Let’s start with some context:
- Jay Maynard’s proposal for an Award for SF/F Storytelling, at Black Gate
- Catherynne Valente on “Cool Kids”
- Alexandra Erin on Weaponizing “Cool Kids vs Nerds”
Basically, Maynard believes that “those who recognize achievement in science fiction and fantasy (SF/F) have lost sight of the core question to be answered when evaluating a work in the genre: ‘Does it tell a good story?'” So he proposed a new award to recognize storytelling, with rules allowing a Judging Committee to “disqualify any work [up to three per category] they find to have an emphasis on other than telling a good SF/F story.”
I’m all for stepping up to create an award to fill a perceived gap. Maynard’s proposal led to a lot of discussion and debate, as well as a fair amount of criticism, particularly criticism of the proposed “trust levels” required to vote, and the Judging Committee’s role in arbitrarily disqualifying stories with the wrong emphasis. In the comments, Cat Valente proposed awards based on aspects of storytelling — best ending, best twist, best villain, etc.
There was more back-and-forth. Maynard commented, “I really do feel like the cool kids have swooped in and taken away my accomplishment,” and later, “Cat’s category list is unavailable. The cool kids took it away from the nerds.” Maynard went on to explain what he meant by cool kids in fandom:
Fandom has its nerds and its cool kids, too. The cool kids get invited to Worldcon parties and get nominated for Hugos (except this year, obviously). The cool kids get GoH invitations to cons. The cool kids have people squeeing over them whenever fans gather.
Both Valente and Erin pushed back against the Cool Kids/Nerd divide (linked above).
I think we’ve all seen some of what Maynard’s describing. Drop Neil Gaiman into a convention, and you get the rock star effect. People swarm Gaiman to the point that he can’t just enjoy a convention anymore. Or look at people like Seanan McGuire or Larry Correia, who get invited to be guests of honor at various conventions where they’re recognized and celebrated and, well, honored. We can all think of someone who, if we find out they’re at an event, we immediately perk up and say, “Oh, cool!”
But it’s not because of some high school nonsense, splitting people into cool kids and nerds. (Or Eloi and Morlocks, or whatever other disparaging labels are being used this week.) It’s because people like McGuire and Correia created art that other people really, really liked. And that’s awesome. Yay, art!
Jay Maynard is also known as Tron Guy. Because of the costume he created, he’s been on Jimmy Kimmel Live, South Park, and Tosh.0. That’s awesome too. Yay, art! But he feels like he’s one of the nerds, not one of the cool kids.
We’ve all felt out of place at a convention, or stood there wishing we could be part of a conversation without knowing how to join in. We’ve felt, like Maynard, that we were stuck at the nerds’ table, looking longingly across the
cafeteria bar to where the Cool Kids of SF/F are hanging out. We’ve felt awkward and out-of-place, we’ve said exactly the wrong thing at the wrong time, and we’ve felt like a complete ass.
That’s not about whether you’re a nerd or a cool kid. That’s part of being human.
Side note – is it me, or does Anakin look a lot like Heath Ledger as the Joker in that pic?
I get that a lot of us struggled growing up. We felt excluded, and we envied those who were more popular, more successful, more comfortable with themselves and their friends. Most of us continue to struggle. It’s part of being human. But this whole “Nerds vs. Cool Kids” thing is bullshit. It’s the same artificial and simplistic us vs. them, left vs. right, puppy vs. anti-puppy, Hero vs. Villain garbage that’s been poisoning people for ages.
There will always be small-minded people trying to divide the world into Us and Them. Some of these folks have found that dispensing poison earns them attention and followers.
That doesn’t mean the rest of us have to drink it.
Cat Valente is nerdy as hell. The last time I saw her, she was wearing a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle backpack. Which was also awesome. She is nerd and cool kid and fan and celebrity.
So is Jay Maynard. Maybe not in the same way or at the same times or in the exact same proportions, but really, how boring would that be?
I hope Maynard and others find a way to remove the poison from themselves, and from their interactions with others.
September 15, 2015 @ 2:08 pm
One has to be aware that this is market where attention equals income.
