I miss pulp. And I don’t mean chunky orange juice.
As most people generally know I’m somewhat of a geek. I enjoy reading comic books and watching sci-fi movies. I write stories with a sci-fi/fantasy twist. I play videogames set in space or the future. But I have to say, I’m disappointed.
Lately a lot of creativity in any of these mediums seems to be somewhat lacking (perhaps with the notable exception of the videogame industry). Sure, Hollywood continues to crank out ever successful, big budget blockbusters, silly alliterations which rake in millions, if not billions of every year. And we go see them. But you’d be hard pressed to find a film during the summer movie season being anything other than a sequel, spin-off, or reboot.
I love comic books, as well, but they seem to have lost their lustre. I had a conversation recently with a friend and fellow comic geek. He remarked that with the ever increasing popularity of comics in the media he finds himself less interested in them. It seems that the more popular one book becomes, the more it loses that passion that drove it in the first place. That special thing. Are we just jaded because our books aren’t our secret anymore? Or have things changed?
Television is not one to be left out, either. Arguably one could say television is where the real talent lies. Premium cable channels are bringing in the ratings with gritty, well written shows. Another prison show, with nudity. Another political intrigue, with swearing and sex. Another epic fantasy, with incest and gore. And an ongoing zombie movie. Are these bad? Not at all. I watch television, too. And I’ll even fork out the cash to see the newest superhero blockbuster sequel. In 3D. But what’s my point?
I’m frustrated that there’s nothing new or ground-breaking anymore. Nothing out there is available to challenge us. Premium cable producing high quality versions of old concepts is still old concepts. With boobs. That’s shock, not originality.
Sometime last year I discovered a collection of old Twilight Zone television scripts which had been repurposed into radio shows. I was fascinated by them. Not all of the stories were exceptional. Heck, most of them turned out to be fairly predictable. But what drew me to them? It was the originality. These were written to be different. They stood out because there’s nothing like else like them. This discovery spurned me to seek out more stories from the era. I began reading pulps from the early 20th century. I sought out Golden Age comic thrillers.
I found myself in awe. These stories were weird! They were strange. I found myself thinking, “there’s no way something like this would be produced today.” Stories of murderers whose victims come back to life by growing out of their fingers, adventures of men teleporting to far off galaxies to fend off tentacle planets, mysteries with legitimate twists you do not see coming. These were stories written with passion. Writers made them to stand out, to gain readership, for others to enjoy. To get you to tell your friends. The stories weren’t always believable, but that’s what made them fun!
Consider this: media has made an incredible effort to produce shows and stories which audiences will find believable. Realism is added in the belief that audiences won’t take to something they don’t understand. The “why” is something they feel needs to always be answered.
Star Wars is an interesting example of this. The original trilogy has an immense, almost religious following. It is a pop culture cornerstone. But look at it. Set “A long time ago” a number of fantastical races war across the stars, aided by a mystical field known as the “Force”, to bring justice to the galaxy. No one questions the science of those movies. There’s no Force in real life. But these movies were an absolute success. But then came the prequels. Fans everywhere balked at the obscene attempt at explaining away the Force by means of “midi-chlorians”. Spectacle couldn’t save those movies. They lost that spark which made them special. They became something shiny rather than something special and lost what drew people to them in the first place.
Audiences shouldn’t be taught. They will choose to like whatever they want. Or believe, for that matter. The tagline for the 1978 film Superman was “You will believe a man can fly.” That movie was popular, not because it explained in complete scientific logic why an alien could come to Earth and have incredible abilities, but because it showed us greatness. It had faith in the audience. It believed that we would believe in it.
I am craving that belief. I feel that the artists have lost faith in the audience. That they won’t take a chance on us anymore. But audiences are smart. They know what’s real. They understand the world they live in. But that’s not why we go to the movies. That’s not why we pick up a book. And that’s definitely not why we turn on the television. We do those things to get a break from what we understand. We do it to be amazed.