Golden age of Fantasy? The end is nigh.

Anne Rice, the lovely authoress of Interview with the Vampire, often states that we are now living in the “Golden Age of Fantasy”, speaking of the wealth of TV shows, movies, and books that now embrace the other-worldly in their themes.  There truly are too many to count, from the epic sexually charged Spartacus and True Blood to the kind of whiny Vampire Diaries and procedural Warehouse 13.  Fantasy is all over the place these days in so many forms it’s almost become hard to tell one thing from the other.  A few years ago it was, “hey, have you seen that procedural drama with the hot blond?”  “Oh, Saving Grace?”  “No, the other one.”  “One of the Law and Orders?”  “No, the other one.”  “In Plain Sight?  The Closer?”  “No, no…”

Now, it’s “Hey have you seen that new epic Fantasy thing with all of the awesome landscape shots and hot chicks?”  “Oh, Snow White and the Huntsman?”  “No, the other one…”

The problem is that Hollywood has this way of destroying the essence and potential of things.  Producers who are paid to make movies and shows that can preview well enough to raise bank without any real, you know, thought or emotion or substance will inevitably just produce really attractive looking crapwads that don’t really have any spirit.  I love fantasy and science fiction.  Not, “ooh, it’s so cool”.  I love it.  In the sort of creepy fanatical way that makes a grown woman have more capes and gowns in her closet than proper grown up clothes.  I have over 500 books in my permanent collection, after having gotten rid of 3/4 of the books I own for this move.  I adore the genre.  I adore it because through the lens of the unreal you can struggle with issues that are too unpleasant to face bare-faced.  Anne Rice’s Lestat can take you on an intense journey through the question of what is human, what is it to have a soul or be soulless, what is love and is love something a beast can feel?  Those questions aren’t questions that most people can stomach a human being exploring.  The same is true of JRR Tolkien’s epic exploration of the issues of heroism and what makes a hero.  What, you think it’s a story about short people and big expensive to shoot landscapes?  Ha, yeah.  Oh, and what about JK Rowling’s beautiful series about the value of friendship, love, and faithfulness?  Not to mention Stephanie Meyer’s bold examination of how cool it is to have a sparkly boyfriend.

Oh, wait, there it goes.  The problem with most of the Fantasy and Sci-Fi being produced today is that it doesn’t hold to the traditions that make the genre so worthwhile.  You can’t take modern themes and thrust them into that world with a big budget and no understanding of the spirit of the thing and expect the same success.  Twilight isn’t what I consider fantasy- it’s a teen romance where there happens to be a vampire.  The Vampires in that story do not hold any of the brutality or potential of the species.  You want a romance with a Vampire, look at Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  The first time she has one, her love costs him his soul and he starts killing and threatening everyone she knows and loves and nearly destroys the world.  The second time she does, he nearly kills her before he realizes that he too could truly love her, goes to hell to get his soul back, and goes insane.  There’s a storyline that examines the truth of love as well as it’s consequences, not a pile of fluff with some fangs thrown on to make it seem more dangerous.

And, sadly, most of the science fiction and fantasy hitting today’s market has the same fluffed up feeling to it.  At first, Warehouse 13 seemed like it might live up to it’s steam punk ancestry.  But, in the end, it turned out to be a procedural drama with a little kookiness thrown in to make it look like it’s forebears without any respect for it’s ancestry.  Grimm is much the same way.  You know how I can tell the difference between Grimm and Law and Order?  There are those cool quotes at the beginning, and the makeup is different.  (Okay, maybe I’m being too harsh.)  Then there’s Eureka, which lost the appeal of it’s “here’s an average guy having to wrap his head around this wild scientific craziness” appeal after a few seasons- it didn’t take long for it’s characters to become caricatures and for it to become increasingly predictable and formulaic.  And don’t even get me started on the movies, most of them aren’t even worth downloading illegally, nonetheless paying the ticket price.