My personal pet theory is that Gamergate and the Puppy affair were/are business decisions. It’s not cool vs. nerd. That are only variable names used to create a “us vs. them” feeling.
Jim C. Hines
September 15, 2015 @ 2:11 pm
I suspect that for some of the poison pushers, it’s very much about business and profit, yeah.
September 15, 2015 @ 2:11 pm
I realized recently, when I was tempted to go on a rant about Them people who divided the world into Us and Them, that I was, ironically, doing it myself.
What is the antidote? Perhaps it is this: “There is no Us and Them; there is only Me and You.”
September 15, 2015 @ 2:28 pm
Relatively speaking, I found fandom (specifically convention attending, and later running, fandom) fairly late in life – in my late-20s (now more than 20 years ago). But, I was instantly mostly at home in ways I never was in most other contexts. (As a Boy Scout leader, I was similarly at home often).
I’ll admit early on, I did have one minor issue where I felt, if not excluded, alone. For the first year or so, I seemed to be the only Christian around. However, by the time I found other Christians, I was also realizing that I was finding friends and family (eventually literally – I met my wife at a Christian Fandom meeting at Windycon) in fandom; and in many ways these were friends in ways that I’ve never found as often in Church.
But, for the most part, fandom has been an open place, full of the same people who were often the outsiders in High School and even in “real life.” Yes, we are a much bigger place than we were 20 years ago in many ways, and as a community gets bigger pockets are bound to develop. Worse, some are going to perceive these pockets as being exclusive.
I think that that is some of what is going on – and people are feeling hurt because, once again, they think that they are being excluded. However, unlike high school, I think that any exclusion they feel is more likely because they want the community to still be small enough that everyone knows everyone and likes nearly the same things.
September 15, 2015 @ 2:34 pm
Just when you think the Hugo puppy nonsense is over…..
September 15, 2015 @ 2:36 pm
I have long said “There is no ‘Them.’ There is only ‘Us.'” Which is a non-grammatical construction but gets my sentiment across, I think.
September 15, 2015 @ 2:45 pm
*I have long said “There is no ‘Them.’ There is only ‘Us.’”*
(nods) I used to say that too. But I think the “Me and You” construction brings it into even sharper focus, makes me think before I speak.
September 15, 2015 @ 4:01 pm
About this award thingy…. I feel that some people think that awards aren’t given out to the people that X group thinks wrote a good story, but a reflection about the value of a person (and maybe the reader who liked the author’s work) to the much larger group of Science Fiction readers, writers and fans. So Z, and the people who like her/his book, feel less than M as persons because Z did not win an award from X group.
It is balderdash.
There is room for all kinds of stories, all kinds of writers. There are, after all, all kinds of readers. There is room for more awards, too. I hope when there are new awards, the people who don’t win them, and their readers, will still feel valued by the Science Fiction community as a whole.
September 15, 2015 @ 4:40 pm
I read the entire post and comments (whew) about Jay Maynard’s new award proposal on Blackgate. I seriously considered asking this question there, but worried that it would go badly. Maybe I still should, though.
The question: does Jay have an extreme mental illness? He does mention depression, and lord knows I can sympathize with that. Have struggled with it myself, have worked with it in a professional capacity. But… in almost every post, he is so hostile. There’s such an air of him being victimized and of him being manipulative in a passive-aggressive (and blatant) way in all his comments about how sad he is, how mean Cat was (untruthfully, from someone who read their whole exchange) and in fact how mean everyone has been to him. He’ll say something snarky and when he’s called out on it, instantly pull the “poor me” card.
And yet everyone there seems to be trying very hard to be gentle with him. That’s why I didn’t ask the question on Blackgate- maybe they know something I don’t and are trying to avoid touching something off.
The idea for an alternative awards: well, it’s got some flaws, no doubt. There’s a kernel of good idea there, though. But with Jay Maynard as the proponent for it I wouldn’t touch it with a ten foot pole having seen how he handles himself online. He seems like a martyr searching for a cross to nail himself to. He is eager to be ill done by.
Again, this may be off-topic,and I apologize if it’s inappropriate, but I did find it truly disturbing as I read the 300+ comments there and not one person mentioned this except obliquely.
