Posts tagged aesthetics
Look, more arguing about SF television! This time, however, I’m talking about an essay by noted Science Fiction author Charles Stross. I was first exposed to his work through several of the short fiction pieces later collected in the volume Accelerando. Much of Stross’s work emerges deeply from the socio-political context of the setting, with notable worldbuilding put into the setting. I agree with much of what Stross has to say, but my ideas contrast enough to mention.
I’m hoping that you’ve already read the essay before coming back here.
Stross primarily takes objection to the story-making process. For Stross, space operas such as the Star Trek franchise after the original series or Babylon 5 follow this process (paraphrased here through my interpretation):
Start with the interpersonal drama that forms the narrative’s center, then build a world around those characters that fills out the setting and enables the primary conflict.
The process positioned as Stross’s favorite is as such:
“I start by trying to draw a cognitive map of a culture, and then establish a handful of characters who are products of (and producers of) that culture. The culture in question differs from our own: there will be knowledge or techniques or tools that we don’t have, and these have social effects and the social effects have second order effects [...] And then I have to work with characters who arise naturally from this culture and take this stuff for granted, and try and think myself inside their heads. Then I start looking for a source of conflict, and work out what cognitive or technological tools my protagonists will likely turn to to deal with it.”
So here’s the thing — I think both of these processes are valid. One creates a setting designed to highlight the way that cultural/technological difference creates different social systems and different people who then have conflicts that emerge from those social contexts. The other creates stories where technological/social context is designed to support the overall character conflict.
Part of why I’m fine with both of these processes is that it’s hard to say ‘interpersonal conflict isn’t important. All of the worldbuilding ever doesn’t matter if you don’t care about the characters.
Now since I’ve read Stross’ work I know that he’s competent and can follow the process he supports and succeed at telling compelling stories. But I’m also a notable fan of Babylon 5, the new Battlestar Galactica, and Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Coming back to the point: I agree with Stross that if you tell stories where the setting is interchangeable, the dramatic weight of the story can’t hang on that flimsy interchangeable setting. For me, the important part of Star Wars isn’t lightsabers and death stars, it’s a story about family, temptation, and power. And it’s hard to ignore universal themes.
However, the kind of SF that Stross is talking about as growing out of social situation, the sociological SF, is invaluable in its own right. There are many ways of telling stories — some are formulaic and exist only to support the status quo for all its complexity, mixing in ambition and misogyny, institutionalized racism but also love and family. Others challenge specific aspects of society, or imagine an entirely fabricated society to point out the implications of scientific/social change. I’d rather tell and support stories that encourage social justice and a curiosity about possibility, for sure, but it’s often hard to get those stories supported/published and to find a balance between getting people to listen to your point of view and preaching/provoking/condescending.
I agree with Stross on the generalities of the argument, but take objection to some of his examples. I agree with the the mention that the time-frame of television is so limited as to leave precious little room for world building and still be able to present the dramatic arcs. It’s one of the challenges of the form, but doesn’t discount that medium from being valid for sociological SF.
Now for the details. Let’s start with Battlestar Galactica — much of Battlestar Galactica emerges from its setting, which features a race of sentient beings who can love, hate, show remorse and every other emotion but happen to be synthetically created, grown, and moreover, grown in one of 12/11 models of identical bodies. Battlestar didn’t focus as much on those types of dramatic questions as some might have liked (myself included), didn’t spend all its time talking about Cylon/human relations or the dramatic play that comes from the survivors of an apocalypse shuffled into a couple dozen starships with all traditional kinship ripped to shreds. But those situations were present and did indicate the type of characters who emerged from that setting, and influenced the ways that the interpersonal drama unfolded. It certainly won’t stop me from wanting to do my ‘Anthropologists! In! Space!’ novel which is inspired greatly by BSG but wants to put that sociological focus in the forefront. Things that piss us off or we think are done sloppily/imperfectly can be just as much an inspiration as things done well (often more).
