Thursday, June 12, 2008

Weather & Art

More rain and tornadoes yesterday. One hit a boy scout camp in Iowa and killed four people. Tornadoes usually skip the Twin Cities, though not always. The core cities appear to be safer than the suburbs, maybe because they are smaller: there is less area and thus less chance of a random touch down. I always thought the heat dome over the Cities helped, but this may be self-delusion. A tornado ripped apart the outlying town of Hugo two weeks ago.

I am thinking about Politics and Narrative, which is being discussed over on the Aqueduct blog. I'm going to post what I said over there in two parts.

I used to make a distinction between mass culture and popular culture. Mass culture is created for the masses by people who do not belong to the masses: Hollywood movies is probably an example. Popular culture is created by the people: garage bands and indy rock are probably examples of this.

The two are not entirely distinct. Rock music is an industry, involving many people who are not members of the masses or the populace. But there is constant flow of new music up from garages and basements, and a constant flow of new musicians, like peasants coming into third world cities to find work.

Where does science fiction sit? Is SF a popular art or a mass art form or both?

And how is this expressed in narrative structure?

I didn't answer my own question. I think American SF, which is what I know best, is both a mass art and a popular art. Part of it comes from Hollywood. Part of it comes from the New York publishing industry. Part of it come from fandom and the SF community. As in rock music, the energy comes from the work I would see as popular. Hollywood and New York try to channel this, make it safe, turn it into a commodity which can be replicated over and over: more and more Star Wars books and D&D books and endless generic fantasies.

So you have an art form which -- like rock -- says real things about life and tell lies, that is sometimes authentic and sometimes a plastic imitation of itself. Because the imitations are easier to make (and seem safer to people in charge) there are more of them.


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