Tuesday, June 12, 2007

"Mr. Ed" and Writing the Great American Novel

Please see my long comment on Linnea's post that went up yesterday. She's right, it takes longer to write shorter.

Well now! Isn't The Great American Novel what we all feel we're doing when we write?
Of course, we know it isn't so. Problems of genre-prejudice aside, you don't write "the great American novel" on purpose. Perhaps someone else on this co-blog will examine the concept "great" and the concept "American" in depth, and "novel" is a whole subject on its own, but today I wanted to examine what makes an Icon of a culture.

What is the function of an Icon and why do cultures elevate some trivial bit to become an icon to future generations?

Where do Icons come from?

I saw a segment on the PBS News Hour last week that's been bugging me with this question, and in truth it has a lot to do with Alien Romance and Intimate Adventure and Genre-Prejudice and Iconography.

"Mr. Ed" the 1960's TV show was billed and named in the News Hour segment several times as An American Icon. I think the publicist for the book written by the star of the show whom they were interviewing must have coined the phrase and succeeded in convincing the reporter to use it.

"Mr. Ed" preceded Star Trek and was an SF-ish parody crossed with kiddy-fare and came out immensely popular with adults because it was interlaced with complex relationships (like I Love Lucy and The Lucy Show).

http://www.tv.com/mister-ed/show/769/summary.html for more information (episode guides are there if anyone posted them -- tv.com is only as good as the contributors).

Mr. Ed was followed by "My Favorite Martian" -- and later by Star Trek which turned everything topsy turvey.

You see, Star Trek was actual adult drama -- not even really SF's traditional "Action/Adventure For Teen Boys" though it had that element prominent on the surface. ST posed serious questions about morality, ethics, world politics and religion.

SF on TV was revolutionized by Star Trek -- but the thin edge of the wedge, the ground-breaker, the true entry point into the general consciousness for science fiction (and adult stories about non-human intelligence) was via COMEDY.

And so Mr. Ed (about a deep buddy-friendship between an ordinary man and a talking horse who wanted to keep his verbal skills secret) became an American Icon (nearly 50 years later, when the star of the show writes a book about it!).

So maybe "an icon" is the tip of the root of change -- the point where a seed breaks open and starts to grow, but isn't quite recognizable yet.

Yes, I noted Rowena's post about Ginger Root and its shape. You see the impression humor makes.

So an Icon may be the first not-quite-recognizable appearance of a thing, or the next growth stage where it becomes recognizable (Spock has been named "an Icon") -- or some further inflection point in a growth curve.

Why do we appoint some things as "icons" and other things not? Well, that's another discussion having to do with popularity, publicity, journalistic choices, feedback between audience and profit-driven journalism, and group mind building.

But before we discuss any of that, and get bogged down in the related topic of "what is Art, really?" I think here on Alien Romance, we should study the 1960's a little deeper and learn.

Try this link:
http://www.tv.com/comedy/genre/4/topshows.html?g=4&era=1960&l=A&pop=&tag=gen_subtabs;era;4

Romance has been as derided as Science Fiction.
Science Fiction has begun to lose that stigma (still has a way to go, but frankly SF fandom WON the battle).

Romance is still considered "girly" fare, kid-lit, or the opiate of the useless drudge of the household.

But The Romance Genre really is an in-depth, far ranging and far reaching, highly philosophical, blatantly critical study of a single astrological phenomenon long known as The Neptune Transit -- which is famous for its spiritual effects.

The Alien Romance exposes that buried philosophical depth to the eye of the un-educated and perhaps innocent reader just as Star Trek exposed the philosophical importance of Science Fiction buried inside Mr. Ed, My Favorite Martian, Bewitched, and The Adams Family. (I'm not even mentioning Superman and other "kiddie" items, just general comedy.)

As Alien Romance adds an adult dimension to Romance, so Comedy added an adult dimension to SF.

Our next step must be a TV SHOW -- maybe made from a feature film -- which will become an American Icon like Mr. Ed -- a lighthearted romantic comedy with an alien point of view.

Now, maybe that's already happened and we're too close to it to see. I could nominate Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel as the Alien Romance Icon, maybe Lois and Clark -- maybe Forever Knight? Today we have Tanya Huff's Blood Files on TV along with a chance for The Dresden Files to make it on the Sci Fi channel. Maybe we're already there?

Anyone else have a nomination for the 2000's decade American Icon that will change viewing habits and make Alien Romance highly respectable general audience fare recognized on its artistic and philosophical merits?

What exactly is an icon and how do you recognize it before the media names it so?
Or maybe more to the point, how do you get to be "the media" that gets to choose what to select as "an Icon?"

Note this media piece on the last episode of The Sopranos:

--------------Were 'Sopranos' fans whacked or blessed? By JOCELYN NOVECK, AP National Writer
NEW YORK - And so on the first day of Year One A.T. — After Tony, that is — the "Sopranos"-viewing world was split in two camps.
One was muttering bitterly into its morning coffee at the open-ended conclusion of the epic series, a banal family moment over onion rings that would have delighted existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre, author of "Being and Nothingness."
The other was lavishly praising the iconic HBO drama for capturing life's essential ambiguity and disorderliness.
See the full article:http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070611/ap_en_tv/tv_sopranos_ending;_ylt=AnWtrKSlaxXnNWYMMX9RZueuGL8C
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Is "iconic" a buzzword being cheapened by overuse? Or does this really point the way forward into the general consciousness?

