Monday, August 27, 2012

Art

I wrote the following on facebook:
I am not happy about the boundary between SF and literary fiction vanishing. I picked SF as a kid some five or six decades ago, because educated people -- and people in authority -- did not like it. It was like comic books and rock music, destroying the minds of our American youth. Now we have Republicans liking Bruce Springsteen and Rage Against the Machine... And Banksy's art ends in museums, even when he doesn't put it there. The ability of the system to co-opt is amazing and discouraging.

All art has content, and the content reflects the lives of different individuals and groups of people. The visual arts of Europe -- at least the arts we study -- are mostly a celebration of kings, nobles and the upper clergy. The stuff is still amazingly lovely, but you cannot understand art history unless you pay attention to the patrons and the message they wanted sent. Comics, SF and rock were originally aimed at poor people, working people and kids, and expressed their lives. All have changed over time, and I guess I have to come to terms with this. But I do not like seeing my genre's tropes in the hands of the upper middle class.
The guy I was communicating with wrote the following in response:
How snobbish and insular and ghetto of you, then. Bigotry is sad.
It is always guys who blow up like this on facebook.

Artists will always borrow from each other, regardless of culture. But I do get irritated when Hollywood uses images and ideas from SF without understanding that science does matter; and one of the rules of SF is -- you are not supposed to be obviously ignorent of science. You can bend science, extend it, even ignore it by allowing faster than light travel, for example -- but you should not look like an ignorent fool.

(This is not a problem with the current Marvel comics movies, because superhero comics have their own rules, and Marvel is controlling the movies. Captain America may not be true to science, but it is true to Marvel; and the key thing about Marvel, per my friend Lyda, its commitment to justice, is in the movies.)

American science fiction has its own history and its own values, which are different from the value of 'high culture' and 'literary fiction.' Science fiction is about the relationship of science and society, which is a different subject than that of most literary fiction; and -- like much of the kid art of the 1950s -- it is often subversive. The McCarthy era witch hunters made sure that anyone writing fiction for adults would pay, if he or she was openly critical of America. Science fiction writers could claim that their fiction was not about reality. Comics -- the superheroes, Mad Magazine and EC -- were obviously unrealistic. In spite of this, EC got driven out of business. Still, if what you did was clearly intended for kids and was obviously short on artistic qualities, you had a better chance of surviving and saying what you wanted to say. Of course, you were going to be poor, because low-class art did not (mostly) pay.

My impression, and I may be wrong, is that literary fiction, what was left of it after the witch hunters were done, was all too often written by people who were co-opted or beaten down.

2 Comments:

Blogger Jeff Degginger said...

It's interesting to see you view literary fiction as an art of the more wealthy and well off classes. Have not there been plenty of literary fiction that was written about the plights of the poor as well as the well-off?

I understand the post is more about the use of sci-fi, but rest assured that no movie critic worth teir snuff considers a sci-fi movie without the science anymore art than you do. And appropriately done sci-fi is very well within the realms of literary fiction. Asimov's Foundation captured the realistic workings of technology and politics with the rules bent.

The only thing in my mind required of a work to be deemed "literary" is for it to have some true connection to at least one facet of real life. It can be set in a world where gravity doesn't exist and all the characters are aliens who've never heard of the words "emotions" and "personality" but if the observation of human phenomena is captured in scene, dialogue, or internal thought, then there is no reason it cannot also be literary.

4:52 PM  
Blogger Foxessa said...

Hmmmm. How do categorize, and judge, the contemporary fiction written by this generation of writers born to the previous generations of immigrants, many of them in the U.S. and UK either refugees from the wars we declared on their nations, like Iraq and Iran, or their previous colonies, like India and Nigeria?

The fiction these writers are producing is arguably the most interesting and vital fiction that is being written today. And I do include the genre of sf/f in that!

Love, C.

10:56 AM  

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