POUND FOOLISH WISDOM:
Where AIO Characters Are Put Beneath the Microscope
by Pound Foolish
Hi, it’s the nutty, the deep, the weird Pound Foolish. (Call me PF at your peril; it’s not necessary to abbreviate every single online name that’s more than one word.) I didn’t introduce myself in my first post. As, arguably, giving an in-depth look at a hot AIO topic is the best way for an AIO “dreamer”, as Alex calls us, to introduce themselves, I didn’t introduce myself on my first article. But now, I’ll say a few words on myself for you to skip over at your earliest convenience. I’ve been an avid AIO listener for years. As Alex said, I’m the founder of the Emily RULES! Klub. That is, ERK. Yes, it sounds just like “irk.” We’re here to irk the Emily Haters! Well, I’m occasionally mentioned in the AIO blogging community, as I am a moderator on The Soda Shop, and a controversial, somewhat popular one. And, like all dreamers, I aspire to my own AIO blog!
Alright here we go…
Many really just hate the new era. The way they talk, they are ready to ring Andre Stojka’s throat, join a CCCW protest, fill Kathy Buchanan’s office with dead cats, and form an Emily Stinks club. I used to feel the same way. (Well, not the Emily Stinks club, but most of it.)
I yawned at Matthew in Target of the Week. I only sort-of became endeared to him and the rest of the Parkers in Grandma’s Visit; as the cacophony of Mexican accents and music seemed positively alien in AIO. And while I enjoyed Priscilla in Stage Fright, she seemed rather bland in The Malted Milkball Falcon, and I thought she’d proven unsuited to the larger role. Perhaps the worst of it was Vance, insufferably awful at times, especially as my mind inevitably compared him to Rodney. I enjoy those episodes now, but at the time, it practically infuriated me.
But two characters seemed to be making up for a lot, and they rapidly won my heart over. One happened to be a girl with a pleasantly cartoony voice who fearlessly barked orders to males and solved cases with clever logic. The other was a fascinating oddball who, at first glance, seemed to be a bad-guy… and yet turned out to be more interesting than that. He always acted unpleasant, yet he seemed to like the other AIO kids pretty well, and enjoy being with them.
I will talk about the former, Emily, later. She’s become a RIDICULOUSLY controversial topic online, so I won’t talk about her till I feel like I’m ready to tackle a bomb. This article is about Jay Smouse.
Why do we think a bully is a bully? Because he picks on people? No, because, more specifically, he picks on people you like. Consider Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet. To him, his fury was righteous, a deep hate against sworn enemies of his family that bred a longing for violence and terror. When he drew his sword on Mercutio and slayed him, to Romeo, Tybalt showed evil. (Romeo would’ve been even more mad if he knew Bart would make the event into a funny Electric Palace commercial.)
Mercutio loved Romeo. Tybalt hated Romeo.
Romeo learned to hate Tybalt. Tybalt believed himself in the right.
A villain is the product of point of view.
We are so easily wrong about a person’s behavior, because we can know so little of the circumstances surrounding a situation. In The Importance of Being Earnest, and Lady Windermere’s Fan, both plays by Oscar Wilde, the entire plot revolves around misunderstandings. A complete misconception of how good, and… and complexly, darkly bad, the characters are.
Lady Windermere’s Fan begins with her discovering, it seems, her husband is having an affair with a strange, elegant woman recently arrived the community. A woman interested in him because of money.
Lady Windermere, some hours after meeting the woman at a ball in Lady Windermere’s home, says
“You talk as if you had a heart. Women like you have no hearts. Heart is not in you. You are bought and sold.”
She later discovers the woman to indeed have past, and despicable in society’s eyes, but a brave, loving woman, with no attachments to her husband. In the final act, she has a significant discourse with her husband on the woman.
Lord Windermere: “Child, you and she belong to different worlds. Into your world, evil has never entered.”
Lady Windermere: “Don’t say that, Arthur. There is the same world for all of us, and good and evil, sin and innocence, go through it hand in hand. To shut one’s eyes to half of life that one may live securely is as though one blinded oneself that one might walk with more safety in a land of pit and precipice.”
