NR: The Sci-Fi Ghetto

James here with Wednesday’s News Reflections.

It’s painfully predictable that I would comment on the Oscar nominations (find them all here), but I’m going to do it anyway.  My interest, though, is in one particular issue that continues to torture nerds, geeks, otaku of certain colors, and anybody with an interest in fair play.  It’s the aptly named sci-fi ghetto.

This is the stigma associated with science fiction and fantasy works of all kinds that often prevents them from being taken seriously by most critics.  As enlightened critic Andrew Gordon points out, “…certain film genres are read as ‘less fictional’ (Westerns, gangster, and war films) and others as ‘more fictional’ (the musical, horror, and fantasy).” [1] It’s a skewed understanding of fiction and, sadly, a prevalent attitude.  Ursula Le Guin found that, in America, the cultural mindset is “to repress their imagination, to reject it as something childish or effeminate, unprofitable, and probably sinful”, which she ties to “our Puritanism”. [2] Many great movies are ignored at the Oscars as a result.  They tend to get technical awards, but Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, etc. are reserved for “higher” movies.  After all, who needs that juvenile, unsophisticated, fast food genre junk?

Oh… Oh, that’s right, okay.

A really good example of the cultural dissonance between what the Oscars deign to honor and what the public actually appreciates is in the case of the 55th Academy Awards, where ‘Gandhi’ beat ‘E.T.’ for Best Picture.  Richard Attenborough, the director of ‘Gandhi’, said “I was certain that not only would E.T. win, but that it should win. It was inventive, powerful, [and] wonderful. I make more mundane movies.” [3] By quoting this I am not implying that historical dramas are all “mundane”, but that a movie’s emotional power transcends its trappings.  There’s no reason a sci-fi, fantasy, or (to add a veggie to this stew) an animated film should be disregarded because its subject or narrative style is distinctly different from so-called “less fictional” works.  Either it’s good or it isn’t.

While ‘Inception’ and ‘Toy Story 3’ were given nominations this year, there’s little hope of them winning, for the reasons I gave above.  I’m inclined to believe that ‘The Social Network’ will win for being a topical, up-to-date film, even over other dramas like ‘The King’s Speech’.  I’m not sure that it’s the year’s best picture, but I don’t believe that I’m qualified to make that judgment.  I don’t believe the Academy is either, for that matter.  The difficulty I have with the Academy’s pending decision is that ‘Inception’ and ‘Toy Story 3’s loss due to critical snobbery is a foregone conclusion.  I’d love to be proven wrong.

6 thoughts on “NR: The Sci-Fi Ghetto

  1. It’s always hard to compare movies like Toy Story, Inception, King’s Speech and Social Network. They’re all brilliant in different ways.

    I get what you’re saying, though, and I agree. The “academy,” by which I mean any academic institution, and not just the Academy of Motion Pictures, is always a few decades late in acknowledging “pop” art, a category which rather unfairly includes everything that *isn’t* what Michael Chabon referred to as “modern naturalism.”

    I think sci fi and fantasy are slowly beginning to earn the respect of the academy, but it’s a slow process. Ursula LeGuin, by the way, is one of the finest and most respected writers of fantasy and science fiction, and I think she’s totally spot on about America having a weird, irrational aversion toward imagination.

    The vestiges of Puritanism are almost certainly responsible for this phenomenon, but I think the Victorian mindset shares that responsibility. Victorianism, born from the sudden arrival of the Industrial Era, with its irrational insistence on efficiency, self-restraint and tradition, still lingers in our cultural atmosphere.

    Anyway, back to your point. I don’t think Inception was nominated for Best Picture this year, which is kind of sad, but I do hope it wins a few awards of its own.

    And King’s Speech was just tremendous and I hope it wins Best Picture. On the other hand, Social Network was written by Aaron Sorkin, who I absolutely adore. He might be one of the finest screenplay writers in the United States, right along with Joss Whedon.

  2. Thanks for the comment! I have yet to see ‘The King’s Speech’, so shame on me. And yes, I agree with your point about Victorianism. To my surprise, ‘Inception’ was in fact nominated for Best Picture this year. I don’t actually care that much about who takes the statues home, but if ‘Inception’ or ‘Toy Story 3’ win — being unconventional choices — I’d be delighted.

  3. Pingback: Tweets that mention NR: The Sci-Fi Ghetto « The Silver Mirror --

  4. Pingback: 25 Gateway SciFi/Fantasy Authors: 7 to Read, 14 to Avoid, and 4 Secret Picks « Read Heavily

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