Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Why I Can't Appreciate Science Fiction

One of the downfalls of being a Professional Critic is that I have a real problem with suspension of disbelief. My inability to suspend disbelief has made it impossible to appreciate the entire genres of fantasy and science fiction, and many episodes of "real life" dramas such as ER wherein helicopter rotors lop off the hands of nasty surgeons and in later episodes, crush said nasty surgeons to death.

Do you remember that? In TV jargon this is called "jumping the shark." If you're a child of the 70s as I am, you will no doubt remember the Happy Days episode in which the Fonz, for reasons I don't remember and were perhaps more related to the ratings than any plot device in which sharks would normally appear (though the show was set in Milwaukee, they were somehow in California) jumped a shark on water skis (again, strange. The Fonz was known for his manly motorcycle). The recent Grey's Anatomy where Meredith falls into icy water following a ferry crash, had no oxygen to her brain for like 45 minutes and yet awoke from her ordeal unscathed save for slightly lanker than usual hair, would be a good example of jumping the shark.

My problem with shark jumping is that instead of feeling dramatic suspense, I feel impatient that the character has not yet died. Due to the ludicrous nature of the plot turn, I have immediately ceased to care. It is the same with science fiction and fantasy. I never watched Star Trek of my own volition, in any of its iterations. Though I am vaguely aware of the characters: the pale robotic guy, the husky voiced ball bustin' captain, the weird looking big violent guy wth the messed up looking face, and the dewey-eyed drip in the clingy catsuit, I think of them all as characters on the same show--an idea that strikes horror in the hearts of fans, who insist these shows are different from each other. Okay, if that makes you feel better, then sure. They're different.

Something happens to me when I hear a made up language or see a character wearing a stretchy pantsuit, shouting about their proton gun, or the Nembutal Universe. I think, this is ridiculous. Then I stop caring and wait for a violent end. Fantasy is just as bad, if not worse. Unicorns prancing through the sun dappled forest, giggling pointy-eared elves popping out from their little houses carved from the bases of gnarled old magical trees, maidens' heaving bosoms sproinging out of their corseted bodices. Where's the ornery village dragon when you need him?

I was forced to watch all eighty-seven Lord of the Rings movies with friends. You know who you are. I think you meant well. By the fourth hour of each of the movies, it was my most fervent wish that the evil sorcerer Gargamel kill all these earnest Muggles and feed them to his evil Vulcan Jabba the Hut before taking off for Tattooine in the Battlestar Galactica. Just please, let it be over already.


Aaron Hughes said...

This is exactly as valid as saying, "I don't like fiction because I know it's not real." It is difficult to argue with people who say this, but one can't help wondering how much good fiction they've actually read.

Alma Alexander said...


Once you've accepted that, then it's hard to judge an entire genre on teh basis of the KIND of lie that it is.

While you're perfectly free to dislike spec fic as a genre, but all that should tell you is that you should probably avoid it. Not diss the entire thing just because you dislike it.

And just for the record I share your opinion of the Lord of the RIngs movies - probably for vastly different reasons, but I hated them. And I WRITE fantasy. For a living. Full time.

Professional Critic said...

Well, you are right, Alma. All fiction is lies. But I can co-exist peacefully with the fiction of The Sopranos. Or The Wire. Even Weeds, which is about as far-fetched as "real life" drama gets. If you haven't seen this, Mary Louise Parker plays an upper middle class housewife, who after being suddenly widowed, begins dealing pot to keep her family in the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed: Range Rover, housekeeper, house in hideous subdivision.

Who can say what causes me to balk and rail against other fictions, particularly those that involve spandex, intricate hand gestures, hokey special effects and overly dramatic/alternately cheesy dialogue?

I received an irritated text from a friend--someone who has badgered me into watching numerous sci fi movies/shows--saying this post bothered her. Based on all of this feedback, I could draw some conclusions about the general prickliness of sci-fi fans, who on some level must know they are weird, and are therefore defensive about their bizarre proclivities.

If it hasn't yet become clear, let me disclose that despite my own dislike for these genres, I am surrounded by sci fi/fantasy fans. Hence there's always someone convincing me to watch the newest mind-numbingly boring Lord of the Star Wars epic. I guess I could refuse, but honestly this is all much too much fun to give up.

Batwing said...

