domingo, 29 de março de 2009

SF and Technology as Mystification - Joanna Russ

Talk about technology, long familiar to science-fiction readers and writers, is getting popular in Academia too.

Particularly interesting to humanists is the connection between technology and whatever their own particular subject happens to be; I've attended three such formal symposia in the last five years, six including SF conventions, and including informal discussions among students, in writing classes, SF classes, and elsewhere, somewhere between fifty and sixty.

Consider, for example, Star Wars. I was dragged to see this film past a bookstore displaying the sword-and-sorcery novel a friend of mine has rather unkindly nicknamed The Sword of Sha Na Na. What is important about coupling these two in one sentence (and one event) is not that the film is as bad as the book, but that both are bad in exactly the same way.

This is not to say that neither is without some interesting or seductive elements.
For no addictive stimulus is simply bad or dull; if it were, nobody would want it at all.
What such artifacts do is follow the formula for physiological addiction in the psychic, cultural realm: they satisfy a need partially, and at the same time they exacerbate it.

Publishers and movie-makers' formulas for a "real hit" are obviously those of an addiction: not just enjoyment or desire but intense craving (lines stretching around the block), not just intense craving but sudden intense craving which must be satisfied at once (opening in sixteen million theatres tomorrow, a theatre near you!), not just sudden intense craving but insatiable craving; thus people see the film many times and — this is a dead-giveaway — a minor industry grows up about the film: buttons, sweatshirts, TV programs about how the film was made, TV programs (possibly) about how the first TV programs about the film were made, and so on.

These are what the trade calls "spin-offs."

Please note that addictive culture is not identical with what we like to call "escapist culture."

Perhaps there is no way of escaping in art from one's society, as any social product will of necessity embody the society's values and pressures, and the less these values or pressures are confronted and examined in the work, the more in force they will be. Thus Star Wars — which is being sold to the public as "fun" — is in fact racist, grossly sexist, not apolitical in the least but authoritarian and morally imbecile, all of this both denied and enforced by the opportunism of camp (which the youngsters in the audience cannot spot, by the way) and spiced up by technical wonders and marvels, some of which are interesting, many of which are old hat to those used to science fiction. Addictive culture, to succeed, can't be all bad. (Perhaps somebody, some time, will cotton to the fact that the most interesting film form for SF is the travelogue — although even travelogues cannot be made without moral and political assumptions.)

SF and Technology as Mystification - Joanna Russ [ Download ]