This post was deleted by the damned blogging software here – it said something about “Error: Line Count blah blah” and BWEEEP~! The whole thing that I had sweated over for three hours (and four days of sitting around and thinking about it) all disappeared in a blink, off to whatever place that unposted, but surely the basis of world-shaking online multimedia monographs, go.

So if this, its inferior brother, its clone, in any way displeases you, the mythical casual reader, well then, blame the blogging software.  Not me.  Oh no. Never me.

Now then: the post excerpted below appeared on this message board devoted to the works of Robert Jordan.  [NERD ALERT: Jordan is the author of the Wheel of Time series of books; these books are a brilliant synthesis of classic fantasy elements, hard science fiction and gritty real-world-like characters and events. There ain’t no fairies and elves in these books, folks.  But there are heroes, villains, a sense of wonder and an elegiac feeling of a beautiful and innocent world being lost.]  I quite admire Jordan’s skills – he manages to bring in memes from just about every major culture on earth (not just Germanic/Norse the way Prof. Tolkien did) as well as homages to classic works of s-f literature.

Anyway, this quote really stopped me in my tracks:

The reason for the popularity of fantasy, and the reason science fiction is fading in comparison, is quite simple, really.  Increasingly in books and films, including science fiction but also in everything from mysteries to so-called "main stream literary" novels, the lines between right and wrong have become blurred.  Good and evil are more and more portrayed as two sides of the same coin.  This is called realism.  People by and large want to believe that there is a clear cut right and wrong, though, and that good and evil depend on more than how you look in the mirror or whether you’re squinting when you do.  In fantasy, you can talk about good and evil, right and wrong, with a straight face and no need to elbow anybody in the ribs to let them know you’re just kidding, you don’t really believe in this childish, simplistic baloney.  That seems to be less and less so in other genres.

Does that mean fantasy all has to be goody-goody on the side of right and black-as-the-pit on the side of evil.  No.  In my own work telling right from wrong is often difficult.  Sometimes my characters make the wrong choice there.  Sometimes they do things are quite horrific.  But they try to find the right choice.  This is the way I think most people see the world and their behavior in it — trying to do the right thing with the knowledge that sometimes you’re going to make the wrong choice, and with "right" defined as more than simply being of benefit to yourself — and they want to read books that reflect this.  Right and wrong are not simply different shades of gray.  Good and evil are not simply a matter of how you look at them.  (Have you ever noticed the use of "of course?’  As in, "The actions of the suicide bombers is quite horrific, of course…."  You know that a "but" is coming, followed by an explanation of why their actions. while "quite horrific. of course" are also "entirely understandable under the circumstances," which come down to "the death and destruction is all somebody else’s fault completely.") 

As the view of the world, as expressed by the evening news and most books, has increasingly become that everything is really just shades of gray, people have grown more and more to want something that says choosing right from wrong may be difficult, seeing what is evil might be hard, but it is not only worth making the effort, it is possible if you try.  Maybe not every time, but most of the time by and large.  And that is the heart of the popularity of fantasy, and why it has grown.  I suspect that somebody has a doctorate in the waiting simply by showing a correlation between the increase in popularity of fantasy on one hand and, on the other, the increase on the evening news and in most literature of the view that right and wrong, good and evil, are just matters of where you stand and how you’re holding your head at the moment.

BTW, I found this quote not because I’m an utter and complete nerd (although at times I am), but because I’m interested in seeing how thoughtful and talented people are using the Net.  Previously, the only way to have a conversation with an s-f writer that you liked was to go to a convention and try to elbow your way through the ring of 14-year olds wearing Spock ears to get a few minutes. And for authors, it’s a great way to actually have sensible conversations with your fans without having to abandon a perfectly good gin’n’tonic when the glazed-eyed fruitbat comes boring in, waves of halitosis blurring your vision as he/she proceeds to blather incomprehensibly about their AMAZING and SUPERCOLASSAL idea for a BILLION-SELLING MOVIE!!!!!!

Anyway, this quote and a couple other things I’ve run across recently just clicked into place for me.  The first was from my cousin Len, who said that his 21-year-old son didn’t like watching the news because it just made him feel bad.  Next, there was the case study that I did for the NAA on a website in Spain, designed to attract young readers. 

I recruited three different groups of Spanish-speaking L.A. high school kids to serve as impromptu focus groups to see if there was actually anything there. 

But what really baked my noodle (to use Gloria Foster’s phrase from The Matrix) was the way that the kids took on my assignment.  Most of us think of surfing the Net as a solitary activity – you know, the popular stereotype of the guy alone in his room, one hand on his mouse, the other hand on his Wonder Weasel, clicking through porn.

Instead, what I found was that these kids use every scrap of available communications technology to surf the web – by which I mean that they were chattering to each other on their cellphones, and had IM open.  They scrambled all over this site like a bunch of over-sugared 6-year-olds set loose on an Easter Egg hunt.

So from this, what I put together was that Gen-Y has been shaped by their immersion from birth in a two-way communications paradigm.  No, not the Net.  Videogames.

So for the younger generation, having to sit there an just let Bad News wash over them makes them feel helpless.  But that same news, delivered online, where they can talk it over with each other, maybe email the story/vid/podcast link off to their friend group so they can all write protest letters … this, they can handle.

Now, where this intersect with the above Jordan quote is where it all gets interesting.  Because, you see, if what we’re after is some kind of control over our environment (and the reason we as humans are the dominant species on this planet is precisely because we’re the best at grabbing our environment by the throat and making it do what we want it to do), and watching the news makes us feel that we’re out of control …


…then what better way to feel safely back in control than to retreat to a fantasy world where the questions of good and evil are safely in their boxes.  Which is why series like  CSI and Law and Order are so popular. They make us believe that the world, no matter how convoluted, makes sense, and that someone is going to come along, figure out who the good guys and bad guys are, and then the bad guys are going to pay.

I think that the post-9/11 escapist trend has definitely carried over into the newspaper biz. The thought that these nightmarish scenarios could actually happen to us has us so shit-scared that we’re willing to cede all authority to the Big Daddy Gummint, which – to bring this whole thing full circle – is living in a state of utter denial of reality. Freedom’s on the march.  The deficits are a good thing.  People are getting good jobs.  There is no such thing as global warming. Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job.

Some people are sensing a shift in the air – a move back to the sense that we can’t just pull into our 7.1 surround sound home theater system equipped nests and zone out and let The Authorities handle all the scary stuff.  That The Authorities are screwing up, big time. 

Some of those Authorities happen to be the newspapers that misled us.

Dunno what this means, but it’s something to try to wrap that baked noodle around…