Thus, through such a strange glass, partially clean, partially filthy and distorting, we must view Jay. Jay, in his first appearance, seems merely Vance’s rotten, meanness loving side-kick. It’s only later we discover he can do a rockathon for charity alongside Matthew, the very kid he picked on, and never once, as far as we see, even consider bullying him. He sides with Valerie, in How to Sink a Sub, and yet turns around becomes helpful. And, while, in Sub, he indirectly upsets Olivia, the main character of the episode, he talks to her. Not to say mean things to her, just to talk… and, well, yes, complain. But he never tries to bother her. As for Barrett, yes, Jay always throws insults and pranks at Barrett, but only through his sense of competition.
(What do we make of such a character? What do we do with Jay?)
Yet, when we again see Vance with Jay, in the much talked of Mistaken for Good, Jay moaningly goes along with him to do the dishonorable. It’s as if, away from Vance’s influence, Jay is just a fairly annoying, goofy, somewhat rude, oddball kid. One can’t help wondering if Vance led jay astray in the first place.
But, we all already knew this. Because many of us like him. Sure, we all like Rodney’s funny, slightly menacing character, but how many of us like him as a person? How many of us would like him as a friend? All who want Rodney Rathbone as a friend, show their hands!... Hmm, yes, that’s about the expected statistic.
What shall we make of Jay? Just what do we do with him?
Back to what I was saying, Jay, unlike Rodney, some of us do like. He’s a silly, sometimes friendly, even kind, (in Mistaken for Good), person who’s misguided and too competitive.
On the other hand, is Jay, when it comes right down to it, a bad person? No, because there’s no such thing. All people have the capacity for good.
Sin, then, is an action in which we open an absence of God and his goodness in ourselves, in the world, and, often, other people. However, in fiction, this is not the case. In fiction, there are antagonists and protagonists. The bad guy and the good guy. Part of the fun of fiction is we are able to absolutely despise people, something we cannot do in real life without some guilt.
Jay occasionally fits somewhat into this role. He’s the antagonist in Unbecoming Jay, How to Sink a Sub and The Amazing Loser.
In all of them, Jay does fabulously as a villain. And is a villain. We route for the “good” character, and hope Jay is going to be defeated. Well, perhaps not so much in The Amazing Loser. One may easily fail to care whether Emily’s addiction prone older brother is going to win a scavenger hunt. Especially as Matthew was really the one who would be the winner, as Jay was just a useless tag-along. They tried to center the conflict on Jay and Barrett, and have Matthew in the background, but Jay, in the end, was nothing but a baddie-wannabe. However, it worked. One may not be in suspense, necessarily, but Jay is both funny and a pain, as he should be. So the listener wants Jay to lose, getting a well-earned whop.
In How to Sink a Sub, Jay warns Olivia of oncoming trouble for them both. He is worried for himself, yet he seems worried for the other also, as he warns her. His worries are also justifiable. Some teachers are just no good, and being stuck with such a one is maddening. And, as it turned out, Katrina truly came off as authoritarian. One can’t help but sympathize with his and Valerie’s gleeful rebellion against Katrina’s new, strange, controlling ways.
Speaking of Valerie, is it a coincidence Jay, when he is the villain, is always either competing against Barrett, or in league with someone else? Let’s examine the former point first.
Just what is it with Jay and Barrett? How long have they been determinedly rivals, and why? I’m not suggesting AIO should devote an entire episode to how years ago Jay and Barrett’s glorious rivalry sprang to dramatic, furious life, but a few hints would be nice. We can assume it might have something to do with music, but it’s all up to our imaginations… Why does Barrett bring out a sometimes out of control sense of competition in Jay? The significance of this is… if it wasn’t for Jay’s competing with Barrett, Jay would only have been cast as the likeable, goofy villain… once.
Next, the latter part of the question. Jay being in league with other villains. As I said, Eugene comments Valerie and Jay “… influence each other in all the wrong ways.” Could it be influence is one of Jay’s key problems? We already saw Jay’s being led astray by Vance. Here, again, another baddie pulls Jay into questionable action. Valerie also brings out the worst in Olivia. Understandably so. Indeed, Valerie casts grows a frozen ice covering of chilly meanness and negativity over the lake of every show she’s in. She’s an affective, well rounded character that way, doing exactly what she’s supposed to do. She’s the sort of person, who, if on really knew her, one might despise but would also, in ways, admire. But we may talk more on Valerie later.
