Welcome back to Sentimental Sentences, where I explore individual sentences that mean a lot more than they seem, at least to me. The most recent Legends of Tomorrow episode, featuring the Legends heading to a reinvented Camelot, had one nugget that stuck with me in what was honestly a sub par episode.
“It’s like a sabre… made of light”
“Don’t call it a lightsaber, though. Copyright problems”
At least along those lines. Now, we know that Legends of Tomorrow, and the rest of the Arrowverse, is certainly no stranger to overt references to more popular media. From Cisco’s constant references to Walking Dead and other popular shows, to an entire episode of Legends where the crew need to save George Lucas to make sure their career inspiration remains, the show goes out of its way to keep up the kayfabe, to ensure that the audience is made as aware as possible that this world, within the framework of being a TV show, is totally real. Now, this does lead to some problems: After all, when the Cisco references Big Bang Theory as a TV show, and Big Bang Theory references The Flash as a comic book character, where does it end? Furthermore, the George Lucas episode, despite being supremely relatable of its exploration of the importance of art, and in being a massive Star Wars fangasm, ended up being a weaker episode.
However, in this case, when Ray uses Atom energy to light a medieval broadsword up into being a futuristic weapon, an incredulous Englishman of the time exclaims the first line. Now, this is a fairly simple reference, and an easy one to make. It didn’t need to be anything more than a fun reference. However, Ray’s response left an impression more profound than is easily explainable. But I’ll try anyway.
This line didn’t seem to breaking the fourth wall, at least to the extent of interacting with the audience. It’s Ray playfully teasing an ancient man with the conundrum of modern laws, his own private in-joke. But my expectation that the first line would be the entire end of the joke was shattered by the second. For that one instant, the show ceased to be a show. Here was a present-day character confounding one from the past using a joke that could only be understood by him. It’s exactly what I would have said if I wasn’t in a TV show that was itself mired in copyright restrictions, I’m sure. As I’ve mentioned before, the writers of these shows have always played it fast and loose with their references, so I assume that one-off references are fine legally, while more overt ones like King Shark fall within the more transformative realm, a la parody.
Kayfabe is an American colloquialism that refers to the reality of the work, originating from wrestling. It’s the fictional reality you see play out before you in any story. Fourth Wall. Breaking the fourth wall originated with the invisible onstage wall between a play and the audience, but it can be equally applied to the screen of a computer or TV. However, we mostly interact with media while acknowledging the existence of said wall, and any breaks are also engaged with on that level. When you’re watching any piece of art, you build that fourth wall. There’s a reason we refer to that term so much, as it perfectly explains that separation between the audience and the kayfabe.
But for that one instant, when Ray talked about copyright problems, there was no fourth wall. The other three were gone too. In that one instant, the show had acquired complete verisimilitude, and I was fully ready to believe that the interaction was real. It is important to note that I have little experience with live action TV, limited mostly to Game of Thrones and the Arrowverse. I do have experience with anime and video games, but I’ve never quite felt the same way about those, and I think it’s because I’m used to engaging with them on a different level to real life. I’m adamant that my love for these isn’t escapism, but I interact with them knowing fully that these things exist on some other level than real life. And my main problem with live action is the fact that this can’t happen with real people in media, and it’s easier to break kayfabe. However, this was the so far first and only time where it was something different.
Now, I’ll grant you that this all sounds really abstract and dumb. Even I feel like I was emotional in a way that was disproportionate to what actually happened, and I don’t feel I’ve explained it adequately. This is probably incomprehensible to any reader, but I know that that interaction was something that triggered strong emotions in me, and I definitely want to know why. Verisimilitude seems to be the answer, and the art jumping to a new level of engagement. I’ll definitely be looking out for something similar happening in anime.