Stephen W. Browne | Rants and Raves

Archive for June 2016

Jun/16

10

Game of Kings and Powers

Well Game of Thrones is off into unknown territory. The HBO series has advanced further than the five books author George R.R. Martin has produced so far, and in my humble and very cautious opinion seems to be doing OK. So far. PLEASE!

And there is more good news for fans of period fiction and fantasy, a movie “The Last King” is coming out in July, about the early life of Håkon Håkonsson, the 13th century king of Norway.

Håkon survived an infancy marked by any number of people trying to kill him, became king in spite of them, and ruled for 46 years. His reign is considered a golden age of Norwegian history.

I don’t really have any hard data, but it seems to me that these kinds of movies and TV series are becoming more popular. I mean fantasy set in pre-technological civilizations, historical drama, and science fiction where political intrigue is integral to the story, such as “The Expanse” on Amazon.

I can remember when years went by between science fiction series on TV. Historical dramas were pretty common at one time, but fantasy was exclusively light entertainment such as “Bewitched.”

So what happened to popular taste?

A scholarly friend once suggested that what we’re seeing is a re-normalization of tastes following a historically unusual period. His thesis was that popular taste in fiction has always been fantastical throughout history. Consider the Epic of Gilgamesh, the tales of King Arthur, fairy stories, etc. He pointed out the realistic novel set in present time with no fantastic elements was a historically late invention.

Others see this trend as a retreat from rationality, a return to a pre-scientific world view.

Perhaps these are partly true. And perhaps we’re reviving an ancient literary tradition for another reason.

We all know there are things we can’t say with impunity, questions we can’t ask, and we all know pretty much what they are.

In the nation with the strongest legal protections for free speech in the world we are terrified of the consequences of voicing mere speculations that arouse the passions of the PC mob.

If you doubt this, remember how James D. Watson’s career was brought to an abrupt end by uttering some incautious remarks on a controversial subject. Watson has been called “the greatest living scientist” but it earned him no tolerance, no forgiveness. He did not even get the courtesy of a counter-argument. The various institutions he was associated with rushed to disassociate themselves with the discoverer of DNA.

Could it be that period drama, fantasy, and science fiction is today the only safe venue for discussing controversial subjects?

I once pointed out that one theme of the late beloved “Battlestar Galactica” was how a free society survives under stress.

Could it be that on some level we realize that life here is so good, so secure, that we have raised a generation that thinks this is the normal and natural state of affairs? That young people raised with this assumption are in no position to deal with the world as it is outside this fat happy civilization of ours?

That is unless they watched Game of Thrones last episode where they would have watched Jon Snow and his half-sister (or possibly cousin) Sansa Stark plan strategic alliances. So-and-so has common interests with them, but there have been killings between their families. Such-and-such are friends with enemies who committed unspeakable atrocities against their family, but might be persuaded with the right incentives…

Those who see “The Last King” will for a time enter a world where men would routinely consider killing an innocent baby, up close and personal, for being the child of a dead king.

We think politics is pretty dirty, but losers of our political fights don’t fear for their lives, and certainly not the lives of their children.

It was not always so. In parts of the world it is still the reality on the ground.

If we want to survive as a free nation we need to inculcate a certain tough-mindedness in each generation. The PC phenomenon shows we’ve been failing. Maybe this is how we make up for it.

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