Saturday, November 10, 2012
FANTASY: A GENRE CRITIQUE! Why I can't rationalize and understand the popularity of the genre, and why I find the structure of the genre, and the nature of the writing/creating of fantasy, inherently flawed.
I must say, that, while I'm excited that so many people are beginning to enter my "TEN GREATEST TV SHOWS OF ALL-TIME" poll, I will admit that I was/am completely shocked at the amount of votes the genres of fantasy and sci-fi are getting. Particularly fantasy. Maybe I shouldn't be surprised, considering how popular "Star Wars", "Harry Potter," "Twilight," "Lord of the Rings" and other famous past and modern fantasy literature is, across all art mediums, but-
Okay, here's the thing. While there are many exceptions to this, I have an issue, with the genre of fantasy as a whole. Now, the best way I can explain this issue is to start with comparing the differences between fantasy and science-fiction. Now, I'm not the greatest science-fiction aficiado either, but it's a great basis of comparison, because the two genres are incredibly similar, since in both cases, a requirement of the genre is that the author has to completely invent an entire universe, in which their story takes place in, even if that so-called universe takes place in modern-times, or even in rare cases the past.
Somebody once explained the difference in the way the genre works this way: In science-fiction, despite creating a world, no matter what, there are only a few certain things that can still actually happen, because the world still must oblige by the laws, and the science of the world that's created. For example, no matter what happen in any "Star Wars" universe, a Jedi could never turn into a bunny that's half-vampire, half bowl of tapioca pudding. Just would not be possible, no matter what happens. (Although that'd be interesting if it did). While fantasy, on the other hand, anything can happen, and these limitations don't exist. The world that's created is only limited by the author's imagination. This is why, a jabberwocky can attack at any moment, and why vampires, can coexist in the same world as werewolves, shapeshifter, and, whatever else is apparently in "True Blood".
You see, this is why I'm somebody who has never fully embraced fantasy, because that doesn't work. Maybe this is simply, the idiosyncracies of a critic, but, I can't fathom how anybody can care about anything or anybody, in a world, where anything can happen. I was discussing this over, oddly enough, a horror film recently, "The Shining," a movie that I consider seriously overrated, specifically because there's no way to care about any of the characters. (Horror, btw, like sci-fi, can also be considered a sub-genre of fantasy in that often entire worlds and rules of the universes have to be created.) Since they're all creepy, since they're all under effects, different effects, and spells, some regarding the hotel, others not, all of it either in their mind, or not, maybe, so much stuff is untrustworthy that, all we have left, is a bunch of different things that we're afraid of, and until Nicholson freaks out, we don't know what's the scariest thing to be afraid, and that just seems tacked on at the end, to give us a final villain. I have this general problem with lots of fantasy, especially in worlds where there's numerous warring factions of these, supernatural creatures. (God help you if these creatures have the power of Gods to not die, those fantasies, never friggin' end.) A lot of times, this can be helped by having a single character, from outside the world, come in and be the voice of the audience perhaps, who is experiencing all these new universes at the same time with the newness that we are. Lewis Carroll's Alice character, is one of my favorite examples of this, and one of my favorite pieces of fantasy, but what I really enjoy about "Alice in Wonderland," is that, while this is a fantasy world, there is a science in Wonderland. Crackers quench thirst, and you're small here, but tall here, and the Red Queen has powers like, the ability to chop off peoples' heads, etc. The world is entirely invented from Carroll's mind, keyword entirely, as despite that, the world is consistent. There's a science in the world, only certain can happen and do happen. We may not be aware of it, at any given point in time, in a way that can be inexorably proven, but there is a confidence in the writer that that is the case. That's another thing, as long as the writer seems to be able to know what can and can't happen, the audience can remain, if not assured, at least trusting that the story is logical. This has always been my big problem with "The Lord of the Rings...", in every form. I've tried reading the book, and finally forced my through through three films recently, and I'm more convinced than ever, that Tolkien never created a science for Middle Earth. Not only that, but it's continually inconsistent. First a character is a wizard who can move at will, then he falls into a volcano, and dies, except he doesn't but he manages to change colors. Which is it? And if all this is possible, why are the characters surprised by it. There is no "Alice"-type protagonist, so much of the journey's surprises, shouldn't exist. They should know, that there's moving trees up ahead, for instance.
