When I talk to people about my interest in science fiction I run into trouble when we start talking about movies. Do I like Star Wars? Sure, but outside any sort of argument of whether it is or is not actual science fiction, the thing about Star Wars that bugs me is the same thing that has been bothering a lot of SF fans for several decades now. Though entertaining, Star Wars created a slew of monsters: science fiction movies that are mostly shoot-em-up blockbusters full of mindless action violence. Why is the genre of unlimited imagination often so predictable at the cinema? ...Then Britt takes an opposing view, arguing that the genre needs violence for verisimilitude's sake. Excerpts:
[T]he incredibly popular Matrix trilogy has at its core a very inventive concept concerning a real world versus a digital one. Which one is more preferable? Do we really have free will? But these cool ideas ultimately take the form of ridiculously trite speeches exposed by characters whose only real personality traits are their ability to shoot/chop at people. The problem of the action/violence in the Matrix movies is compounded by the fact that the stakes of said violence are dubious. When characters are granted physical powers previously reserved for video game characters, not only does the action/violence cease to be interesting, it betrays what its real purpose is: violence for violence's sake. Is this brand of violence any different than the goal of pornography? Should you stand for it in your science fiction?
Violence does indeed have a place in science fiction; so much so, that I would argue that much of science fiction actually needs violence. And the reason is that in order to be effective fiction, science fiction has to comment on the real world. ...For my part, I think Britt hits the proverbial ball out of the park on at least one point, namely that if violence exists in a story it needs to not titillate. For all the usual talk of artistic freedom, I think most storytellers realize theirs is a profoundly moral undertaking, one that shapes peoples' minds at a bedrock level. If violence steps onstage during storytelling, it ought to do so in a way that doesn't encourage base instincts.
In a recent interview on The New Yorker's blog, author Mary Gaitskill commented on the way violence is incorporated into our lives and the creative process saying; "… most people sublimate the violence, are even able to use it in a creative way. There's an interesting and very terrible line between that sublimation and more overt expression, a line that gets dramatically crossed in wartime situations …" The act of sublimation seems to be the key here. If science fiction, or any fiction, tackles violence it would seem the route would need would to be an acknowledgement without a celebration.
(Picture: CC 2009 by erin m)