Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Emigrating To The Future

Lately, I've been scampering around the internet on a research project that actually relates to this whole issue of changing the perception of the Romance Genre in the minds of the general public.

I have 5 independent observations to toss at you, and a tentative conclusion that will no doubt change radically as I continue to delve into the past looking for the future. (few have ever accused me of living in the present!)


I am observing, everywhere, how the perception of the Science Fiction genre and its fandom has changed.

SF is now mainstream.  People think it's scifi and have no clue what they're saying when they say that.  They think what's on the syfy channel is SF.  There are still a few who know better.  But basically, the battle SF fen fought through the 1960's and 1970's has been won so well and so thoroughly that people born in the 1980's are pretty much unaware it ever happened, nevermind what it was about or what the consequences of winning have been.     

On #scifichat on twitter on July 2, 2010 the discussion hinged on SF fandom.  Even with the usual well read and well rounded viewing habits of the participants, I discovered that even some of the older people had no idea what fandom is, where it came from, what it's customs are/were/will be or actually anything about it.

The most ignorant of those folks had very deeply entrenched opinions about fandom and were absolutely sure they knew what they were talking about, especially if they had University degrees in social sciences.

But I was talking about something they'd never heard of and couldn't believe ever had existed.(it still does).

With the restrictions on twitter (140 characters per tweet; and they block you if you tweet too much too fast - they always block me when I get into a #chat) I couldn't bridge that enormous cultural gap.

But I did get the impression nobody wanted to have that gap bridged.

They know what fandom is and therefore don't need to know anything else about it.

Fandom is (for them) just a random scattering of folks who are fanatical about some thing - any thing. True afficionados are just crazier than the others. And that's it.

They seem to feel that since it's never changed, it never will change - or that was the impression I got from their (twitter restricted) tweets. I'm sure others have the same problems I do with twitter (though I love the medium!)

Yet a couple decades ago, the wide, general public knew what fandom was, and knew it wasn't what people today think it was. The general public knew the truth that I lived. Now they don't.

So I'm not going to explain what fandom really is/was because today, people aren't interested.  To them it's irrelevant "history" that probably never existed. Besides, they believe, it couldn't possibly matter.


Which brings me to another distressing point about "History" today.

I saw a "man/woman on the street" interview of younger people (20-somethings) for the 4th of July where people were asked what the 4th means -- they didn't know.

One hesitantly said Independence Day but wasn't sure.

Asked Independence from whom? Another whole set of folks didn't know. When prompted with random countries, (Greece, Japan) they'd guess any country except England.

When asked who lead the Revolutionary War army on America's side, they didn't know - not one said "George Washington" (OK, the network probably just left out the folks who did know the answers).

But the level of ignorance among a wide variety (apparent economic classes, ethnicities, and speaking accents) of people made my hair stand on end.

They had only one thing in common - what seems to me to be "youth" but surely doesn't seem that way to them. (20-30 somethings)

Certainly, the network had to search hard to find people that ignorant, but the fact that they found some makes my hair stand on end in a way it hasn't ever in my life. That's just terrifying. Worse was their attitude toward their ignorance -- as if it didn't matter at all. 


In wandering the internet looking at the past as it is presented to today's public (who reads books anymore?) I discovered something I knew but hadn't remembered or considered important until I just looked at it.

Juxtapose these 3 turning points in History and see if you see a pattern.

The Science Fiction Writers of America was founded by damon knight (one person on that #scifichat on fandom knew that damon knight was never to be capitalized, the others likely hadn't ever heard of him) in 1965.  Google him up, or read his wikipedia entry. 

He had founded the N3F (National Fantasy Fan Federation) complete with charter and bylaws, officers and elections, as an amalgam of several local SF fan clubs in 1941.

The Romance Writers of America was founded (according to their website) in 1980. I don't know if there was a formally organized Romance Fandom prior to 1980, but there was The Romantic Times. What preceded that Romance version of Locus? 


"Steam Punk" is huge right now. Has been burgeoning for a while. 

One online definition (they vary enormously) calls "Steam Punk" the intersection between technology and romance, and points to the 1980's as the origin. (when the Romance Writers organization was founded)

There were a large handful of TV shows that played fast and loose with myth and history and had a lot of marvelous fun with it all. Xena Warrior Princess (TV 1995) was one that comes to mind. Hercules was another.  The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne ( IMDB.COM describes it as "The fantastic steampunk adventures of the future science fiction writer and his friends, the Foggs and Passepartout.")

Books, TV shows, music, a thriving and burgeoning culture has grown up around playing fast and loose with "History" just for fun. A bunch I know on twitter are steam punk writers and fans.  It sells. 

