Avatars and hobbits and Transformers - oh, my!

As I was getting ready for work last week, I was trying to think of reasons why science fiction and fantasy are genres that must be studied in school because in general they aren't.  *disdainful boos and hisses ensue*  Unfortunately, most of my students view these genres as either just "fun" or evil (yes, I sometimes lament the state of humanity for this reason in particular), so I consistently want to find ways to convince them otherwise.  Also, one of my future career ideas is to get my Master's in science fiction studies and then end up being a literature teacher focusing only on science fiction and fantasy.  I gotta start somewhere.

Apparently, my mind wanted to start with movies - the top five all-time worldwide box office hits, to be precise.  In case you aren't familiar with them, you can view them here:
IMDb: All-Time Worldwide Box Office

Notice a trend at all?

It's like Disney's Pocahontas... IN THE FUTURE.
Disregarding Titanic, four out of the top five all-time worldwide box office hits are either science fiction or fantasy stories.  Avatar reigns at the top of the list with a $2 billion lead, which I don't see being stolen from it anytime soon, unless of course the proceeds from the upcoming 3D version of Titanic will count towards the general Titanic fund.  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part Two took in $1.3 billion, and then Transformers: Dark of the Moon is in a close fourth at $1.1 billion.  And the fifth movie on this list is one of my personal favorites, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (also around $1.1 billion).  (The top 6-10 films match the top five films' statistics: four out of these five are fantasy and science fiction too!)

If science fiction and fantasy are supposedly unworthy of being studied in school, then why are they so successful in our culture?  I'm not saying that all popular culture needs to be taught in school as "literary" or "legitimate" merely because its successful.  However, it's obvious that there's something in these science fiction and fantasy stories that connects to the general public in an incredibly powerful way that has yet to be challenged by conventional genres like dramas, comedies, and romances.

Before I delve further into this topic, I'd like to hear your thoughts.  Why do you you think that science fiction and fantasy are worth studying and understanding?  What do you think they contribute to our world that other genres cannot do?


Geoker said...

I think it's interesting to learn about the way that society used to view science fiction by the media put out at the time. The War of the Worlds scared so many people it put them into a state of hysteria when it was recorded on the radio, where today many people wouldn't even blink (though some of us would gather a bag and wait for the mother ship)!

But the perception of science and the wonder of our imaginations is important to study at length because it's honestly embedded in our culture whether we admit it or not! I dare say that not including any fantasy or science fiction elements to our schools curriculum would get us nowhere- because if you think about it, Beowolf is not only classic literature, but it's one of the oldest fantasy stories of all time!

Jesse said...

From my perspective, I think its a question of literary fiction and the small box it lives in. I believe that the valuable qualities of literary fiction - themes, subtext and meaning that's applicable to our lives - can exist just as meaningfully in all genres. For us nerds, Fantasy and Sci-Fi is the way we love to experience things - so why should it all be cotton candy? Well, its not. It's meaningful, and it can be more meaning-filled with some pushes in the right direction. I think especially the indie sci-fi movies of the last decade or two have done a good job of this - of bringing up interesting questions and positing answers. I think if you look at stories like Game of Thrones, we're starting to see meaning-filled stories from the fantasy genre as well.

Renee said...

Sci-Fi and Fantasy allow us to get away from our reality and look at either a better life or a worse one.
If it is better we can dream that we could live in that state. We would captain that ship (not the expendable crewman). We would be the princess (not the scullery maid). Sure there may be struggles, because we still realize that the work is worth the prize. Being handed things really is not that fulfilling. We need adventure.
If the situation is a dark and brooding morass, we believe we can still be that hero that will save the day and turn the tide. We can also realize that our lives may not be as bad as we think. Perhaps we can make a difference in our own situation.
Discerning what the writers' world view can also influence how we react to the story. I really enjoyed Avatar because the technical aspects of the film were amazing. I have sampled many examples of the genre and feel at easy enough to just enjoy the story. There are others who look for snakes under every rock. The environmental sermon or New Age message that may have been the under pinning of the plot left a bitter aftertaste for many.
So when trying to include Sci-Fi and Fantasy into the class room, a teacher may need to have a good grip on the world views of the author, the students, the parents, and their own. I think this is a daunting task when considering the newer works. There are tried and accepted fiction in most curriculum.
My last bit of rant should include that I feel most recent works are not really all that well written. Sure the stories are interesting, but the script is wordy. I think there is some "dumbing down". Challenging a readers vocabulary while they go through the story will help them articulate their thoughts at a higher level when they return to reality.
We love fiction is an act of creation because we were made in the image of the Creator.
And we could wear cool clothes!

The gook said...

And greek mythology isnt fantasy? :D were making our own stuff so maybe 40 yeears down itll be apart of literature study.

Mike Bylsma said...

Play Fallout already! What must I do, get you a big neon sign? :)

Phendrena said...

Books, Comics, Movies, Video Games, TV Shows.... They all offer a window to another world or another time and this is very compelling as it isn't something that we would get to experience in our own lives.From joining the Fellowship to whizzing through space at warp speed these ideas make us dream and the fantasical stories capture our imagination in a way that reality based stories don't.

james.slegers said...

Fiction in general, and fantasy in specific, allow us to exercise our tools of morality, ethics, social interactions, and perception of the world to explore the implications and uses of those tools in realms that aren't limited by our place on this earth. We know what is constructed in a fantasy world is not, and could perhaps never be, real. But, fantasy worlds have rules similar in structure to our own world. Parsing through fantasy stories helps us to explore our interactions with people, places, and societal structures, and reflect on the actions of the characters - perhaps more objectively than if we are tied to our own world, one with learned patterns and preconceptions.

I see fantasy stories as tools to reflect on our own reality, free of the confines of our own limited places in the world.

Of course, good literature embraces characters, and fantasy characters are often far more awesome, evil, or adroit than we can in reality ever be. Perhaps characters illustrate and thus give us feedback on who we really are, or who we should seek to be.

Of course, I often take things more seriously than I ought.

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