September 15, 2015 @ 6:02 pm
If some people would be happy with their own award for Best Storytelling which represents “fandom at large” but can only be voted on by people in a “web of trust” (aka their friends), and if this ensuing happiness would result in their no longer trying to destroy other awards out of malice and unhappiness, I say, Let ’em go… Let ’em gooooo…
Mason T. Matchak
September 15, 2015 @ 10:05 pm
I just don’t get why some people try so hard to divide everyone up, and look so hard for any enemies they can find. It makes no sense to me.
September 15, 2015 @ 11:36 pm
The awesome thing about being Cool in SFF is that, as far as I am concerned, it is ACHIEVABLE.
I never figured out how to be cool in high school. It only lasted four years, and I think you had to have charisma or something. But SFF will last me to my grave, and I have all that time to write a really damn fine novel that makes people want to grab me and go “Dude. Dude! You wrote this thing that I love!”
That is a thing within my control. I can write that book or die trying. (Realistically I can write the two dozen books before that one, anyhow…) I have decades to create a thing that people love enough that they want to tell me that it meant something to them.
Which is a great deal better than I can say about high school.
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September 16, 2015 @ 12:32 am
[…] (7) Jim C. Hines has a take about the Maynard/Valente exchange in “Cool Kids” […]
Big Nerd Al
September 16, 2015 @ 1:21 am
Since I spent 6th grade through 12th grade toting around a French Horn, I think I can claim some nerd cred and lack of cool. I tried con fandom and Introvert Me found no family to join, so I segued sideways into SCA re-enacting and wargaming conventions instead, where I could be doing something and not just badly interacting with strangers.
These days I have enough perspective to interact occasionally from afar, but I’ll always be a fan in absentia. That doesn’t mean I don’t care strongly about science fiction, and SF awards, I was sitting here on File770 watching the awards telecast with a whole lot of people.
I don’t think Maynard has it right with his nerds vs cool kids either. But even if he did, why isn’t he rallying cool kids of his own persuasion to steal the idea back? Or running off ahead with the idea, or going on to start working out the real-world stuff to make an award happen, instead of moping that the idea got hijacked? Ideas are cheap, implementation is the hard part. If he were DOING something, he’d have some input.
September 16, 2015 @ 11:33 am
When I read the proposal at Black Gate, my first thought was “this is irony, right? Satire?” because it looks exactly like the Hugo awards, except for two things: 1. There is a panel of judges that can disqualify for content (as opposed to for not meeting guidelines, like published in the year, etc.) and 2. Because of the “trust” thing,random fans can’t just buy their way in, like with the Hugo awards.
So, it is a small group of people giving out an award that they say represents all of fandom, but, by their own group construction and definition, can’t possibly do that.
Really, I thought he was ironically mocking the idea of another set of awards.
I hope what they discover is that ALL awards are like that–they reflect the group that is presenting them. Look at the Oscars. Look at the Nobels, etc. Look who gets reviewed in the NTY book section. It’s fine to not like the group that is being represented. It’s fine to want your own group and award! But to pretend that it is somehow fundamentally different than the award you hate, when it very much is not, is just madness. [Insanity: doing the same thing over and over expecting different results.]
September 16, 2015 @ 11:38 am
Here’s the thing. What happened:
Jay came up with his awards idea. While trying to explain to him why his idea felt unwelcoming to a segment of fandom, Cat had an idea of her own, about awarding things like “Best Story Twist”, “Best Characterization”, and so on, since it seemed that people disagree about what is and isn’t message fiction. Jay responded to her thoughts with a comment something like: “I like this idea, and I’m sure that boring message fiction would never be nominated”. This annoyed Cat (who has herself been nominated numerous times for the uber-messagey, according to the Sad Puppies, Hugo-), and she said that Jay did not have permission to use her idea and that she would work on it herself. Later, she said that Jay was welcome to help, if he wanted. Jay took this as Cat stealing his own idea, since she had her idea on a discussion thread about his award. To be clear, Cat is working on an entirely separate concept that she brought up for the first time on his discussion thread. She is not stealing Jay’s concept of an award for all fandom, with a web of trust, committee to decide what is worthy, no SJW fiction. But to Jay, since she posted about it first on a thread about his idea, he also owns her idea and is very sad and left out that she set a boundary after he was approving, but somewhat jerkish, about her concept.