Well, by gum, Aaron and Alma, I actually TEACH college-level "littertur" and can guarantee I have read a whole Ph.D. and career's worth of good fiction and I am one hundred percent behind The Critic on the fantasy/sci-fi/shark-jumping thing. There's some excellent sci-fi and fantasy out there (jumping the shark refers to bad-idea episodes and so is by definition not good) but a lot of it bores me to tears even though I like other mass-produced genres like true crime and nurse romances. And I think it's just fine to diss a genre you don't like on your own danged blog. That's what blogs are for.

Professional Critic said...

Batwing, what in the world is a nurse romance??

Batwing said...

A nurse romance is a subgenre of Harlequin-style romances that were popular in the 50s and 60s. Plot always goes like this: hardworking nurse encounters doctor or patient who is brusque but intriguing, wins him over somehow on her terms, and lo he turns out to be rich (so presumably she can quit nursing).

wareader said...

i am proudly one of the friends that made the professional critic watch the lord of the rings. and, although she may have hated every moment of it, i think she was given some insights about why some people don't enjoy long walks. perhaps my love for the lord of the ring movies have affected my better judgement about physical fitness. maybe when asked to go for a long walk, i secretly believe that there is some gigantic human eating spider just waiting to roll me up for a late night snack before i reach the end of my stroll.

personally, i love the lord of the rings and whatever the professional critic wants to write about the movies are just fine. all of us fans know that the professional critic clearly just didn't get what we fell in love with. that's fine. this post only motivates me to force her to watch even more science fiction movies that i love. additionally, while watching the movie, i will be sure to pause it during necessary parts that i feel the professional critic may having missed potentially emotionally "moving" moments. thus, believing in my heart that she will have an "ah ha" moment while watching such great flicks.

loyal wa reader

wareader said...

i am proudly one of the friends that made the professional critic watch the lord of the rings. and, although she may have hated every moment of it, i think she gained some insights about why
some people (like myself) don't enjoy even the thought of a long walk and even worse than that, actually walking for the sake of walking. perhaps my love for the lord of the ring movies have
affected my better judgement about physical fitness. maybe when asked to go for a long walk,
i secretly believe that there is some gigantic man eating spider just waiting to roll me up
for a late night snack before i reach the end of my stroll.

personally, i love the lord of the rings. this post clearly informs me that the professional critic simply needs to watch the movie trilogy again. i will happily participate in this film festival when i return to ca for a visit. i will be sure to pause each movie and add a few words during pivotal moments throughout the film. hopefully by doing this, the professional critic can then truly escape into the world of frodo baggins and at last have the "ah ha" moment that many of us fans continue to experience about this science fiction masterpiece.

loyal wa reader

hotfive said...

For me, it's simply a matter of wanting to do away with middlemen. The myriad little fuzzy people and big hairy creatures--each with a name, species classification, or home planet more difficult to remember than the next--ostensibly are trotted out in an attempt to relate an allegory of real life.

Why not simply tell a good, real-life story, involving human beings with names like Tom, or Jim, or even Huck? The confusion amidst all the magical, otherworldly life forms seems to get in the way of the potential message--for me, anyway.

Professional Critic said...

I'm totally with you, hotfive. I get so confused by all the made-up languages and far-away galaxies. Eventually I get annoyed and become beyond caring that a great story could await.

JB said...

Although my reasons aren't as well thought out as yours, PC, I too hate fantasy movies. (Okay, I'm gonna distinguish between science fiction, which I DON'T categorically hate, and fantasy, which I DO. LOTR is definitely fantasy in my book, as is Harry Potter and the goddamned horse he rode in on. Conversely, A Scanner Darkly is SF, as is Planet of the Apes, etc.) I hate fantasy! It makes me very VERY cranky. I fell asleep during the first LOTR, and refused to see any of the others. I *tried* to fall asleep during Harry Potter and the Magical Turd (or whatever that first film was called) by shutting my eyes and trying to shut out the sounds from the screen, but to no avail. And when Dave rented "The Water Horse," I just worked on my laptop the whole time. What is it about fantasy that PISSES ME OFF so much? Some might say I have "issues" around this topic... Diagnosis, anyone?

Professional Critic said...

Hmm, JB, I can totally relate to your experience. I think hotfive hit it on the head for me--retire the elves and just tell the damn story already.

Anonymous said...

straight blasphemy...