Discrimination against Science Fiction and Fantasy

One of my favorite things I’ve written on the blog is my series on the definition and importance of Science Fiction and Fantasy – of fictions that might be called Speculative, or Romantic. And when asked, I said that one of the things that I would most like to change in the world is people’s opinions about these genres, or maybe about genre fiction in general. However, through all of this, I lacked a solid, concrete example. An example of prejudice against Science Fiction or Fantasy.

There are a lot of things in this world that we shouldn’t discriminate against. Things you can’t control, things that aren’t a choice, things that should have no bearing on life. But then, there are things that are opinions, that are a choice, that I can go right ahead and be upset about. And for me, the one that takes the cake is being against Science Fiction and Fantasy.

So, I had said I was going to do a post about movies this week. That’ll have to wait. Because last night I got a great example of anti-Sci-Fi discrimination. And I feel the need to share, and to vent. So let me set the scene, let me rant a bit, and then hopefully I’ll have it out of my system!

One Does Not Simply Discriminate Against Science Fiction and Fantasy

The Context

So first, I feel the need to get a little personal, to set the scene and say where I was and what I was doing at the time. This is not to set up a moral high ground, necessarily, so much as to show some of my confusion at how out of place the whole conversation was.

I am the president of the board of directors for a Clubhouse International clubhouse. Clubhouse International is a model and an accreditation and training body for mental health recovery – a model based on helping people with mental illness live a normal life. So, help with housing, work, shopping, education, access to services, you name it. I’m trying to explain it in one paragraph… click the link for more!

Anyway, I had a board meeting last night. And afterwards, a few of us were sitting around talking for a minute. Our executive director, who is a remarkably effective director and who we hired last year, was talking about what he’d been reading lately.

He had discovered that, beyond the films, there was a whole slew of fiction centered around the Star Wars universe. He had started reading through it, and found it fascinating – whole words invented, with their own philosophies, culture and history… he seemed to be loving it. So first let me say, no, this was not what I had a problem with! Not knowing something exists, and then finding out about it and getting involved with it? That’s the sort of thing I’m all about! No, it was the conversation that this sparked.

The Problem

Everything started from a place of wonder. Our director had found something new, something interesting and he is enjoying it. It’s Science Fiction, as well, so it made me happy. (Well, I’ve argued before that Star Wars is Fantasy, but anyway…) And I was a little amused, since I had known about these books for years – I remember my parents reading Star Wars books when I was growing up.

But then, one of the board members said he had never seen any of the Star Wars films, and he considered it something of an accomplishment. He went on to say that some people just seemed to have too much time on their hands, and that he effectively had no place in his life for Science Fiction. Another board member said that she didn’t like Science Fiction at all either, and just fed into everything he was saying.

Shortly thereafter, the director just got up and walked out of the room. I don’t blame him – I wish I could have too.

So you know, okay, there’s not getting Science Fiction or Fantasy. There’s not having experienced it, or any you like. There’s just never getting around to it. Those are all okay in my eyes, and with an open mind, I bet I could lead many of those folks to Science Fiction…

But then there is blatantly not even giving it a chance, saying it’s trash without trying it, and then mocking the people who are fans. And this, this I can discriminate against. This I can call out and say that it’s not okay.

As to why I wanted to provide the context of it being a board meeting, and the board being what it is – for an organization based around helping people lead a more dignified life, about being able to have choices, to be respected, to have support and peers. Apparently, we’re cool with that for people with mental illness, but not for Science Fiction fans???

The two concepts really just don’t mesh for me. Do you agree? Am I overreacting? Let me know in the comments below!

Final Thoughts

So, on different notes, mental illness. Not necessarily something personal or close to my heart, but an important issue, I think. Being on the board has given me a lot of time to think about it, so that you got things like, for instance, my rant about Amazing Spider-Man 2. It’s a massive post, so buried in there: my biggest problem with the film was that Electro is basically the villain because he has a mental illness. Because he’s been marginalized, ignored, cast aside, ridiculed, and then gets power and snaps with it. But he’s the victim, so it’s really hard to vilify him.