September 16, 2015 @ 1:10 pm
You know, I spent longer than I care to admit feeling a) distressingly uncool and b) intimidated by people I perceived as being cooler than me. It actually got better once I started attending indie comics events, where you’re likely to find a lot of art school grads and can usually get an interesting preview of what everyone else will be wearing in 6-12 months. Because the people I met there– people who I thought of as being vastly cooler than me– would admit to being terribly intimidated by the so-much-cooler people around them. And *those* people would point at someone else, perceived to be even further up the coolness scale, and confess to feeling like stammering posers in their presence.
So eventually I realized: I don’t have to feel bad about not being cool enough. Because the people I’m comparing myself to are comparing themselves to someone else, and so on, presumably all the way up to David Bowie. And no one can hope to be cooler than David Bowie, so everything else is just jockeying for position further down the pyramid.
And now I don’t really worry about how cool I am, or how cool anyone else is, and I can nerd out as much as I like, free of anxiety. It’s very relaxing.
September 16, 2015 @ 3:00 pm
@ Emily: “When I read the proposal at Black Gate, my first thought was “this is irony, right? Satire?” ”
That was my impression, too. I thought the article was a parody–and pretty funny. Categories virtually identical to the Hugos, but judges could disqualify *that liberal shit* (let’s not pretend that anything else is meant by “message fiction”), which would not get nominated anyhow, because ONLY TRUSTED CHUMS (presumably radiating out from the personal network of the award creator) would be allowed to nominate or vote. The Plan is Perfect! Mwa-ha-ha-ha-hah! And so on.
So I was a little surprise to see people on Twitter talking about it as if it were a serious proposal, and I specifically asked, wait, this is SERIOUS, it’s NOT parody? And found out, yep, it’s serious. It was not parody.
(This happens to me a lot in this Puppy mess. I keep thinking something is a parody of Puppying, and then find out, no, it’s a sincere comment or assertion or statement. I have several times mistakenly thought that John C Wright and VD/Beale were parodying -themselves-.)
@ Sterling–yep, I read the whole tiresome thing after seeing accusations that Cat Valente was “stealing” Maynard’s idea. And, nope, did not happen. And his accusation is perplexing (which is why i waded through the conversation). Cat’s proposed idea does not remotely resemble Maynard’s proposal in any way, shape, or form.
Maynard proposed categories virtually identical to Hugo categories (so WHO is stealing ideas…? think REAL HARD now…) and then proposed a system of jurors intalled to disqualify nominees at will, as well as a complex system of voter eligibility based on personal “trust levels.”
Whereas Cat Valente proposes categories we’ve never had for an sf/f award before (categories which bear no resemblance whatsoever to Maynard’s proposed categories), and an open voting system (anyone can vote who pays a modest fee, which proceeds will be used for the expenses of running the award).
So “stole my idea” in Maynard’s terms seems to mean, “Cat Valente, who disliked my idea for an award, came up with one of her own that she declines to give to me for my own use.”
September 16, 2015 @ 3:12 pm
I think the “cool kids” theme is simultaneously embarrassing, sad, and pathetic when used by an adult in his/her social relations with other adults, rather than discussing a teenager relating to other teenagers.
Being or not being “one of the cool kids” is a legitimate focus and concern of someone who is 13-14 years old and going through a standard developmental phase in our culture. But it is not a legitimate focus and concern of a functional adult, IMO. A middle-aged person who talks about adult life that way come across to me as someone who is emotionally and socially stuck in puberty.
Those outsider/insider concerns and momentary “I’m not cool” impulses stay with many of us throughout life, but a rational adult recognizes for what they are, much like the occasional impulse to cry and drum your heels when you don’t get your way, and sets them aside, rather than acting on them, giving them weight, or demanding they be humored in public and by strangers and casual acquaintances. (Spouses and very close friends are often/sometimes required to put up with our unreasonable impulses, but those are also the people whose job it is to keep loving us WHILE REMINDING US that this is not am impulse that a functional adult should give weight to.)
