Tracy's blog

I’m Tracy Au and I have graduated from the Professional Writing program from university. I am an aspiring screenwriter, so this blog is used to promote my writing and attract people who will hire me to write for your TV show or movie. I write a lot about writing, TV, movies, jokes, and my daily life and opinions. I have another blog promoting my TV project at

Monday, October 12, 2015

"Simon Pegg is right, geeky genre fiction usually IS childish, even when it’s also something more"

Aug. 12   "Simon Pegg is right, geeky genre fiction usually IS childish, even when it’s also something more": I cut out this article by Dan Kaszor in the Edmonton Journal on May 30, 2015.  I cut it out because it analyzes superhero movies and stories in general.

It talks about comic stories and how there are lots of grey issues, but simplified.  Here's the whole article:  

“I’m very much a self-confessed fan of science-fiction and genre cinema. But part of me looks at society as it is now and thinks we’ve been infantilized by our own taste.” — Simon Pegg

That quote, given in an interview last week to the Radio Times, set the geek world on fire. How could Simon Pegg, the king of the nerds, say such a thing? Ignoring the fact that the vast majority of Pegg’s output has matched the themes he espouses in that quote (Spaced, in particular, is less a show about being geeky as it is about characters in a state of arrested development), some of the most lauded works of genre fiction in the past 30 or 40 years have taken on the “infantilized” nature of genre fiction head on.

It’s important to recognize what it is that actually draws us to certain genres and styles of storytelling. At their basic level, most genre fictions are power fantasies. The main characters are given strength beyond that of the natural world (and the reader) and the agency to reshape the fictional universe to their own liking. It’s an escape from the real world where you don’t have that same power or agency.

It isn’t to say that these stories can’t be more and say more. They often do. Science fiction in particular is an apt way of making you think about complex problems in a way outside of your basic context. But, for the most part, the reason they star people dressed up in tights or wearing a rocket pack is the childish hook to draw you in (and let’s face it: you aren’t cosplaying as Bernard Marx*). It’s usually unrelated to whatever the “more” is and that “more” sometimes (heck, usually) never comes.

This comes across most clearly in the superhero genre, where characters are very explicitly given almost god-like powers. It’s a very simple fantasy to want to just be able to punch the world better. It’s a simplistic, childish base language — the equivalent of eating a chocolate bar.

In 1985, one of the most famous works of super-hero fiction aimed at answering the question of “what if superheroes were real”: Watchmen. While many people laud the verisimilitude of the work, much less is made of the (arguably more important) genre deconstruction it does. The thesis of Watchmen is that the superhero, taken to its logical conclusion into the adult world, is an inherently terrifying being, something that is not fun nor escapist, but horrifying and/or pathetic. The book has an analogue for Superman who is so powerful and alien as to essentially be god. It has three analogs for Batman: one who is literally impotent unless he’s punching someone, one who is a psychopathic street murderer and one who sees killing a city of people as acceptable collateral damage.

Watchmen is often lauded as the pinnacle of superhero fiction, and in many ways it is. But it’s also the end of superhero fiction. There isn’t really any space to build beyond what we see in Watchmen. If you concede that the superhero philosophy is inherently “fascist” (a word plucked directly from the Hollis Mason autobiography that lines the back of many issues), Watchmen is saying that the fantasies fuelling superhero fiction only work in the exciting escapist way that we want them to if we embrace a childish naiveté about the consequences behind them.

This isn’t the first time this has happened to a genre. The Western, which dominated the popular culture of the first half of the 20th century, was a similar morality play of white hats using violence to strike down black hats. However, as the genre matured, that simple morality became problematic to many creators.

1956’s The Searchers introduced a classic Western hero whose traditionally “heroic” traits left him a bitter, destructive, murdering racist. In the 1960s, Western heroes became more and more indistinguishable from the villains, culminating in 1969’s The Wild Bunch, where the only real differentiation between heroes and villains was a slight difference in the amount of malice shown during violence.

After the ’60s, the Western was pretty much dead as a populist genre. Clint Eastwood attempted to reconstruct it in the 1970s with The Outlaw Josey Wales, and his brilliant Unforgiven is a seeming admission that the Western hero must always now be a nigh-hellish figure. What remains of the Western genre is almost entirely adult fare — which is, of course, fine; great, even — but you will basically never see another Western taking summer cinemas by storm, and the child-like base template of the genre hasn’t been successfully attempted in years.

Superheroes have obviously not been shuffled out of the limelight after Watchmen in the same way Westerns crumbled after The Searchers. Part of this is that the more modern fans of genre fiction want to read these “realistic” heroes through a childish mindset (see Zack Snyder’s very literalist interpretation of Watchmen and his “Do you bleed?” take on Batman).
And that’s part of what Simon Pegg was griping about — even when presented in an adult manner, genre has a way of being pre-chewed and regurgitated back in such a way that renders much of the nuance moot — signifiers such as brutal violence and grey morals reinterpreted as being cool instead of troubling — making the end product even more childish than the sanitized basic version.

But of course, that isn’t all of it. Much of modern genre fiction layers in complex adult ideas into the childishness. You can see this in some of Marvel’s movie output — most specifically Captain America: The Winter Solider, where the question of “who watches the watchmen” is brought up without shaking the moral fundamentals of the genre.

Perhaps the best example of taking simplistic genre stories and then layering them with interesting, complex adult ideas is Star Trek, where swashbuckling superhero cowboy Captain Kirk swings from planet to planet getting into exciting adventures — but those adventures often play out as interesting, complex and layered examinations of the very adult human condition. (Which, apropos of nothing, is why I’m happy Pegg is writing the next Star Trek movie, since the first two certainly didn’t get this.)

The show uses a taste of candied confections to get you to eat your vegetables. And to be clear, there isn’t anything wrong with candy. Candy tastes good! It’s just that adults should probably know better than to just eat candy all day long.

All Simon Pegg was saying was that it’s strange that grown adults seem to be constructing their entire identifies around eating candy and then angrily claiming they are eating vegetables. At the very least, you should admit you are eating candy.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home