Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Get a Life!: Taking Fiction as Reality

What makes or breaks a television show, a movie, or a book series in the often maligned and marginalized science fiction genre? The fans. Fans brought Star Trek back from a future of being remembered as nothing more than a short-run campy scifi show to a burgeoning enterprise. Fans brought Star Wars from the silver screen into an expanded universe of novels, comics, video games, television shows, merchandising and established the brand as a multimedia empire. Fans are an integral part of keeping any creative venture afloat, but more so in the science fiction genre than anywhere else. Without there would be no Next Generation and the reality of science would pale in comparison to the fiction.

Fans bring a number of things with them. The first being a passionate intensity for one subject: Star Wars, Star Trek, Star Gate, Serenity, Doctor Who, and a host of others that I cannot think of at the moment. Fans gather in conventions to put their interest on public display. Some even fashion costumes to mimic many characters from the universe. There is a place for all kinds of fan obsession: from the lowliest Stormtrooper to the emperor of the Galactic Empire all fans play their role.

They are Legion.
The second thing that fans bring as an intimate familiarity with the source material. The best contribution to a body of work such as Star Wars may come through the writing of passionate fans as seen in the Expanded Universe. This interest may spread to areas unforeseen by the series creator, as theories of fan canonity or "fanon" may outshine the original established canon and replace it. For insance, Boba Fett's death in the Sarlacc Pit was ruled out after several highly successful stories in the Expanded Universe were published and his position as an Ensemble Darkhorse among the fans was firmly entrenched. In one of his many rereleases of the trilogy, "George Lucas stated in the audio commentary of Return of the Jedi that he added a shot of Boba Fett crawling out of the Sarlacc, which Fett does, stating that the character survived, he managed to blast himself out, killing the Sarlacc in the process" []. The fans played a role in Lucas reaching this decision, so the "fanon" became canon.

The moral of the story is popularity will bring you back from being slowly digested for 10,000 years.
--Get a Life sketch from SNL

It is precisely because the fans may take it too far, that they may let the fiction affect the reality that we are able to see precisely how much our reality is itself a construct of the fiction. In Constance Penley's "NASA/TREK" the ideology of the construct Star Trek is the driving force behind the reality of NASA, and they rarely meet up cleanly. In other words, our drive to reach the stars is driven by a fiction, and the practice may not necessarily live up to it. No more clearly is this connection between the fiction and the reality present than in examples of fiction taking on fiction-- pastiches such as Galaxy Quest.

Jason Nesmith: There is no "quantum flux". There's no "auxiliary". THERE'S NO GODDAMNED SHIP. You got it?
Brandon Wheeger: I just wanted to tell you that I thought a lot about what you said. 
Jason Nesmith: It's okay, now listen... 
Brandon Wheeger: But I want you to know that I'm not a complete brain case, okay? I understand completely that it's just a TV show. I know there's no beryllium sphere... 
Jason Nesmith: Hold it. 
Brandon Wheeger: no digital conveyor, no ship... 
Jason Nesmith: Stop for a second, stop. It's all real. 
Brandon Wheeger: Oh my God, I knew it. I knew it! I knew it! 
--Galaxy Quest

In some cases the difference between canon and "fanon" become blurred and the former may affect the former. Similarly "fanfiction" and a successful pastiche are not too far off from each other as well.  In the case of the film Galaxy Quest, the characters are clear send-ups to the characters from the various iterations of Star Trek. Tim Allen's character Jason Nesmith channels a Shatnerian delivery that reeks of overacting and arrogance accompanying the public perception of William Shatner milking his role in the original series for all its worth. Alan Rickman's alien character carries clear influences from both Spock and Worf– the inability to remove himself from the I Am Not Spock problem of never escaping your role as the other, the makeup and prosthetics, and the chilly exterior.

Although it might be made by fans we shouldn't confuse parody for fanfiction.

Galaxy Quest works as an interesting instance of pastiche because it in fact lauds the role of the fans– the heroes could not succeed without the aid of several nerdy characters Tim Allen had written off at the start of the story. The fans save the world, the actors only succeed by luck and the virtue of others. When Nesmith writes off the fan Brandon as embracing a short-lived series with little merit he does a disservice to the concept of works like Star Trek. Sure, their sets may be cheesy, their acting not always on mark, and their plots contrived. But a work like Star Trek which takes the future of man (and woman's) exploration into the farthest reaches of the cosmos as its subject allows for a greater access to the potentiality of a bright future in the public unconscious. That allows for strides forward in the field of science.

Sagan neglects to account for something when he says," the opposite of enlightenment; popular science and science cannot coexist because popular science ("irrationality") confounds the progress of science ("rationality")." (Penley 6) The popular fiction allows for insight into where science might take us, even if the specifics of the science are hazy or downright wrong. The popular science influences the science in a way that makes it meaningful, even if the actual science behind it is bunk.



Post a Comment