The science fiction and fantasy genres are really hot right now. From the superheroes of Marvel and DC to the blood, tears and boobs of Game of Thrones, some of Hollywood’s biggest products are steeped in the genres that geeks have been consuming for years. But now that the mainstream has co-opted the culture and decided to make some serious cash from it, there forms a question of whether or not they’ve managed to corrupt two genres that began as mediums for serious social commentary. According to one of the biggest uber-geeks ever, Simon Pegg, that may indeed be a major problem. Read on to see what Pegg had to say.
When talking to Radio Times, Pegg stressed that his favorite genres may be falling to the Dark Side:
Obviously. I’m very much a self-confessed fan of science-fiction and genre cinema. But part of me looks at society as it is now and thinks we’ve been infantilised by our own taste. We’re essentially all consuming very childish things – comic books, superheroes… Adults are watching this stuff, and taking it seriously! It is a kind of dumbing down because it’s taking our focus away from real-world issues. Films used to be about challenging, emotional journeys. Now we’re really not thinking about anything, other than the fact that the Hulk just had a fight with a robot.
These sorts of criticisms are nothing new, of course. When that almighty invention, the television, first became popular, people were worried that sitting in front of it and consuming media all day rather than reading a book and getting out into the real world would be the death of the human mind. Many of us today feel that reality TV shows are the extreme version of that, sending us further into oblivion.
But is the enjoyment of a popcorn action flick really that damaging? Most of the classic comic book characters and storylines have deep roots in mythology, telling timeless tales of heroes struggling against the injustices of the world. There are many lessons and morals to be learned in these simple films, from why killing is bad (ala Batman) to what it means to be a flawed human being always trying to improve one’s self (ala Iron Man).
Plus, simple things help people escape from those very same “real-world issues” that Pegg is talking about. We can’t always live amidst harsh reality and expect to keep our sanity for very long. Worse-case scenario, we would end up turning into the bitter old men and women who run our countries and our corporations, ever grabbing at material things and sacrificing joy. It’s a good thing to hold on to at least some of your childhood, in my opinion.
But before we hang Pegg from the rafters and/or burn straw replicas of him in effigy, let it be known that he did actually try to clarify his point so that reactionary fanboys wouldn’t freak out. On his official website, he posted this:
One of the things that inspired Jessica and myself, all those years ago, was the unprecedented extension our generation was granted to its youth, in contrast to the previous generation, who seemed to adopt a received notion of maturity at lot sooner. The children of the 70s and 80s were the first generation, for whom it wasn’t imperative to ‘grow up’ immediately after leaving school. […] The ‘dumbing down’ comment came off as a huge generalisation by an A-grade asshorn. I did not mean that science fiction or fantasy are dumb, far from it. How could I say that? In the words of Han Solo, “Hey, it’s me!” In the last two weeks, I have seen two brilliant exponents of the genre. Ex Machina and Mad Max: Fury Road, both of which had my head spinning in different and wonderful ways and are both very grown up films (although Max has a youthful exuberance which is nothing’s short of joyous, thanks George Miller, 70) I’ve yet to see Tomorrowland but with Brad Bird at the helm, it cannot be anything but a hugely entertaining think piece.
I guess what I meant was, the more spectacle becomes the driving creative priority, the less thoughtful or challenging the films can become.[…] Fantasy in all its forms is probably the most potent of social metaphors and as such can be complex and poetic. No one could ever accuse Game of Thrones of being childish. George RR Martin clearly saw the swords and sorcery genre as a fertile means to express his musings on ambition, power and lust. Perhaps it milieu makes it more commercial though, would a straight up historical drama have lasted so long? Maybe Game of Thrones wouldn’t have been made at all ten years ago. A world without Game of Thrones?! If Baudrillard had predicted that, I probably would have dropped out of university and become a cobbler.
I’d have to agree with him at this point. Directors such as Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer are proof enough that a movie can become little more than spectacle, with very few redeeming qualities other than the expense of the special effects (and not even that, in some cases…). And the science fiction and fantasy genres are very potent vehicles for making social commentary. But we have plenty of thinking movies to go along with the popcorn flicks, so there’s really no problem with the genres being dumbed-down as far as I see. We just have to hope that audiences will want to use their brains every once in a while and buy some tickets for a movie that has something to say, rather than one that’s just looking for new and exciting ways to make things explode.
What say the Nerd Readers? Are there enough “smart” sci-fi and fantasy flicks out there? Or has Hollywood overrun the social power of these genres by making everything about FX?
Source: The Independent
Category: Nerd Culture