Well, I half-saw it; so maybe it was only half-awful.
As an English major I was painfully aware, sometimes, of how dreadful some stories could be. Directionless and pointless drivel which seemed of interest primarily for historical value, but certainly not for literary quality, was regularly heaved across my palate. I was subjected to the contrast of Nadine Gordimer versus Ayn Rand1; I was forced to read Sarah Grand2 while at the same time trying to appreciate George Eliot; I was subjected to Moby-Dick and Emma3 as though they were equals.
For recreation I indulged many casual tastes. Generally these were of the SF nature. Not Asimov — Foundation is too facile, too easy; not Bradbury, though I still love Martian Chronicles and Dandelion Wine; not Burgess, though Clockwork Orange is still just fucking amazing. No, for recreation I indulged instead the works of Philip K. Dick, Italo Calvino, Stanislaw Lem and Samuel R. Delany.
I became, in short, an SF literary snob.
And what amused and amazed me, in a good way, was how brilliant some SF really was; not just in the written realm. Babylon 5 was terrific, since it had a well-planted and –planned story arc and indulged the heresies of Lovecraft; Lain and Cowboy Bebop satisfied my craving for good animé coupled with my need for a solid, cogent story; and the very first time I saw Firefly — its première episode on Fox, when the series aired out of date and out of order — even then, I knew I was seeing something that would not last, could not persist; for it was far too good, far too deep, and far too original.
Contrasted with the lukewarm offerings of shows such as Star Trek: The Next Generation, and then Deep Space Nine, I began to feel frustrated — how stupid were these people, being surprised week after week by meeting hackneyed “dilemmas” that had been resolved in stories I knew already? How sad was the Federation in hiring ship’s crew that apparently hadn’t ever read a page of good SF? How could these morons be surprised by some “story” whose end I could predict, with about 80% precision, before the opening credits rolled?
And then, of course, I figured it out. The problem wasn’t with the crew; the problem was with the shitty, naïve writing.
SciFi Channel, you’d think, would have a vested (or at least nominal) interest in doing better; yet I seem to keep returning to that well, even though it’s basically dry. Stargate and all its permutations are simply worthless. BSG, while cute, has basically run its course; it’s no longer what it was when it began, a deep and meaningful interrogation into what human means, or what prejudice is, or how racial hatred can cause genocide. Eureka is fluff; the technobabble is often quite painful, though there at least the characters are genuinely interesting.4 Doctor Who is about the only good reason to watch SFC now, and it’s not even one of their shows. It’s original to the Beeb, and it’s definitely different from the all-videotape, all-the-time original incarnation; but that’s actually good. WhoTwo is a hell of an improvement.
And as for the made-for “movies”: Mosquitoman. I rest my case.
So, non-god help me, there I sat, deciding to take a chance, numbly taking in the second half of an ep of Flash Gordon.
I really, really wish I hadn’t.
What I saw started with a tribe of half-naked bird-man wannabes, who occasionally “screamed” like predatory fowl, but whose main purpose seemed to be showcasing barechested muscular men in leather. Okay, fine; aesthetically it worked — but it was just pure bullshit. Apparently these men (no women were evident, possibly for some reason explained in the half of the show I missed) were a race called the Dactyls, and they — get ready for this — they flew by spreading their arms, letting a loose leather cloak flap behind them, and running into the wind.
Angels and ministers of grace, defend us.
In addition to the sheer physical impossibility of this, I was treated to a panorama shot of the capital city of Mongo — and the last time I saw a matte painting that crappy, done in all seriousness, was 1973 or so.
The Human Interest side lacked it as well. There was the typical torrid plot of a badly-done coming-of-age story that featured some kid who had, for deus ex machina reasons, “lost” his true heritage as a Dactyl, who went through typical Teen Angst type self-doubt, and who did the predictable thing, embraced his heritage based on nothing but a brief pep talk, and flew just like Dear Old Dad.
It wasn’t even the crappy SF, or the crappy, recycled plot. I’m tired of all that already. It was just the insult, the idea that such dreck could be cranked out under the aegis of SF when there really is good stuff out there in the genre, stuff that is either never produced for visual media or, when it is, gets cast aside.
The insult is not that the characters are so naïve they can’t even see where they’re going when it’s obvious to anyone watching; the insult is in the shitty, lazy writing that produces this hackneyed, boring mental pabulum. Masturbation is more satisfying and, usually, more productive.
There is just no reason to let these kinds of travesties exist or be played out. There is more out there, and a lot of it is better — and what pisses me off the most is that SF used to be, and in some cases still is, an incisive tool of interrogation and exploration of human culture, meaning and place in the universe. To see it reduced to a stupid pageant of farcical cowflop and inanity truly, deeply pains me.
This is what we’ve made of stories such as Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand, or The Cyberiad, or even 2001.
Thanks, SFC. Thanks for nothing. I hope the inane Stargate refugees take solace in your latest travesty. I, for one, shall not.
1. Every Ayn Rand story is the same as every other one: Some Brilliant, Individualistic Man invents some Truly Original Idea; the Forces of Mediocrity and Oppression try to steal it from him; he nearly gives up hope; but then an Independent, Strong Woman loves him; and he Finds the Strength To Resist and Remain a Man Unto Himself. On top of the repetitive storytelling, Rand was a genuinely shitty boring writer whose main points were usually made by soliloquy, generally with her Heroic Man striking an Heroic Pose and uttering a five-page disquisition on the value of individual creation. For a woman who apparently had one original thought in her life, Rand managed to gather a surprising cult of drooling, slack-jawed followers.
2. Re Sarah Grand: There is a reason why many Victorian novelists are unknown, unread, and forgotten today by anyone but Women’s Studies majors.
3. Re Jane Austen: See footnote 2.
4. For now.
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