I have been watching the new AMC production of James Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction. And to be honest, I don’t buy a common thread throughout the extended dialogue: that writers and directors are writing and creating all these nasty, dystopian, and bleak worlds as cautionary tales.
Sure, at one point, I think it was Spielberg who said, where’s the fun in presenting good stuff where nothing happens, and I truly believe that is the real reasons most create what they create. That phrase seems to have been glossed over. It’s not some noble and altruistic ideal warning a readership about what could happen if we aren’t careful.
I’m sorry, but I call BULLSHIT.
Shenanigans, for you of the easily offended.
We have far too many such “cautionary tales” already out there than are needed. Far too much excessive and graphic violence within them. Far too many negative views of life in the past, present, and the future.
You folks are not writing this stuff to warn us.
You’re writing it for other reasons that have revisionist theories applied—or selective editing—because it sells stuff and makes for great conversations, swats at the hornet’s nests and stirs emotions.
Makes it all seem “good and right” and not nasty and violent and depressing.
I may be told I cannot possible know what people’s motives are, and that is an arguable comment. However, actions speak louder than words. Actions.
Why would we need to see people graphically shooting “zombies” at point blank? People’s heads bashed in. Decapitated? Being torn apart by whatever.
Sure, great work for special effect’s artists, but is it really needed?
I maintain that if you’re focusing on all this trash, dystopia, and negativity, you cannot maintain a peaceful, optimistic outlook on life. On humanity. And this is needed! If you want to better life, you don’t do it by focusing on the bad. How can you when you’re writing scenes that display graphic violence? How can you live an optimistic life? How can your actions telegraph the needed goodness and positivity, which enriches life (and is so needed right now) and can be passed on to others?
I maintain that you cannot.
And listening to all these experts commentate on just such affairs I find irresponsible.
They lend authoritarian dialogue to negative and disgusting topics, again, all in the nobly misguided attempt to justify their actions…of explaining all of it away as some-kind-of-necessary. I believe an extremely select few may actually think that way, some of the greats, like Cameron and Spielberg, but I do not believe the majority of those who sit down before their writing platforms do so and consider: Gee, what social commentary shall I write today? I just do not believe it. And I say that based upon what I see being presented out there. When I interact with much of the entitled generations, I do not get such introspection. When I see nothing but bent-over heads and shoulders in any grouping of humans, I can pretty much guess it’s not about introspection. It’s about social media. When I see the explosion of video-game-like zombie movies that only seem to be about high body counts and explicit dispatching of the said creatures, I don’t see “cautionary.” I don’t care about so-called “character development.” I don’t care about so-called “cathartic experiences” for “what’s going on in the world.” You want a cathartic avenue from all the nasty in the world, go hit the gym. A heavy bag. A five-mile run.
This carnival of the verisimilitude, in which our hosts discuss some artificially noble idea of today’s science fiction may appear to work for viewers who don’t have any truck with writers and actors and directors, but I know some of each in these professions—and a lot of writers—and I have a pretty good idea of how these people are. They may not openly admit it to me, but I know it through their actions, their words, their body languages, and—obviously—their writing. Now most of those whom I know don’t seem to mask their efforts in some veiled nobility of Cautionary Tales, in that I do not ever remember hearing any such declaration from any of my writer friends and acquaintances (not that that means they never told me…I just do not remember any such statements, and as such, wasn’t important enough in our conversations to stand out…). Some have freely admitted to it that it’s more fun, contrasting, and conflicting to write about. And I get that. Who wants to read about someone lovingly feeding their family and pets and doing the dishes and laundry and absolutely nothing goes bad? For some the writing really could be cathartic. Some may not even know or realize why they are writing what they’re writing. Or perhaps because they don’t even realize there’re other methods to reaching a similar goal…other ways to get the job done.
I also maintain that another reason there’s so much of it is because it sells.
There is a lot of frustration out there for a lot of reasons, but again, you are feeding the wrong beast. If you’re constantly planning for war, you cannot have peace. If you’re constantly thinking and writing and living about death and destruction, you cannot be at peace.
When I began writing, I wrote horror stories, and some were graphically violent. And as I discussed in the Preface to my anthology, I didn’t even know why I wrote about what I did when my dad first asked me. It wasn’t until later that I realized why and changed my direction. My methods. What did I like about writing about horror? It wasn’t the violence…it was the weirdness.
So when I hear all these eminent public figures discourse on the Cautionary Tale aspect, I do not buy it. People are people. And while one or seven of these people might actually feel this way—or partially this way—I don’t buy for a second that they all operate from the same point of view. I believe that some may very well have even reverse engineered their reasons after having had the idea for whatever violent story. Hey, this is a nasty story, but I could also market this as a Cautionary Tale….
You are what you eat…what you think…what you focus all your time and attention upon.
If you really want to change the world, change what and how you write about what you see in the world. You do not need to graphically portray the negativity. And if you really want to write about Cautionary Tales find better methods to convey these stories than graphically depicting zombie decapitations or the stylized violence of the new breed of Mad Max movies.
All I’m really seeing in most of today’s efforts is stylized violence. And I’m sick of it. I no longer go to the movies like I used to, nor read as many new books as I used to.
And just come clean and admit why you’re doing what you’re doing. Acknowledgement is the first step. Admit that it is more fun to write about The Bad than The Good. Gives more texture to stories, more contrast. More depth. Sometimes is even critical to the stories themselves. And, yes, may well be cathartic to readers. Or that all the anger and frustration you have about all the violence and corruption in world is manifesting in your writing…and that sure, you can see how others may use these stories as Cautionary Tales, but that was not the intent. Do you really want to fill your head and the heads of readers with violence? Look at what’s going on in our society. Just to pick on one aspect, look at all the high-school shootings. It may not be just your story that caused that, but I’m sure such stories, such video games, such graphic novels, such TV shows all exacerbated it…along with internal family dynamics. Everything affects everything.
It was pointed out by our hosts that the tone of SF had changed after the 50s, from hopeful to dystopian, but I don’t know that that discussion was given the depth that it should have been given. Or maybe I was too focused on all of the above and it colored my perception of the rest of the discussion. And, what the hell, but look at the concern it has raised in me with this post (well, actually, I have noticed this trend since the 70s, when I was a heavy reader of SF). But I do not buy that these all are—or the “best” of SF stories are—Cautionary Tales. At one time, yes, but not now. It’s literally been done to death. But the sound bites…the interviews…they look great, man. Moody. Cozy. Intellectual. Two people intelligently discussing across a table from each other with stylized lighting and shadows.
I’m just finding it all rather hyperbolic…and quite disappointing.