for debate about their choices and actions.  Even when there is a hero or obvious villain in the story usually there should be some room for debate on the mission, how they carry it out, mistakes they make etc.

million dollar babyI think the Oscar winning film, Million Dollar Baby, is an interesting point of contrast especially with Me Before You.  I personally disagree with the characters actions at the end of the film; however, I felt like the movie allowed me to disagree.  It wasn’t asking me to celebrate the choices made.  It was presenting them and we could decide what to think.  I didn’t feel manipulated by the movie.  It was emotional but it didn’t anger me. It’s merely saying ‘this is how one person  worked out this tough situation’ and I can respect that even if I disagree.   The situation was also not set up to make the decision an obvious one because it isn’t.  It’s complicated as it should be.

In Me Before You the one character who disagrees with the ending was treated like a religious zealot and shrew who shuns her own daughter for months after it happens.  Like I said, the book piled on the manipulative aspects like few I have ever seen before.

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coverss.pngIn the end, this is a completely subjective gauge of whether something is emotional or manipulative.  A lot of people really love Me Before You and Fault in Our Stars where I didn’t.  That’s cool but I think most people can name a book or movie where they felt manipulated.  Where an author or creator was trying to force an emotion out of you that is undeserved or opposite of how you really feel.  That’s when a story will make me angry or annoyed.  It’s that compulsion when you should have some freedom of interpretation within a story that really turns me off.

What do you think about this topic?  What’s a movie/book that you felt manipulated by? It may be something I really like.  That’s what makes talking about these things so interesting.

2 thoughts on “Manipulative vs Emotional

  1. Chapters 14 and 15 of Adler & Van Doren’s “How to Read a Book” are enlightening in regard to the emotional aspect of fiction (novels, plays, poetry, etc.). If you’ve never read that classic, it should be at your public library, but if not, it’s old enough to be available in inexpensive used editions through any second-hand-book seller. I highly recommend it.

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