Science fiction: the victim of apathy that trickles down into hatred

Now, on underdeveloped scattershot argument theatre …

While I’ll be the first one to call Heroes silly, I’m not a professional TV critic. Alan Mascarenhas of the Sydney Morning Herald had this to write of episode 14, showing this week in Australia:

However, the show seems caught between different audiences. There are special effects but probably not enough to keep the science nuts happy. Any emotional drama is nobbled by the artificiality of the premise: it’s hard to feel much empathy for a mutant.

For one, Magneto would be furious.
For another, Mascarenhas probably doesn’t understand how any of these genres work, confessing that he’s “not science-fiction minded” and that he had not seen an episode of Heroes before episode 14.

I said of that episode:

I really enjoyed the first half of Heroes. Since then we’ve suffered at the hands of an invisible Haggard-esque degaying of Zach (I don’t know: he still seems pretty gay to me), a general anti-climactic nature, boredom at the hands of Niki/Jessica, and the distinct impression that the writers are just throwing revelations at us for the sake of it.

Yeah; but I knew what I was talking about. On that note, Bryan Fuller
totally confirmed the Zach thing again. Now we’ll never see Odessa again anyway, so it doesn’t matter, but oh, what could have been.

Anyway, this sort of closed-mindedness in this day and age makes me sad. I wouldn’t mind if he were specifically criticising Heroes, but he’s laying waste to an entire genre. Many SF fans don’t watch SF solely for whizz bangery. Even something as frequently smug and annoying as Firefly (or, indeed, any of Joss Whedon’s work [I’ll save my rant against his ruination of Angel for when I feel like tearing someone to pieces]) features characters that one can care for, even if they haven’t first hand experienced hijacking a train of its medicine and then being attacked by conscience and then kicking a guy into a jet engine and then having a statue erected in their honour and then having an ill fated but well conceived film made out of respect for what could have been and becoming a leaf on the wind.

The use of fanciful settings for stories allows authors and directors to bring into sharper relief the humanity of their characters. Many stories are analogous to real life situations, and there’s a reason that comics have a strong following in the gay community: it’s not because of the tights; it’s because of double identities, not fitting in, and general difference.

A lot of good SF (if you can really call superhero stories SF when they’re kind of their own genre anyway) just drips with metaphor, and a lot of the time this works well. I wasn’t much of a fan of the X-Men movies, but their relevance to the gay community was … uncanny (“Have you ever thought of … not being a mutant?”). Then it took a turn for the worse with X-Men 3, which was Brett Rattner’s personal journey into “I have no idea what message I’m trying to get across here … I appear to have made the franchise a front runner advocate of pro-life? Okay.”

These frequently subtle, sometimes not, metaphors and subtexts are effective ways of teaching people about issues in roundabout fashions. I suppose that this common subversion is probably one of the reasons that comic books and SF are seen as negative influences, but there’s no shame in learning. Unless that shame is the addiction to magic that made me hate Willow on Buffy for a long time (although that show did teach girls that it’s okay to make out with other girls in the event that your boyfriend cheats on you with a werewolf – which in itself is okay because he’s also a werewolf).
This subtext is also important because sometimes things cannot be said, like the gay episode of Star Trek that wasn’t made 20 years ago (I’d give you more sources, but After Elton is a good resource and frankly, a google search for “gay Star Trek” yields Kirk/Spock. On a side note, could the gay Trek characters be any twinkier? I think not).

Genre is a flexible idea; one can’t discount an entire genre because one does not like a single entry in that genre (also, if anyone mentions Sturgeon’s Law, which is the refuge of cynics who hate freedom, I will be forced to … well, don’t push me). Genre can also make something that is absolute tripe, such as X-Men 3, into something marvellous. I loved X-Men 3 because it was completely by the numbers, designed for maximum emotional manipulation with the added bonus of pissing fans right off.

It’s true that fans can be among the most annoying people on the planet, but every field has people who bring it down for the rest of them. This illustrates to us all that not everyone is the same and, while some might like flash bang magic, others appreciate the genuine character that can be breathed into SF, fantasy and the like. Not every appreciator of the genre is a mouth breather; most people want to be accepted like everyone else, even without the desire for the escape that such flights of fancy so readily offer, and good SF can offer real and likable characters into the mix.

I claim to people who want to know the vague direction that my life will take once I leave university that I would like to become a journalist. Yet mainstream journalism hates the fringe, and it fears the internet, couching everything in terms of condescension that sneer at people who use computers or like video games. It happens, even in the more intellectual presses, and it’s not good. Unfortunately, the apathy that has become the zeitgeist for internet users means that the well meaning but ill informed will rule for a while yet. If SF is going to be as routinely awesome as Eric Cartman 2546, then the ignorami are the ones suffering.

The image of Flash Gordon with Ming the Merciless was one of the first page results for “science fiction sucks” on Google Image Search.

One Response

  1. Wavatar Curtis May 1, 2007

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