September 16, 2015 @ 3:30 pm
Meant to add, people like Gaiman, McGuire, GRRM, Scalzi, Hamilton, Valente, etc., etc. are treated differently at cons than others because they’re SUCCESSFUL. It’s not about being cool, it’s about success in the adult world–and in the extremely competitively publishing world. It’s also about appreciation–cons tend to be full of people who love the books and stories those people write.
There is a similar “rock star” atmosphere around other similarly super-successful writers at conventions in other genres, and a reason that many of them substantially reduce their convention schedules when they reach a certain level of success. (Another reason is that they’re already away from home a lot due to touring with their new releases; yet another reason is that many of them have spent so many years on the convention and touring circuits, they view STAYING AT HOME most of the time now as a reward they have earned through years of hard work on the road.)
Nora Roberts, Jennifer Crusie, Sandra Brown, and Debbie MacComber are all rock stars whose attendance at a con is a huge focus for attendees. They’re also all four grandmothers. Three of them live in small towns. Two of them spend a lot of their spare time knitting. Another does a lot of gardening.
In the adult world–including conventions–attention and kudos are due to success (which is usually the result of years of hard work), not “being a cool kid.”
September 16, 2015 @ 5:17 pm
Do you mean that maybe he has Histrionic Personality Disorder, or Borderline PD, or something like that in addition to the depression? Various things like that are often comorbid, because life sucks like that. 🙁 And not always diagnosed and treated, b/c mental health care in the US sucks like that. 🙁
September 16, 2015 @ 5:22 pm
Yes, because evidently all alternate award ideas become his as soon as they’re mentioned in his hearing.
He’s proposing a direct rip-off of the Hugo, with the addition of a Star Chamber to keep out all those icky SJW cooties.
Cat’s proposing the MTV Movie Awards of SF.
I can tell you right off which one I’d support. I would LOVE to vote for Best Plot Twist, Best Fight Scene, Best Pew-Pew Lasers…
September 16, 2015 @ 5:41 pm
IMHO, when someone starts talking about how “Communists* have taken over __________, and we have to take it back” the correct response is to put one hand over your pocket to protect your wallet, and the other hand over your heart to protect your dignity, and back slowly away from the person who has made this absurd statement, because the simple fact of the matter is that this person wants something from you which you would not otherwise give.
* For “Communism” substitute the word appropriate to your situation; i.e. “Liberals,” “SJWs,” or “Reactionaries.”
September 16, 2015 @ 5:51 pm
I dunno, guys, I’m not comfortable diagnosing someone over the Internet.
September 16, 2015 @ 5:51 pm
I think people are being gentle with Jay because while he’s wrong, (in my opinion) he’s the first person to bring the Puppies’ issues before fandom without being a gigantic asshole over the whole thing. He thought out a proposal, went out of his way to include people like Gerrold and Scalzi in his thinking about how the whole proposal would work, and really put some effort into crossing the divide between Puppies and Everyone Else without being offensive. I think he deserves a lot of credit for that effort, and I don’t think he’s getting the credit he deserves.
Whether he’s right or wrong is completely another matter, and his attempts to be appropriate were certainly not perfect, but overall he addressed the issue in a pleasant and appropriate fashion.
September 16, 2015 @ 6:04 pm
Part of Jay’s problem in this is that he’s not terribly literary, and didn’t really define “good storytelling.” I thought of this as a serious weakness in a proposal aimed at authors, editors, fans, and other very literary types.
That being said, Cat didn’t steal his idea; instead she came up with several definitions of “good storytelling,” which Jay did not bother to define. I don’t think that either Jay or Cat is “at fault” here, but it’s easy to see why Jay got grumpy. In a perfect world, Jay would have sucked it up and said, “Thanks Cat, that’s exactly what I was talking about when I said “Good Storytelling. Do you mind if I use it?”
And Cat would have said, “Sure.”
September 16, 2015 @ 6:09 pm
Replying to myself here. I probably should have written “And Cat would have said, ‘Sure, if you’ll modify that web of trust stuff so it can’t be used to exclude people like me.'”
And so on.