For much better writing about mental illness, check out Rose B. Fischer’s Redefining Disability series. I’ll be honest, I need to read all of it too. But what I have read is good stuff.

If you want to know more about Clubhouse International, really do check out their site. There’s a directory of their locations – there’s likely one near you. You can help out, or donate, or even just be aware. They’re a great resource and program, and work in a fundamentally different way than the rest of the treatment and assessment behavioral health world.

And if you want to know more about my thoughts on Science Fiction and Fantasy, the odyssey started with this post, about the definition of Science Fiction, moved through the definition of Fantasy, and then a comparison post… I revisited the genre terms, and came to a natural sort of conclusion in this post, about Realistic versus Romantic literature. I’ll bet my fellow board members only read realistic fiction… if they read fiction at all. If they read at all! Grrr. Rant over. I’m out!

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27 responses to “Discrimination against Science Fiction and Fantasy

  1. What a great post. I never understood not giving something a chance and writing off anyway. How do we learn? How do we accept? It’s like people that don’t like pets just because they don’t. If you’re allergic, fine. If you travel too much to have them, fine. You just don’t like because you don’t, not fine.
    I know a few people who won’t give science fiction or fantasy a chance because they “know” they won’t like it.

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    • Yeah, it’s the attitude of just knowing that you won’t like something you’ve never tried and never wanted to… that just really gets to me. And then, dissing the people who do like it… also not good.

      Thanks for weighing in!

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  2. Thank you for this post! I have been faced with anti-Science Fiction/Fantasy discrimination for many years, and most of the years I spent in French university (doctoral students working on porn and horror movies were considered “edgy” and “contemporary” but Science Fiction/Fantasy wasn’t considered well). I had both teachers and students ask me why I was there because you know, I wrote most of my research papers about Science Fiction (including Star Wars). Even now as I transitioned to an independent researcher after quitting my Ph.D. I have been published in several countries but not in my home country.

    I don’t understand why there is this lack of respect, and in regard to Star Wars, I always tend to jump on my soapbox (yes, I keep it next to my feminist one) because Star Wars is what lured me into Science Fiction/Fantasy when I was a tiny little thing and it was what originally led me to study media/cinema.

    I have no problem with people not liking Science Fiction/Fantasy. I mean you wouldn’t see me read/watch much horror, but if people like it, good for them (there are some great analytic books about horror cinema that are amazing to use for Science Fiction/Fantasy research too). I can’t stand the anti-Science Fiction/Fantasy, often extremely snotty and condescending behaviors that can be displayed.

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    • I encountered a lot of that sort of sentiment in undergraduate creative writing… to have that at the doctoral level, where people are researching such specific, minute, or eccentric things anyway… How can they exclude science fiction and fantasy from consideration?

      And I agree, snotty and condescending are good words to use for the attitude and associated behaviors. And I feel like science fiction and fantasy get more of this in ways other things do not.

      Holly and I came to appreciate Horror more after visiting a museum exhibit about it in Seattle, but still, not necessarily our cup of tea. If I were to recommend one movie, though, it would be Cabin in the Woods, by Joss Whedon. It is a meta-level horror, about the genre but also of the genre. And it’s so much fun.

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  3. What a cool post. I love Star Wars and am an original Star Trek fan. I don’t think of myself as a geek or wasting my time. Horror movies leave a lasting impression and it’s too negative for me to enjoy. I don’t care for Rom-Coms that much, the formula is boring for me, however, I have laughed and enjoyed myself with several. Westerns don’t thrill me for the most part, but some of the best films out there are from that genre. Science Fiction and Fantasy are great, but some have bored me to tears. In other words, it depends, it depends, it depends. Those that have never given Fantasy or Science Fiction a chance seem uninteresting and snobby. I agree with your rant and wonder what they do in their spare time? Sports? Yes, thrilling, but it’s the same story–the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Life is a story. If you can’t get into one, then are you living?

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    • Interesting you should mention sports. I didn’t mention it in the post, but the main complainant has a daughter who is a professional golfer. Thrilling and productive, right? Unlike that pesky science fiction.

      I agree, every genre has good and bad representations. Dismissing a genre wholesale is very closed-minded.

