Die or Evolve

Patton Oswalt has opened a can of worms:

Fast-forward to now: Boba Fett’s helmet emblazoned on sleeveless T-shirts worn by gym douches hefting dumbbells. The Glee kids performing the songs from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. And Toad the Wet Sprocket, a band that took its name from a Monty Python riff, joining the permanent soundtrack of a night out at Bennigan’s. Our below-the-topsoil passions have been rudely dug up and displayed in the noonday sun. The Lord of the Rings used to be ours and only ours simply because of the sheer goddamn thickness of the books. Twenty years later, the entire cast and crew would be trooping onstage at the Oscars to collect their statuettes, and replicas of the One Ring would be sold as bling.

The topsoil has been scraped away, forever, in 2010. In fact, it’s been dug up, thrown into the air, and allowed to rain down and coat everyone in a thin gray-brown mist called the Internet. Everyone considers themselves otaku about something—whether it’s the mythology of Lost or the minor intrigues of Top Chef. American Idol inspires—if not in depth, at least in length and passion—the same number of conversations as does The Wire. There are no more hidden thought-palaces—they’re easily accessed websites, or Facebook pages with thousands of fans. And I’m not going to bore you with the step-by-step specifics of how it happened. In the timeline of the upheaval, part of the graph should be interrupted by the words the Internet. And now here we are.

[…] Now, with everyone more or less otaku and everything immediately awesome (or, if not, just as immediately rebooted or recut as a hilarious YouTube or Funny or Die spoof), the old inner longing for more or better that made our present pop culture so amazing is dwindling. The Onion’s A.V. Club—essential and transcendent in so many ways—has a weekly feature called Gateways to Geekery, in which an entire artistic subculture—say, anime, H. P. Lovecraft, or the Marx Brothers—is mapped out so you can become otaku on it but avoid its more tedious aspects.

Here’s the danger: That creates weak otakus. Etewaf [Everything That Ever Was—Available Forever] doesn’t produce a new generation of artists—just an army of sated consumers. Why create anything new when there’s a mountain of freshly excavated pop culture to recut, repurpose, and manipulate on your iMovie? The Shining can be remade into a comedy trailer. Both movie versions of the Joker can be sent to battle each another. The Dude is in The Matrix.

There’s been some, shall we say, interesting feedback about this essay. (See here for a nice little slice) and while there are some salient rebuttels, mostly everyone seems to think Oswalt has turned on Geek Culture, which is not the case.

What Oswalt is saying isn’t just a variation of “you kids these days, get off my lawn!”, but a  call to Make: enjoy your inspirational material, those totemic stories and pieces of media that slid under your eyeballs and grabbed your brain and made you scream, “Yes! More!” but don’t just stop there. Oswalt wants you kids to get off his lawn and go make soemthing. Take that dizzy feeling you got the first time you read Lord of the Rings or Watchmen and use it to make something new that will inspire the next generation of otaku/geeks to do the same.

We’re mired in a stagnant media doldrum. Every othe rmovie is a remake or sequal. Books ar ebecomign the same. Comics, video games, you name it. It’s all more of the same and it gets spread thinner and thinner with each itteration. Inspired creativity, has become like some infinitely diluted drug, spread so thin it has almost vanished.

So, remake, mashup, but then once that’s out of your system, make soemthing else. Make soemthing new for us to Geek out about.

Dickens in a Dirigible

A few weeks back, Charlie Stross opened a can of virtual worms in this post about the weekpoints of Steampunk as a genre. I observed the hubub from a safe distance (those zeppelin jockies have explosives, man, even if they are just dynamite dressed up with gears)  but since then have been thinking about something he wrote,* roling it aournd, looking at it from different angles:

Forget wealthy aristocrats sipping tea in sophisticated London parlours; forget airship smugglers in the weird wild west. A revisionist mundane SF steampunk epic — mundane SF is the socialist realist movement within our tired post-revolutionary genre — would reflect the travails of the colonial peasants forced to labour under the guns of the white Europeans’ Zeppelins, in a tropical paradise where severed human hands are currency and even suicide doesn’t bring release from bondage. (Hey, this is steampunk — it needs zombies and zeppelins, right? Might as well pick Zombies for our single one impossible ingredient.) It would share the empty-stomached anguish of a young prostitute on the streets of a northern town during a recession, unwanted children (contraception is a crime) offloaded on a baby farm with a guaranteed 90% mortality rate through neglect. The casual boiled-beef brutality of the soldiers who take the King’s shilling to break the heads of union members organizing for a 60 hour work week. The fading eyesight and mangled fingers of nine year olds forced to labour on steam-powered looms, weaving cloth for the rich. The empty-headed graces of debutantes raised from birth to be bargaining chips and breeding stock for their fathers’ fortunes. In other words, it’s the story of all the people who are having adventures — as long as you remember that an adventure is a tale of unpleasant events happening to people a long, long way from home.

This is, in a way, what I’ve been groping towards with a novel-in-progress that was stalled out on the side of the imagination highway, waiting for a kind stranger to slide out of the fast lane and offer it a ride to the nearest gas station.  And along comes Mr. Stross in his zombie-built airship and gives us a fucking lift.

Of course, what wa smissing all along was the Dickens angle. The eye for social justice.

And since I live in a country that despertaely seems to want to go back to the Gilded Age (but with ray guns and atomic bombs, robot hunter-killer drones and feckless Coroprate Barons) There’s aneed and i’d wager an audience for such a piece of work.

Now all I have to do is find the time to write it.


* I’ve been thining a lot about a lot things, few of them fit for public consumption. These are stange times and relaly, what can I say about wikileaks, GOp crazies and our President’s spectacular lack of a spine that others haven’t said better? Anyway, more thoughtful posts on writing and comics and fun stuff like that will be coming soon.