There are, though, a few shows which pay homage to the depth of thought that makes the fanatics all fanatical.  Spartacus is more than really attractive abs and gratuitous sex.  It takes a look at loyalties, what makes something worth giving up your life or taking the life of another, and the value of each human soul, which is strongly pounded into the audience with each slit throat and growling glare.  There’s still good old fashioned superhero romps like the Avengers to remind you that sometimes it’s about having fun, too, although they don’t let you forget that it’s also about redemption.  Not a one of the characters in that film get to walk onto screen without dragging a loaded past behind them.  (Well, except for Captain America, hence his reputation as a bit of a snob.)  And there are more worth watching, and more worth reading as well.

But I fear for the genre, because more and more there’s little I’m even motivated to pay attention to.

So, what are your thoughts?  What is there worth the time and money?  Are there any geeks left at the helm, or has Hollywood made the genre it’s whore?*

*Ahem, Joss Whedon.  But other than him…?

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Brave, Gender Identity, and my personal hatred of stereotyping.

So yesterday I saw something very interesting.  It was an article about whether or not the heroine in the new movie Brave is gay.  The argument was that she wasn’t interested in marrying one of the three ill-matched potential husbands her parents had lined up for her, was athletic, and liked hunting.  So, obviously, gay.  As the writer of the article argues, clearly she could be gay because she’s not interested in her traditionally proscribed gender role.  I had to do a Scooby double-take for that, because for some reason none of my gay friends have ever explained to me that the motivating drive behind their self-identifying as homosexuals is their lack of interest in traditional gender roles.  Here I thought that being gay was defined by one’s sexual indentity, not choice of hobbies.  How naive!

I’m bothered by the whole idea of Merida being gay.  Not because I think it’s a bad thing for anyone to be gay, but because I think it’s a bad idea to work off of mistaken stereotypes.  Merida’s struggle to define herself as strong, capable, and worthy is cheapened if the only reason she doesn’t want to get married is because she’s gay.  Making her a stereotype deadens the impact of her experience.  Not only that, but it more narrowly defines what a straight girl ought to be.  Are women not allowed to be athletic unless they want their sexuality questioned?  Are they not allowed to be brave?  Individualistic?  Are they not allowed to balk at tradition?

Human sexuality is a huge and complex thing.  Sociologists for decades have been pointing out that rather than being a distance between two poles of “gay” or “woah buddy definitely not the slightest bit gay”, sexuality is instead a plane of many spectrums, which as many possible manifestations as there are people.  Most humans, it’s been demonstrated, find themselves as a mixture of the attributes we assign to genders.  Women aren’t just “feminine”, they have some feminine and some masculine traits.  They can be athletic and domestic, compassionate and decisive, and the list goes on and on.  The same is true of men.  They don’t have to be physically strong brutes who negotiate like bulls and scorn the idea of washing up or cooking dinner.  I know men who can throw punches like it’s Fight Club and then cook a mean pasta primavera and help their significant other with the laundry.  (Straight men.)

Here is when the traditional side of me pipes up and says, “but men and women are fundamentally different!  Everyone knows this!”  To a point that is definitely true.  It seems impossible to argue that there isn’t something objectively masculine or feminine about the genders.  For the purposes of this particular discussion, though, I’m throwing that out of the window.  Why?  Because God was both masculine and feminine, and so was Jesus.  Jesus, the man who athletically overturned the tables of the moneylenders and also called himself a mother hen.  If God himself births creation like a mother and rears it like a father, who are we to say that just because He created us as Male and Female that somehow masculine and feminine were isolated and divided evenly between those genders?  Personally, I think that after the fall everything got a bit muddled up.  I think that masculine does need feminine to soften it, otherwise it becomes brutish.  I think that feminine does need masculine to strengthen it, otherwise it becomes too indulgent.  I think that we, as genders, need each other to create equilibrium in the world.  But I don’t believe that we are defined, individually, by our physical gender.  I think that we define ourselves by how we live it out.

In any case, when I take my daughter to see Brave I’m not going to tell her that Merida makes her own choices because she’s a lesbian.  I’m going to tell her that Merida was brave because she wasn’t afraid to be herself.  Then, I will tell my daughter to be brave and be herself.  I will buy her popcorn, and that will be the end of it.

Things don’t have to be any more complicated than that, for now.