For now… it’s enough to observe this control has gone over onto Jay. She frees Jay to be mean, negative, and pull at first harmless enough but increasingly problematic pranks. Around her, he can be, well, his worst self. Give into his whims.
With Vance and Valerie, then, and with Barrett, Jay becomes, as we saw, just a misled, somewhat rude, goofy kid.
Could it be we’ve misjudged him?
Moving on, in the Soda Shop, people speculate on Jay’s beliefs. Suzylou, a writer on the Unofficial AIO Blog, says…
“… People can say they are Christians, but being a true Christian also means we desire to live a life like Christ...and we can't live a life like Christ if we aren't acting like one. And, while I don't think Jay is evil, he certainly isn't a kind person very often- therefore his isn't acting very Christ like, which is probably what is leading people to believe he isn't a real, true Christian under God's leading. Oh, and I also believe that a true, born-again Christian can and will stumble and fall at times- but he can be forgiven, but I also hope that person will try and learn from his mistakes to become a better person.”
I know, I quoted Suzy in my last article. I didn’t mean to do that, but she can be quite smart, and the quote fit perfectly, so what the hey.
Technically, a Christian, as far as the bare-bones definition goes, is just someone who believes in God and that Jesus Christ was our savior. Being Christian is an entirely different matter. For instance, Jay acts mean, but he seems to long to be a good person. One, by contrast, might act as a follower of Christ, but inwardly dwell unnecessarily on dark thoughts and desires, such as lust or imagining vengeance on someone.
Is Jay a Christian at heart?
Who can say?
We can’t see his heart.
If he is Christian, he’s AIO’s first major character to be Christian, and yet behave greatly questionably as a trademark. If he believes something other than Christianity, he is AIO’s first major character to belong to another religion. If he belongs to a different religion, he’s a somewhat poor bad start to representing other groups.
It would be a fascinating development, as well as a new and important one. How come AIO acknowledges racial diversity, (the Parkers, the Washingtons), but never religious diversity? Only minor characters have ever subscribed to a religion other than Christianity. Yes, Seth’s weirdo mom, for example, practiced a philosophy contradictory to philosophy. But she was little more than a walk-on.
A religious program need not focus entirely on religious characters to be religious. In fact, if used properly, religious diversity brings out the Christian messages still more. Acknowledging other’s belief’s, allows fiction to point out where they are right and wrong, thus strengthening the case for Christianity.
What’s the point of coming to a conclusion in fiction if no one ever truly challenges the conclusion?
Perhaps it’s time Odyssey gave up its habit of being inhabited entirely either by poor, drifting, clueless non-Christians without any religion who need us to “save” them, and sweet, “church-going” Christians.
So, either way, Jay is something new. He already stands out. I imagine we shall never discover Jay is, say, Mormon or a follower of Islam. Most likely, if he were to believe in a religion, just be something he’s going along with because, say, his parents believe it. All the same, it could be more fresh, complicated, and show more new sides of Jay’s character than just having him be another poor doesn’t-know-Jesus casualty.
So, who’s Jay? He’s never really given us reason to think he is Christian, or a religion other than Christian. Is he a mostly-good-person, or a mostly-bad-person?
Is he, in the end, a villain or an oddball, less than perfect good-guy?
Well, it depends. Is a person their actions’ in public? Or is a person their thoughts… their dreams… their hopes… Who they are at home?
We’ve never see Jay at home.
Perhaps, until we do, we cannot be sure who he is. That’s because he is so much like a real person. What makes him a good character is that we do not know what to make of him. What to do with him. He has something called soul. Heart. Being. Such things are complicated.
Perhaps we should instead ask what shall Jay do with himself.
Amazing, wasn't it? I look forward to more Pound Foolish Wisdoms, don't you? Anyway, that's it for today. But considering if PF hadn't saved me with this amazing piece of art, you would have had to endure no article at all or a short article from me.
Thanks for reading!