More examples. Babylon 5 is deeply interpersonal, but I disagree that it follows the ‘tech the tech so that the tech over-techs’ solutions that Ron Moore discussed at the NY television festival. For me, the dramatic thrust of Babylon 5 focused on bridging boundaries between cultures with contrasting ideologies, the challenges of being both a member of a species/culture and trying to act as a neutral host enabling diplomacy. I feel like very few of its stories were resolved with handwavium, and even if the interpersonal drama was foregrounded, those characters emerged out of their science fictional worlds — psychics taken away from their families, leaders driven to bend/break the rules of engagement to defend the people under their command (during a war with aliens that started as a result of a cultural misunderstanding), and more.
Star Trek: The Next Generation is certainly guilty of ‘Tech the tech-tech and reverse the other tech,’ as deus ex machina for many conflicts. But it also served as my introduction to sociological sf, cultural relativism, and many of the tropes of science fiction which have kept me a fan of the genre and made me appreciate all that it can do. When the crew crashes up against the Prime Directive, trying to find the balance between spreading their favored paradigm and dictating how other people should live their lives, that for me is part of what makes science fiction worthwhile.
I don’t think all science fiction needs to be intensely sociological. I appreciate my Star Wars and my LOST and the like. I can enjoy those shows and still appreciate The Demolished Man, Parable of the Sower, and other sociological SF stories. Maybe TV isn’t the ideal medium for sociological SF requiring intense worldbuilding, but it may be the medium for introducing people to science fictional elements like multiple dimensions or time travel or genetic modification, which then hopefully prepares viewers/readers for reading the more high-context novels/stories/films/etc.
To come back to agreement, I’m with Stross in noting that SF television has a big challenge in that it has to satisfy the executives who have a final call on whether shows air/continue. I’m not saying that I know more about what makes good tv than any given network executive — I haven’t been a network exec and I’m not likely to ever be one. But I would say this to those executives:
You want to make money — one of the ways you may be able to do that is to find auteurs/production companies who have a great deal of cultural/economic cache, and then let them make the shows that they want to make. Fans are likely to follow them, and the kind of fans that follow those prominent auteurs/teams are evangelical, and will spread their enthusiasm over into other groups. Groundbreaking, provocative television gets a lot of attention. Shows like Mad Men, the Sopranos, and more. Without taking big risks, you cut yourselves off from big rewards.
One of the major problems with the perspective of writers/audiences vs the perspective of executives is that the priorities are completely different. I want to eat, sure, but as a writer, I want the chance to make statements and incite conversations about possibility, society, and individuals. And it may be that the executives of NBC, FOX, CBS, ABC and everyone else just don’t care about changing the world, or changing people’s minds’ (other than changing their mind about which tv show to watch and which products from advertisers to buy). And that’s a systemic problem of the consumer storytelling industry, and deserving of its own blog posts. Lots of them.
District 9 was advertised widely on SF sites such as i09.com. I’ve been excited about this film since the first previews, promising an apartheid metaphor SF film with a distinct setting. Good sociological SF is hard to find, and to be commended when it shows up.
I expected a Sociological SF film in a fictional documentary style and got something else.
There will be spoilers needed to actually talk about the meaty bits of this movie.
The film I was expecting to see lasted about 20 minutes into the actual film, and then it turned into something else. Those 20 minutes, it was a fictional documentary about the history of the aliens’ arrival and the current forced relocation to the concentration camp/refugee camp far from Johannesburg. This first 20-ish minute film was a slow burn, captivating and disgusting, showing prejudice and exploitation.
The film takes a turn that to me was unexpected, with Wikus Van De Merwe infected by the black liquid and beginning to transform into one of the aliens. The second 20 minutes, I was expecting a contagion/virus storyline, with the aliens creating a bio-weapon to strike at humanity.