September 16, 2015 @ 6:12 pm
I think I must add, in Jay’s defense, that he and I have debated the whole issue of “cool kids” at Eric Raymond’s blog, though from a very different perspective… clearly he’s been thinking about the issue. I should also note that I’m the one who brought the issue up – though once again, in a very different context.
September 17, 2015 @ 3:30 am
Once again we seem to have a group who has missed the main point: in the battle for cultural superiority, the geeks won. In the argument over who has the better tools for building a social network, the nerds won. Science fiction and fantasy are MAINSTREAM these days. SFF is not a niche market any more.
The high-rating television shows these days, the ones people are paying their cable subscriptions to watch, or pirating off the internet, or dodging geoblocking to access – they’re science fiction and fantasy (or are we pretending “Game of Thrones” and “Teen Wolf” are somehow documentaries?). The movies which are making the big bucks in the cinemas, the ones the studios rely on to bring in the crowds and make them their money so they can spend it on fringe, niche and artsy projects – they’re science fiction and fantasy (or are we pretending super heroes and giant monsters are a Real Thing Which Exists In The World?). The AAA games which make the big bucks for the game design companies are largely based around science fiction and fantasy tropes (or are we pretending that “space marine” is a valid career choice for the kids these days, and that we have to battle dragons and orcs to get to the supermarket to buy milk?). Science fiction and fantasy novels regularly land on the best-seller lists. Comic books are valid reading matter for kids of all ages. Tabletop gaming and computer gaming are valid recreations.
We won, folks. We are the mainstream these days.
There’s no more need to protect the gates, not that there ever was. There’s no more need to exclude people, although again, there wasn’t that need in the first place. There’s never been any need to jealously guard every single manifestation of SFF and geek culture. We won. We won because at least part of what’s at the core of geek culture is this overwhelming enthusiasm for what we like and an absolute willingness to share our enthusiasms with just about anyone who will stand still long enough to hear us out. Our enthusiasm won out. Our sharing, our recommendations, our reviews, our talking about this or that cultural product or other, it all opened the doors so everyone could come in. It isn’t a small club any more – it’s a wide-open party. Being a fan of science fiction and fantasy doesn’t have to mean you’re on the outer any more. It means you’re just another fan, one of millions.
But then … that’s what the first group I mentioned up there are mourning, isn’t it? The Puppies and the Gamergaters and the rest of the disaffected exclusionists – they’re mourning that this thing they picked to make them special, make them different to the rest, make them superior… well, it isn’t regarded as making them superior any more. Because of course the other way of writing “small club” is “exclusive” and the other way of writing “on the outer” is “elite”, and if you can tell yourself it’s not about Them excluding You, it’s about You being superior to Them, then you can make yourselves feel better about not being able to get along with people.
But the shift of science fiction and fantasy to the mainstream means you aren’t Big Fish in a small pond any more – you’re another moderate-sized fish in a huge ocean, and there are plenty of fish in the sea who are better regarded than you are, because they’re more personable, or more friendly, or more interesting, or whatever. However, if you make it seem like someone else is setting up the rules to make themselves the Cool Kids (like in high school) and you the excluded minority (just like it high school), then you can flip that around in your head again to make Yourself the exclusive, elite type, superior to Them, and Them part of the unwashed masses, inferior to You. If you’re someone who needs to feel superior to others in order to be able to function in public, it helps a lot. The problem is, somewhere along the line, what used to be a coping mechanism became a necessity – and there are people who really feel as though something profoundly necessary has been stolen from them by having their formerly niche hobby become a mainstream pursuit.
When being the Alpha Geek or the Biggest Fan isn’t a badge of honour any more, what are these people to do? Well, it looks like what they’re going to try to do is grab as much as they can and drag it all behind the barricades they’re building to keep other people out. The fandom equivalent of the Exclusive Brethren, I suppose.
Jim C. Hines
September 17, 2015 @ 10:05 am
Seconded, thank you. Let’s not go there.
September 17, 2015 @ 10:53 am
Cat’s award ideas strike me as being similar to the MTV movie awards- awarding best moments as opposed to (or in conjunction with) awarding best works. As such, it’s a cool award idea.
September 17, 2015 @ 11:00 am
What- GoT isn’t a documentary?