You see, my theory has always been that irrelevant of a work's quality, people will continually read fantasy, especially if they're attracted to certain subgenres of fantasy, like vampire romances, or zombie horrors, to name too pop culturally popular example right now, because on a basic level, they're just attracted to it. I have this thought, everytime somebody over the age of 12, tells me they think "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," was a good tv show. I know, I've gotten numerous votes in my poll for it, and other fantasy and sci-fi shows, some I appreciate and even love, others I can't stand, but this one, probably puzzles me, more than any of them, and strangely, the vampire slaying was never the problem to me. The problem was always the notion that somebody who would constantly be killing vampires all day and night, would even remotely care about things like, a prom, or a biology paper, or a boyfriend or anything so trivial. I can't understand how real teenagers have thoughts like that, at least the teenage girls I went to school and hung out with didn't, and the few that did were the stupidest in the class, and we made fun of them for caring about such things. "Buffy..." aimed for the stupid 12-year old girl crowd. Had it at least aimed for the smart 12-year old girls, I wouldn't roll my eyes whenever I hear someone talk about it. I can understand why such shows things in fantasy would appeal to a younger crowd, granted, it rarely appealled to me, but I can understand, comparatively, why Harry Potter is popular for instance, (Another fantasy with a fully-created world btw) but I always take offense when a piece of literature of any kind, doesn't try to progress it's audience. This tends to happen in fantasy quite often however. Buffy's one example. You should watch that PBJ channel to see all the really bad cartoon superheroes that used to be on Saturday mornings. Buffy looks like "Citizen Kane" compared to some of them.
Whether it be superheros, vampires, zombies, wizards, or just a fantasy world with some of all of these characters, I really do believe that their popularity, in general, is not due to the quality of art that fantasy has, it's that these things simply appeal to the audience, and that leads to my last question, why?
Why are vampires so popular, or zombies? What is so appealling about being a superhero or a wizard? Or fighting the dark lord of the universe in space? I must admit, some of these I understand, others I don't. My idea of my own personal fantasies, the ones that don't involve strange uses of the Kama Sutra and an oddly receptive-to-suggestion Scarlet Johansson, usually involve finding ways to make better the universe I live in now. To start with reality, and then, find ways of improving upon it, that could happen, not through supernatural ways, but through plausible ways, and if it was through some magical, mystical, or otherwise fantastical abilities. Perhaps that's why the latest Batman movies appeal so greatly to me.
As Aristotle said, a probable impossibility, is preferable to an improbable possibilty. I consider straight fantasy, an implausible impossibility. That doesn't mean it can't be good, and well-done, but I must confess that most of the time, I don't think they meet all my requirements, and often-the-case, even when they do, I still don't care for it much. I find it hard to care about something that can't happen to someone who's not real in a world that doesn't exist, sometimes, but I don't blame my dislike of fantasy, I blame fantasy's tendency to not fully create a complete rules of the universe. "Anything can happen," is not good enough, by my standards. Granted they're my standards, and I am a critic, and I should be more critical, but I want to advocate it for all. The prevalence of lackluster fantasy, really astounds me, and I think the fans of it, should insist on better. There is a place for worlds where anything can happen and there is no need for science and rules of the universe. Those places are called dreams. (Or David Lynch movies, but even those are consistant) Fantasy can be a dream, in fact those are good places to have fantasies, as Dorothy Gale will tell you, but not all fantasies are. However, unless you all want the end of every fantasy to be an alarm clock waking somebody up, I expect more, and having anything happen, because, it's a fantasy and anything can happen, is simply lazy.
Posted by David Baruffi at 3:07 PM