Gene Roddenberry/Notorious BIG: Twin Prophets of Literature (or Why It’s Time To Embrace More Utopian Fiction)

 

It’s always interesting learning things about yourself, right?

*crickets*

Maybe only sometimes.

Okay, usually never. But for a creative type I think it’s essential. What inspiration makes us rise like Batman from the Lazarus Pit (a 20 minute recovery from a broken back? I love ya, Christopher Nolan, but dafuq)? What vice leads us on early morning Walk of Shame (Brazilian fart porn…yea boi!)? What makes us…us?

One of the more interesting comments about my story The Primary Color was how it touched on issues of utopia vs. dystopia, and if it’s possible to tell the difference between the two from the inside.

Heady stuff. Way headier than the story I actually intended to write but, hey, you take any compliment you can get. I don’t see Michael Bay giving back his Oscars on a technicality.

What I realize is that I’m a dreamer and optimist. Even in the darkest of my fiction there’s brightness underneath. There’s the promise of better.

Those are the stories I like to create, and those are teh stories I love to enjoy. Sure, I can sometimes be a literature snob. I can lose myself in worlds where happy endings have no place. I like my Faulkner. I read my Welty. I appreciate the bleakness and nihilism sometimes associated with the more literary, the more realist and, at times, the more anti-realist. Willy Loman, bro, I got your back.

But given a choice between a Greek tragedy and a geek epic, I choose epic all day, every day.

It’s why I love superheroes, who almost always exist in the time of “the near future”. I love the brightness bordering on gaudy, the camp, the pure exhilaration portrayed by their very existence. Sure, there are dark superhero tales and forced deconstruction. But in the end, you can’t have superheroes, with their primary colors and their campy rhetoric, exist without a a whole lot of hope.

The mere existence of superheroes point to an optimistic society, possibly utopia, even if that utopia is in disarray. (subtle difference there, so bear with me), even if the characters don’t realize how good they actually have it.

So the question I keep asking myself is: why isn’t there more optimistic/Utopian fiction? What does the lack of it say about how society views its future?

What do we have against the backdrop of happiness in our fiction?

And when I hear even Grant Morrison, one of my idols, a man whose love for superheroes and the positivity they represent oozes from every superhero comic he writes, give in to the bleak homogeneity of the day to say he might

embrace the zombie ethos that’s complete overridden this culture – I’m getting bored doing the single shining light

it breaks my heart, Fredo. It breaks my heart.

Things have to change, right?

From a consumer’s point of view, the fascination with pessimistic/dystopian narrative and the accompanying themes is understandable.

We like to see the fall before the rise. We want to wallow in darkness before we finally embrace the light. Conflict is the name of the game, and most consumer’s can’t imagine enjoying conflict in stories built around the conceit that most familiar conflicts have been resolved.

Fair enough.

But from a creative perspective…I don’t get it. Creators should know better.

This past weekend I was able to catch a documentary on Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek–yes,I’m a Trekkie..a big, Black Trekkie, and I’ll be happy to shove a bat leth up your yin-yang to defend that honor–and came away from with a new appreciation for his will.

By hook or by crook, ol’ Gene was going to do things his way. Despite the challenges, he was going create a modern, progressive, brainy, and Utopian universe, whether his bosses or his young writers liked it or not.

And for any creator who thinks Utopian fiction can’t be exciting, can’t find an audience, I point to the 5 Star Trek tv series, 12 big budget movies, hundreds of novels and comics, 50 years of continuity, and the assload of fans who were pretty much the template for the current “geek is chic” movement.

Yeah, not bad.

See, Gene realized what a lot of writers fail to, that conflict exists wherever people exist, no matter how evolved, no matter how smart, no matter how without need they become. It’s so simple, yet so easily missed.

Where one set of problems are solved, another set takes its place. Not everyone views utopia the same.

For any society to satisfy every hunger, it must deal with the complications of appeasing base cravings.

Or, as the Notorious B.I.G. put it, in what might be the most succinct explanation of why Utopian fiction works:

Mo’ money, mo’ problems.

So yes, I think there’s room for more optimism in fiction, in science fiction and young adult, in superheroes and even in horror (think about it, utopia is the perfect backdrop for the macabre). It gives us a future to strive for and the tools to deal with the complications in reaching it.

Will it be easy? No. But is it supposed to be?

We just have to be willing to embrace it and smart enough to make it happen.

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About lacolem1

I'm a first-year Physics graduate student who spends his long drives from Mississippi to Texas thinking of new ideas and writing/enacting stories and publishable content in his head. I've been a comic book geek since I was 12, an internet philosopher since 18, and a wannabe media inventor since five minutes in the future. I love the beauty of short form fiction a la Maupassant, the ticklish excitement of flowery prose a la Bradbury, and the strict directness of blunt imagery a la Hemingway. Alas, this is countered by my love for bad black-and-white sci-fi from the 50s, bad Benetar-esque pop music from the 80s, and Bridezillas and the Real Housewives of Atlanta. I'd like to think I have a natural talent for words and storytelling, but I guess it's up to you guys to decide
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