orgtheory.net

sing goddess, sing of the rage of sylvester (1.1)

Gabriel 

[1.1 because a previous version of this post didn’t load the graphics right. the substance is the same]

You may be able to judge a culture by its epic poetry. Where the Greeks had the Odyssey, we have “Trapped in the Closet.” Rather than “wise old Nestor” we have “crusty headed hoes” and our composer is not a blind old bard but a cradle-robbing water sportsman.

Anyway, anyone who’s seen “Trapped in the Closet” knows that the appeal is not in the music itself (which is boring and repetitive) nor even really in the lyrical style (despite the occasional gem) and it is most definitely not in the filler (a good part of the series consists of the characters playing phone tag). Rather, the appeal of the series is in the plot, which consists not so much of new actions as of continuous revelation of an incredibly intricate web of duplicitous relations which were formed in the backstory. As such, I have been having some fun mapping the relations in “Trapped in the Closet.” I define a tie as either observed or hearsay direct interaction between two characters. Presence in the same room or organization doesn’t count, nor does the dream sequence. [Spoilers abound from here on out.]

This Pajek graph shows the relations between the characters. The numbers on the lines represent the episode in which the dyad is revealed so characters with all high numbers like Pimp Luscious were introduced late. In other cases you can have two characters who were both introduced early, such as Chuck and Cathy, but for whom no relationship is revealed until fairly late.

[big version of the same graph]

The graph has a very dense core and two peripheral structures. The structure on the right consists of Pimp Luscious, Bishop Craig, Reverend Mosley James Evan, and the Peace Within Choir. While entertaining in of itself (why is the pimp in church in the first place? and did you notice the blind prostitute?) the scene involving these characters is as peripheral to the story as it is to the network. The structure on the top is Rosie, Rudolph, and Mirna. When Rudolph overhears that Chuck is in the hospital with “the package” (a venereal disease), he tells Rosie, who in turn tells Mirna (a new character). Although the network structure implies that the story should end here, as Mirna is at the periphery, in chapter 22 it somehow gets back to all the main characters and this widespread knowledge of Chuck’s “package” will probably form an important plot point in the forthcoming chapters.

Given that Chuck has an STD, the stakes of the graph are pretty high. Anyone who has heard the hip-hopera knows that this is not just Chuck’s problem, but potentially involves several other characters. However when you isolate the graph of sexual ties you see that this really only affects the core characters introduced in the first few episodes. Furthermore, we know James the cop and Gwendolyn used a condom at least once. If we make the further assumption that they used them consistently and properly, then James, Bridget, and Big Man are not at serious risk of contracting “the package.”

In addition to sexual ties, there are basically two other types of network ties in “Trapped in the Closet.” Of course, there are people who merely know each other or talk to each other, which you can consider a sort of default tie. However there are a lot of threats of violence (and to a lesser extent, actual violence) in “Closet.” My guesstimate is that about a third of the conversations occur at gunpoint. You can then define a tie as 1 “talk/know,” 2 “sex,” 3 “violence,” and 4 “sex and violence.” This resulting graph demonstrates that the peripheral characters not only are introduced later and have fewer ties, but they tend to have weaker ties, consisting only of talk. A look at the core structure shows that the main characters tend to all have (diseased) sex with and/or threaten one another so if you have to live in “Closet” you’re probably better off living at the periphery. [again, right-click and “view image” to see the whole thing].

[big version of the same graph]

More generally, network analysis seems to be an interesting approach to apply to fiction, perhaps revealing similar findings as those in Steven Johnson’s coding of overlapping plot threads in Everything Bad is Good for You. My hunch is that very few works of fiction would resemble the kind of small world structure we see in real world social networks. (The only small world novel that leaps to mind is Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle). Rather, I think just as Johnson found, works will tend to be either episodic or serial. “Trapped in the Closet” is a good example of a serial work, with very high density among an ensemble of characters and over the course of the work you are as likely to see a new tie formed between existing characters as to see a new character introduced. In contrast, episodic works will have a very large number of characters in a radiating hub structure, with the regular characters at the core and each episode having a distinct structure connected directly to the core but not the other branches. For instance, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn would consist of Huck and Jim at the core, with Tom Sawyer on the one hand and the dauphin and duke on the other having slightly lower centrality. Huck, Jim, and Tom would be connected to all the characters at the beginning and end of the book and Huck, Jim, and the two con men would be connected to all the characters in the middle. However, lesser characters would be strangers to one another, for instance the Arkansas audience for “Nonesuch” never meet the grieving Wilks family just a few pages away and a few miles down the river. Network analysis could provide an interesting coding scheme for literature (broadly defined) which could provide a way of measuring complexity of the work and what sorts of works are valued by critics and audiences over time.

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Written by gabrielrossman

October 6, 2007 at 10:37 pm

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  1. […] Comments for Fuyoh! wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptGabriel  [1.1 because a previous version of this post didn t load the graphics right. the substance is the same] You may be able to judge a culture by its epic poetry. Where the Greeks had the Odyssey, we have “Trapped in the Closet.” Rather than “wise old Nestor” we have “crusty headed hoes” and our composer is not a blind old bard but a cradle-robbing water sportsman. Anyway, anyone who’s seen “Trapped in the Closet” knows that the appeal is not in the music itself (which […]

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  2. […] two other characters and inevitably be involved in at least one gun standoff.  As this wonderful post by sociologist Dr. Gabriel Rossman notes: In addition to sexual ties, there are basically two other […]

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  3. […] at the time, but a few years ago I suggested some possibilities for this kind of analysis in a post on orgtheory in which I graphed R. Kelly’s “Trapped in the Closet.” My main suggestion at the […]

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  4. […] find them at all funny. I have no idea how to go about writing “sociology can be fun” (this is probably the closest I’ve come) along the lines of Levitt/Dubner or Harford, nor to be […]

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