      And I agree – it’s the stories that matter. And we can find those anywhere – anywhere in time and space, on other worlds or on the nightly news. An open mind can find you lots of stories!

      As to one other comment you said in passing, I like that you said you don’t consider yourself a geek just because of liking Star Trek and Star Wars. There’re elements within geekdom that seem to define being a geek by what you like or have watched – but that’s not it at all. It’s an identity, and it’s personal. But a good story is for everyone!

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  4. Or if even not for a better world, how is liking SFF any worse than liking a sport or a type of music? In every fandom there are amazing people and work and shitty ones, too. If the member who hates SFF has any interests or hobbies at all, then what ground does he have to stand on? Ugh.

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    • (This is also why I try to read/watch things myself before I criticize them–I can’t stand Twilight because it’s badly written from a technical standpoint and extremely problematic, but that doesn’t mean all YA paranormal media is…. And SFF is a hugely diverse genre!)

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      • I agree. And can even do so with your example. I have read all of the Twilight books, and seen all of the movies. The books are better than the movies, though still problematic. The soundtracks are pretty great. I didn’t just go “those are for girls” or “those are for teens” or “other people said it was bad, so I will too.” I gave it a try.

        And as I mentioned on another comment, he has a daughter who is a pro golfer. I fail to see the difference, in terms of one or the other being more of “too much time on your hands.” Although, if we wanted to get into really heavy math, let’s stack a whole bunch of golf against The Avengers, to see how many it takes to match that one movie for money made…

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  5. Thank you everyone for the encouraging comments 🙂 I am sorry I was at work today and couldn’t reply sooner!

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  6. Reblogged this on DBCII and commented:

    Yesterday was my new best day for likes on Comparative Geeks… nice to get WordPress feedback like that, to help you realize that things are growing for the blog, and people are reading and interacting more.

    The main reason was this post, which I think is a nice addition to my series on Science Fiction and Fantasy and genre fiction in general, about how they get discriminated against for no good reason. Also got some very encouraging comments, but definitely feel free to weigh in as well!

    Like

  7. I don’t think you were overreacting at all. I know a few people who refuse to watch Doctor Who and criticize those who do for the exact same reason and it drives me crazy. I don’t understand why people are like that, because I always try something before I decide if I like it or hate it. And I agree with Leah how there’s amazing and shitty work in every fandom. It’s ridiculous to discriminate based on the bad ones and kind of self-sabotaging, because if you try it, you might like it.

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  8. Nope, not overreacting at all. I can’t stand people who judge another for a book they read, a genre they enjoy or any art that piques they’re interest for that matter. I’m not into romance but wouldn’t judge another for enjoying it. Each to their own

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    • What’s sad is I don’t know if he quite realized the extent to which he was judging, and, if he did, I don’t know the extent to which he cared. Which is sad.

      Good example of art, too… definitely a field where it’s hard to get everyone to agree! But just because it’s not your art… does that inherently make it bad art? I think not. But as with any genre in fiction, there are good and bad representations of all styles.

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  10. dccowanauthors

    I believe that there is a big difference between science fiction and fantasy, but in some novels the line is blurring. I hate that people are having a falling out with the fantasy world. I hear comments all the time asking if “fantasy and science fiction are really any good”? Of course it is! Many people still need that escape into another world where they can abandon their mundane everyday problems. I think people are still interested in fantasy but they have to hide it in genres like magical realism which is another genre that I like because it takes the mundane and adds magic and wonder to it.

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    • I agree, there is a difference between the genres, and there are many other related genres, like Magical Realism… or Urban Fantasy, Steampunk, Arcanopunk, other forms of Alternate History… Even within, say, Science Fiction, you can break things up into Space Opera, dystopian, near-future, fantasy-crossover…

      Nay-saying against an entire genre, or against genres as a whole, is discounting a whole lot of ways of thinking, a whole lot of speculation into life, into humanity, into possibilities, into escapes. We read to learn, to get outside of ourselves or our situation, to enjoy. Science Fiction and Fantasy constantly have the ability to do all of those things. I see nothing wrong with that 🙂

      For thinking more about the difference between the two, I linked to some of my other posts on these questions… would love to know your thoughts on those as well!

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