Jacqueline Lichtenberg
http://www.simegen.com/jl/

14 comments:

  1. JL, you have sooo much worth commenting on here but I'm in a time crunch. I just want to start with this and I'll get to other points later this evening.

    JL writes: Romance is still considered "girly" fare, kid-lit, or the opiate of the useless drudge of the household.

    Gawd, that says it all. Damned by faint praise, eh? I recently posted a (fully factual) and glowing review of Lisa Shearin's MAGIC LOST TROUBLE FOUND on Amazon, only to have a poster comment (and it was from a female!) that my review was "from a romance author" and was therefore of less value (if any at all).

    I really thought the reading public had evolved beyond THAT. Evidently not.

    I'm also not sure romance will even reach icon status--however you define it--because of that. Until emotions and the quest for emotional fulfillment becomes a valid goal, until the importance of companionship is fully recognized, until the DISSECTION of what it takes to acheive those things is given credence...we will always be the opiate of the useless drudge of the household.

    The vehemence by which the romance book industry is decried by others is truly frighening.

    And yet romance is 55%+ of the paperback book market. The largest seller BY FAR (SF is about 7%).

    ~Linnea

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  2. Definitely lots to digest in your wonderful column, Jacqueline, so I'll have to come back.

    To answer one question, I define a Cultural Icon as a timeless human truth looked at in a brand new way and typically represented by a person and/or art form.

    Gotta go. It's naptime!

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  3. Icon to me is symbol of something that in one visual queue communicates a whole body of experience - so I think you're on to something with linking icons with major social concious shifts.

    As to votes for alien romance...Battle Star Galactica - human/cylon. And, Star Gate. Not sure how widely watched they are. You might be dead on with Buffy/Angle.

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  4. Well, I've just come from Sime-Gen and I must confess I was a little overwhelmed. Couldn't find your review of Dresdin Files at all. Wouldn't know where to begin in the Worldcrafters Guild. Don't know if any of it applies to me, now that I've moved on to my YA novel. It's most accurately labeled Science Fantasy after Wikipedia's definitions of Fantasy sub-genres. I may polish one of my Historicals next. Did I admit to being easily distracted yet? In any case, I'm off to find resources on Screenwriting now!
    :o)

    P.S. I got Lisa Shearin's book in the mail today!

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  5. Kimber, JL's comments and articles on conflict and characterization are worth hunting down. Go to the second link in my blog from yesterday the says World Crafters Guild. If you still can't find her stuff, lemme know. Unless she's moved things around, I probably remember where they are. I also copied and pasted a lot of her articles and advice for that reason--it was easy to get sidetracked on her site. ;-) ~Linnea

    www.linneasinclair.com

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  6. Will do, Linnea. Thanks!

    I've just reserved books on screenwriting for dummies and idiots, appropriately enough. I also found one entitled 'Power Screenwriting - the 12 Steps of Storytelling.'

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  7. Anonymous11:55 AM EDT

    Didn't Third Rock from the Sun have comedy and alien romance?

    Vicky W

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  8. To me icon means a word or person that sums up a whole ethos of current opinion. So far it hasn't been too over used by the media (luckily).
    As to romance and icons I don't think we will ever have that until people become less materialistic and more spiritual (in an emotional sense).

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  9. Ah, yes, THIRD ROCK FROM THE SUN -- part of the MY FAVORITE MARTIAN linneage. Definitely iconic.

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg
    http://www.simegen.com/jl/

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  10. Ilona has a good point - that the Romance Genre Icon won't really appear to mark an inflection point until there is a major shift in the way people look at life.

    However, I think I see signs of that shift actually emerging.

    Kimber An: You can use the simegen.com top page GOOGLE SITE SEARCH on Dresden to find what's been posted so far. The last 6 months of this year (2007) have numerous mentions or allusions to what I learned doing the interview.

    But all of that takes off on the issues and observations made in the first 6 months of this year. I do long lists of review columns to make a single point -- a series as it were -- because they allow me so little space each month.

    I'm actually posting more words here than in my column. Short takes longer!

    If I did these weekly essays on Tarot, I'd be able to finish my other two Tarot books and maybe get them published. But who on this blog would be interested in Tarot card essays.

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg
    http://www.simegen.com/jl/

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  11. Linnea wrote:

    I'm also not sure romance will even reach icon status--however you define it--because of that. Until emotions and the quest for emotional fulfillment becomes a valid goal, until the importance of companionship is fully recognized, until the DISSECTION of what it takes to acheive those things is given credence...we will always be the opiate of the useless drudge of the household.

    You should save that paragraph -- maybe that Iconic Romance Novel that becomes a TV Series is in that paragraph. It seethes with potential.

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg
    http://www.simegen.com/jl/

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  12. Kimber An:

    Here's the direct link to my 2007 review columns.

    http://www.simegen.com/reviews/rereadablebooks/2007/

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg
    http://www.simegen.com/jl/

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  13. JL writes: You should save that paragraph -- maybe that Iconic Romance Novel that becomes a TV Series is in that paragraph. It seethes with potential.

    Well, goodness! ;-) Tell you what, I'll save it and we'll kick it around in the bar at Archon in August. I'm just not quite sure how to turn THAT particular issue into a novel, and I'm not one to write a single-genre (romance) novel. It'd have to be cross with something (rom suspence, sci fi, etc).

    You really can't do quest for emotional fulfillment until a character has a strong sense of self, or else the fulfillment will be for the wrong thing (a lack) instead of a complement.

    Am I making sense? It's almost 2am. ;-) ~Linnea

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