The fun of it is that the reader/viewer knows what our "main universe" history really was, and sees this as alternative universe where great inventions of today were crafted out of more primitive technology. It's really GREAT FUN.

It's great fun if it is actually all in fun.

If everyone watching is in on the joke, it's fun. 

It was fun in the 1980's for readers educated in the 1950's who were 40-something and a little bored with the same-old-same-old.  Also correlate that change with the content of the Star Trek fanzines of the 1980's.  Everyone then loved having this history-bone tickled with these interesting twists. 

But the current 30 somethings interviewed "on the street" who didn't know what the 4th of July is about are the ones born in 1980 who grew up on this "all in fun" distortion of history, both in technology and in social evolution.


There's another wonderful good-fun trend in Romance Genre, especially in Historical Romance.

We now depict heroines of the Victorian era and before as modern day women who fearlessly assert their rights as indepedent adult human beings.

Now way, WAY back in history, and in different parts of the world, the modern attitude women have toward themselves has in fact been a natural part of a woman's self-image and the place of the woman in the world.

Subjugation was really short and temporary, viewed over tens of thousands of years.

But - real history as it really happened produced many generations of women who were kept in the state of childhood - dependent for food, clothing, shelter and even name, identity, and most especially self-esteem and self-respect on some man. That does things to the inside of your head.

Older Romance novels (pre-1980 when the Romance Writers of America was founded and Steam Punk exploded onto the scene) depict that childish state of mind pretty well because (despite advances made during World War II) women did define themselves by their man.

Modern Romance novels do not depict the conflict, the clash, between the independent woman and the world around her the way it really was say from 1850 to 1960. 

The pioneering women of the 1600's and 1700's in the USA were more "modern" than the women left behind in England, France, Netherlands, Germany.  The ones that weren't died and took their men with them.  But that changed, and prior self-respect was forgotten, and had to be regained in the 1970's. 

OK, it's not much fun to read from the POV of such a subservient, immature woman today.  I have a diary written by my grandmother.  I've seen the real attitude from the inside.  Today's Romance novels set in that era are incorrect depictions of the women of that time (1800's, early 1900's). 

But depicting our modern viewpoint in that bygone era and then adding any sort of acceptance among the general culture (even of other women) is distorting history in the same way that not-teaching 4th of July via fiction, and not-depicting the development of technology the way it really did happen, distorts history.

That distortion is just fine, just great good fun, if everyone is in on the joke. But just think how much of your vision of the past has been gained from novels written recently (not in the era depicted), and how much is derived from (gasp) Hollywood.  Are you one of those in on the joke?  Or one the joke is being put over on?

----Putting it all together--------

The ignorance of a random sampling of the person-on-the-street juxtaposed to the obliviousness of SF reader/viewers who really are experts in the field, juxtaposed to Steam Punk, juxtaposed to the evolution of the Romance field seems very alarming.

Today, the Post Office is applying to raise the price of a stamp 2 whole cents at once because Congress has not passed the bill that would allow them to eliminate Saturday delivery.

Since 6th grade until the 1990's, I have lived for the snailmail delivery.

Today, I don't care when the mailman comes. Nothing urgent ever comes in the snailmail, and I don't pay bills by snailmail. I rarely file manuscripts by snailmail. I rarely get paid by snailmail, and I don't even open snailmail catalogs to shop styles.

All my friends and business contacts are online, -- even my family. We may send packages for presents -- but usually via Amazon or some other outfit that mails it for you. I do more than half my shopping online. 

I have emigrated to the future.

I have forgotten my native language.

I am so far removed from "that culture" that I couldn't write a novel set there. 

It's a laborious, impossible chore for me to find an envelope, address it, find a return address sticker (I still have a few), find a stamp (usually I go to a dropstore near me and pay extra), and mail a letter.

When I got online with Prodigy and later via AOL, I emigrated to the future and never looked back.

I was never very comfortable in the past. Coming to the future was like coming home at last.

When they launched Web 2.0 with all the social networking, I tried it out and I've reported to you about how I see it changing the world (again) into another new future that I like better than the old future.








At some point, no doubt, a huge discontinuity, a generation-gap, a tech-gap will come along that I won't want to leap over.(yes, I want an iphone but don't have one - I want an ipad but don't yet have one - I do have an e-book reader that can get online via wireless phone connection and I will upgrade that soon). 

But so far, I just revel in this current world, and the future I see for it as people communicate with people in new ways.

This is the world I was born to live in, and I just don't want to look back. My attention is still focused on the future, the farther future the better I see it.

But I've been looking back recently, plucking out "dots" in the development that led to this world and seeing new patterns I hadn't noticed while galloping forward and leaping that gap.

And these last few weeks, I've had experiences like the 5 noted above where young people (even teens) who actually were born in this world have a very distorted idea of how the world got this way.