September 17, 2015 @ 12:23 pm
September 17, 2015 @ 2:34 pm
**(or are we pretending that “space marine” is a valid career choice for the kids these days, and that we have to battle dragons and orcs to get to the supermarket to buy milk?).**
I love this… now I kind of WANT to have this battle. I can send out the housemates to battle orcs when they’re /really annoying/ — win-win all around!
Thanks for this discussion, folks. Really enjoying it.
And thank you, Jim, for being not only so thoughtful, but insightful.
P.S. Jim, can you delete my initial comment? Apparently I double-pasted the quote.! :c
Jim C. Hines
September 17, 2015 @ 2:40 pm
September 17, 2015 @ 11:05 pm
Yeah, except, it never was a niche. Written SFF had its own category market, but that wasn’t a niche — it got it because SFF was mainstream popular and SFF included stuff sold in general fiction. Horror was one of the most popular forms of fiction from the 1980’s up. Fantasy from the late 1980’s up. Comics and superheroes have been a widely commercially popular thing since the 1930’s. Fantasy has always been the biggest part of children’s/YA. SFF dominates electronic and other games, toys, big and small movies, has always been a big part of t.v., everybody had Star Wars and other SFF franchise lunchboxes, toys and gear, lots of kids played in arcades — “nerdy” kids didn’t control a damn thing. It was always very big, very popular, and very corporate.
The idea that SFFH was somehow the small side dominion of nerds came from kids being teased for liking various forms of it. But they also got teased for the wrong kinds of clothes, for liking books and being good in school, for having awkward body features, for being poor, for being girls, etc. Teasing and bullying goes for whatever looks like it might embarrass you or scare you. Kids got teased for having Star Wars toys by other kids with Star Wars toys.
The two things that have really changed are that movies are distributed more widely and get bigger global boxoffice — and bringing it to comic and media cons as a promotion — and the Internet providing wider global reach, sharing and promotion. That and the population grew, so SFFH art could grow. And that got big enough that people stopped being so embarrassed at liking SFFH, and the claim that SFFH was juvenile gets less effective when it’s bringing in billions.
So it’s not that SFFH is now mainstream. It’s just that we’ve stopped pretending it’s niche. 🙂 Which is, I suppose, where the cool kids stuff comes in.
September 18, 2015 @ 6:54 am
Yes! I was thinking about how to say this. Arguably one of the first soap operas is Dark Shadows, about a vampire! Penny Dreadfuls (the things, not the series) were ridiculously popular (hence the penny).
I will say, on a slightly different tack, that this “for the masses” thing kind of annoys me. Not because I don’t agree with them (I think Modernism’s exclusivity did a lot of damage to people’s relationship to great works of art). But because some of these folks are acting like “storytelling” isn’t, in itself, high art. Now, I’m all for rejecting the classism connected to high art (along with, in the West at least, vast streams of racism and sexism, too), but to assume that because someone wrote something for the masses, and therefore it won’t have a “message” is silliness.
Seriously, if you study “great literature ™” before, oh, 1900, you get a ton of SFF. I’m a medievalist, so, just a few off the top of my head: Beowulf; a slew of romances including Sir Orfeo and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight; the Lays of Marie de France; Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (some of them); Malory’s Morte D’arthur. That’s just quick and that’s just in English. If we keep going? Shakespeare, Marlow, Milton, Dickens, the Brontes, the Shellys, etc. All have ghosts and faeries and monsters and science / innovation and all are popular culture. All of them. Read (or listened to) by “the masses.”
September 18, 2015 @ 9:03 pm
I think it’s a fabulous idea — the MTV movie awards are also a public-voted award. I think they have a web page now; I believe it used to be 1-800 numbers.
I know there are movies I haven’t been at all interested in that I’ve hunted up at least the MTV Awarded bits to see just why it was Best Fight or Best Kiss.
September 18, 2015 @ 9:04 pm
And the movies nominated there are suuuuuuuper not “literary”; they’re always big pop culture stuff.
Weekend Links: September 19, 2015 | SF Bluestocking
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What would Lovecraft think of the Howard Award and other writing (and just plain quirky) links (#SFWApro) | Fraser Sherman's Blog
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