Why We Love Sci-Fi & Fantasy: Part 2

A few weeks ago, I started this post series about the attraction of science fiction and fantasy in popular culture.  The first reason I addressed was the ability for science fiction and fantasy to be all-encompassing; they are easily able to address multiple issues within a single piece of work, hence they are able to reach a broader audience with a wide range of interests.  You can read all of Part 1 here if you missed it.

Many of you left comments on Part 1 when I asked you why you thought science fiction and fantasy were so adored, even by those who don't necessarily call themselves geeks or nerds.  Today, for my 10th post of this blog, I'd like to discuss another reason found in many of these comments: escapism.

From http://pitchersandpoets.com/2009/09/01/watching-the-hero-walk-alone-together-ritual-community-power-and-baseball/
'Nuff said.
To be honest, I do not plan to discuss the escapist nature of science fiction and fantasy in great length.  There are hundreds of books, essays, and articles written on this topic, many of which you can just google.  Of course, I'd highly recommend J.R.R. Tolkien's "On Fairy Stories" and C.S. Lewis's "On Science Fiction," which both succinctly yet accurately address escapism in these two genres.  I firmly believe their ideas on this topic are still valid today, no matter how old-fashioned some of their other ones may be.

Essentially, what you need to know about the escapist nature of science fiction and fantasy is this: some people think these books are no more than scribbles on pages to help divert your attention from real-world issues, and other people think these books are helpful specifically because they show you the real world from a new perspective.  My thoughts?  The latter couldn't be more correct.

Sure, there are many of us who do take guilty pleasure in picking up a less-than-Pulitzer-Prize-winning romantic fantasy romp just for the fun of it.  There are also those of us who felt like we could live "normal" lives only within the science fiction worlds we discovered.  However, many of us recognize the implicit nature of science fiction and fantasy to take us outside of ourselves, outside of our limited viewpoints, to illuminate the issues, hypocrisies, and ideas in the world around us that we are not otherwise aware of or may not otherwise have been open to hearing.  Because of this, we are terrified at the concept of an Orwellian-inspired government that uses Newspeak to convince its citizens of its ideas regardless of morality (or are we there already?).  We cheer for Sam and Optimus Prime in their fight to save humanity, because they have shown us that we humans have immeasurable value.  We also ache to see the love and acceptance Harry finds with Ron and Hermoine radiated into our suffering, spiteful Muggle world.  This is why escapism is not just a quick little vacation for our minds; if anything, escapism engages our minds to think even more deeply about our everyday routines, and how the larger forces at work behind those routines may ultimately be driving us towards a life of slavery or a life of freedom.

As these genres start to become more popular and therefore more widely accepted (and more often than not, their fans seen as intuitive instead of "geeky"), people formerly opposed to science fiction and fantasy on the grounds of unreal escapism seem to be questioning their assumptions.  Maybe these "escapist" books really do hold more value than previously suspected.   Maybe there's a real-life, applicable reason four out of the five top-grossing films of all time are science fiction or fantasy.

Maybe science fiction and fantasy can help us escape and then come back to change the world.


JeriWB said...

You've once again expanded my thoughts a bit on the genre that's gradually winning me over... I'll be sure to seek out the Tolkein and Lewis articles.

Anonymous said...

Right on! Escapism is a derogatory term for something that helped our ancestors survive. Those who didn't tell/listen to stories about the saber-toothed cat in the cave or the dangers of encountering other tribes died out. Sci-fi does the same thing by preparing us for the future.

Sure, most of the dangers aren’t realistic: tentacles from the deep, space aliens fanatically bent on genocide, and zombie hordes aren’t exactly the leading causes of death in America today, but hidden away in these scenarios are warnings and strategies for real-world problems. They can make us aware (even if in a metaphorical way) of the dangers of damaging our environment or the evils of dehumanizing an enemy. And the zombie apocalypse? Well, if you’re prepared for that, you’re prepared for the less awesome but much more likely event of an earthquake or tornado. The CDC recognizes the power stories can have to encourage people to “get a kit, make a plan, be prepared” for any disaster, undead-related or otherwise.

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