It's not that they don't know -- it's that what they know isn't true.

Well, not maybe "isn't true" because you don't really need to know "the truth" to arrive at useful conclusions.

It's that what they know isn't "true enough" -- not close enough, to be useful.  They're missing the pattern that makes the world make sense. 

What they are convinced of is a series of dots that form a line that does not lead from "then" to "now."

The distortion of history in modern fiction has given them a set of historical "dots" that don't make sense when you put them together into a pattern, but they're assured by everyone else that the dots they have do make sense.  So they see nonsense and are told it is sense.  

Since "then" is so irrelevant to "now" (because of the internet mostly) they aren't interested in resolving this confusion of sense and nonsense.  Why should they be?  I wouldn't be. 

Microsoft comes out with a new operating system and the world changes (again) and none of your old programs work anymore.  The past has to be dismissed, wiped out, expunged, because it'll only confuse you in trying to operate your new software.  In a month or two you won't remember the old commands. 

Forget the past, it'll only make the present unlivable. 

I can understand that because I was never interested in anything that happened before I was born, either.

I grew up in a world totally disconnected from that which my parents and grandparents grew up in.   And I had my eye on this world, "the future" where I wanted to go to live, where I do live now.

I really don't see why anyone born in say, 1980, should be at all interested in 1945 - or 1776 for that matter.

But in order to steer this world from where we are now to where I would like to see us go next, where life will be even easier, where people will be more friendly and less stressed out, better fed, healthier, -- in order to steer us there, those who are making the decisions need a line along which to extrapolate into that future.

They need some real "dots" from long ago, just a few, but ones that actually were the seeds of the present we live in and the futures we might craft from here.

Steam Punk worldbuilders haven't yet gotten the knack of re-creating the past to be possible seeds of the present - and contain the hints of our future.  Or at least I haven't seen those novels, and apparently the people I've encountered lately haven't seen them either. 

So the decision makers who are today in the prime of life don't have that line of dots from the far past that can lead us to the far future. 

The dots have been erased. Fandom was never organized and never had a constitution, elections, officers, and structure long before the Romance Writers of America existed. People built high-tech gadgets that did today's amazing things out of wood and iron, powering with steam. Women never had to knuckle under and remain children into adulthood.

Perhaps that's why "Lost Colony" stories, (like my own Molt Brother and City of a Million Legends -- see http://jacquelinelichtenberg.com for free chapters) are so popular.

Today's 20-somethings are actually living in one of these Lost Colony worlds where "Earth" is a myth and nobody knows where it is located. These people have a history that started about 10 years before they were born, not more, and they don't believe the stories their parents tell them.  In fact, their parents may park them in front of the TV instead of telling them stories of their family's history. (Yes, I know people are finding long lost relatives online via sharing family tree information, but you have to know something to find something.)

There's an attitude I've seen that anyone who remembers anything at all that happened or existed prior to 1980 just doesn't know what they're talking about.

"The way it is now is the way it's always been," seems to be the irrefutable new reality for a lot of people. 

And yet, wandering the web searching out events of various years, I've found a lot of stuff I remember -- but had forgotten just as I'd forgotten my native language when I emigrated to the future. 

I pointed one out to you recently --  that the Supreme Court handed down the legal ruling that killed the mid-list in 1979, about a year before the Romance Writers of America was founded.


That decision created another huge canyon between the past and the future, changing the entire business model of publishing more radically than the internet and e-books yet have. It's one change I didn't want to see happen. I still prefer really "mid" mid-list style novels (which live on in the e-book field) and movies. 

If you want to follow my trek through history, you should read that article on the Supreme Court decision, then read about Lucille Ball on Wikipedia and what she had to do with Star Trek - and why that is important in shaping the world we live in today.



Follow all that and you'll see how CBS (the first network to turn down Star Trek) has now ended up owning and controlling Star Trek.  Just imagine how devoted they are to its success because of that.  The reason Molt Brother and City of a Million Legends don't have the sequels that were planned is that they were "inherited" by a publisher in just exactly the way Trek has been passed from owner to owner. 

Also note how the film studios ate each other just as the publishers ate each other.

Note how that has changed film exactly as it has changed publishing.

Read Wikipedia about how Lucille Ball was the central pole of the "mid-list" movie, what used to be called the B-movie, and how her taste shaped Star Trek, and the world we live in today.  The TV shows she chose to back were mid-list fare and she was very good at spotting what the public would go for. 

The whole story is there on sfwa.org and wikipedia if you have enough dots in your head about real history to make the pattern out of the dots in these articles.  

And now I need more data about the Romance genre writing careers of the 1980's. I live in the future. I've forgotten the 1980's and the language we spoke before that is gibberish to me now.  

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

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