I have been reading Jonathan McCalmont's blog. It's called Ruthless Culture, and I keep misremembering the name as Cruel Culture. Anyway, a bright and thoughtful guy. He has almost convinced me that everything I have written in defense of science fiction and popular culture is wrong. However, his most recent post is about a movie titled 45 Years
, which he very much liked. It's about a couple about to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary. In the course of the movie the wife discovers that her husband has been mourning for -- and obsessed by -- a former girl friend who fell into a glacial crevasse and died. This calls into question her entire married life and her life. I haven't seen the movie and don't intend to, but it sounds like a New Yorker
short story from 50 years ago, back when I read The New Yorker
. My question is, why should I care about these people and their problems? Why should the emotional problems of the educated upper middle class interest me at all? If I want nuanced exploration of personal lives I can read Henry James, and I have. I realize I sound like a philistine. But Captain America is dealing with the changes in America since WWII and with the realization that his beloved country has been infiltrated by Nazis, who are running the government. I'd call these real and serious problems.
When I was a kid, the real issues -- the ones under the Father Knows Best
surface -- were McCarthyism and the threat of nuclear holocaust. Now the real issues are the war against terrorism and its witch hunting and global warming.
Finding out that your marriage is a sham is very sad, but chances are good that 19th century European novelists covered the topic.
I like murder mysteries that deal with personal problems. A dysfunctional family gets a lot zippier if you add a corpse and a question. Who done it? But murder mysteries with political content are even more interesting. Hammett and Chandler wrote about corruption. The more recent women writers have written about feminist issues -- if only by taking over the tough guy mystery.
Patrick has been reading Sinclair Lewis. Babbitt
is about the psychological problems of a person who is financially comfortable, but it is also about how incredibly sterile life in Midwestern, middle class America was at the time. That is a point worth making.