But District 9 was not that movie, either. It became an action-ish film with Wikus fighting his way out and into MNU, learning to empathize with the aliens after having been casually and cruelly bigoted. It turned out to be a redemption story with tons of exploding people rather than a subtle sociological study of bigotry and xenophobia, with a constant apartheid metaphor. The apartheid metaphor in District 9 was really just centered on that first 20 minutes, and once the infection/transformation got going, the metaphor went away.
The film left a lot of questions unanswered. These are things that you could interpolate or extrapolate on, and I will do so below.
Things like — why did Christopher Johnson (the lead alien) only have one helper/ally within the alien population? Are all the other aliens too addicted to cat food? They show the rampant addiction, akin to depictions of “Firewater” for American Indians, where the aliens trade priceless military technology for 100 cans of cat food after asking for 10,000. The documentary has Wikus (I believe) talking about the aliens being members of the worker caste, lacking independence, but that’s just a human perspective.
Christopher said it took 20 years go gather enough liquid/fuel to power the command ship — did he only have a handful of helpers the whole time? Did the rest of his cell get evicted without incident/off-screen? If Christopher was a member of a leader/overcaste, why didn’t he have more followers/subordinates? We see precious little interaction between Christopher and any other aliens save his son (and his green helper who is killed), which makes these questions impossible to answer in-narrative.
Why did the aliens get stuck here in the first place? The command module fell out shortly after arrival, but if it’s what was buried and what Christopher and son used at the end, where are the rest of the command staff/caste? The aliens were depicted as almost completely without agency barring our protagonist aliens, save for the ‘feral pack’ attack at the end and the aliens’ various desperate grabs for cat food.
It was hard to like Wikus during the film. I was able to empathize, but Wikus was too unlikable in the beginning, too callous and bigoted. Yes, he was just a person with a loving wife and dedication to his job, but still. I think it was the gleeful description of the popping of the alien eggs, the ordering of a flamethrower to incinerate an entire hatchery that did it for me. After that, I could root for him, but really only in context of helping the aliens. The ending with Alien!Wikus making the metal flower was touching, however. And they’re clearly set up to do a District 10 film, with Christopher’s return, the healing of Wikus, etc.
Let’s talk for a moment about the action and effects. The alien mecha was super-cool looking, and I think this film wins for most humans exploded on screen during 2009. We’re supposed to accept that Wikus’s modified DNA allows him to intuitively control the mecha, which allows the cool action sequence.
My main beef with the film comes down to this: Tor editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden says that in a story, you get one ‘Gimmie,’ one thing where you can say ‘In this setting, Something Works Differently’. If you tell your story well, and parcel new information out properly, you can earn the audience’s trust and get more ‘gimmie’s.
I think that for me, District 9 asked for more gimmies than it earned. It left far more things unsaid and unexplained that I would have liked, and not even in a way that is okay to leave unsaid (like Cloverfield‘s lingering questions about the monster).
I’m very glad to have seen the film, I enjoyed it once I got on board with the story it was actually trying to tell, but I think it may have missed the chance to be a better film when it turned into an action film. This may also come from the same impulse that will have me write my Anthropologists! In! Space! novel.
Final verdict — go see it, but know that it’s a SF action film with a slow burn start and a strong sociological undercurrent. It’s more akin to Children of Men than I had originally imagined. Hopefully, if you go into the film armed with a firmer sense of what to expect, or with no expectations whatsoever, you can enjoy it for its merits.
I’ve maintained for a few years now that the world needs more high-profile musicals. It’s certainly due to my own bias, but every so often, a show/film/whatever that reminds me why I love the genre.
I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes about creating art, from Etienne Decroux, known for his Corporeal Mime style:
One must have something to say. Art is first of all a complaint. One who is happy with things as they are has no business being on the stage. — Etienne Decroux
In addition to its own argument, any musical can be seen as an argument that we need more music and wonder in our lives — by positing a universe where people are able to delve into emotion and express it through song and dance.
Glee achieves this effect not by the unrealistic approach of expecting everyday people to burst into song in unison and perfectly execute choreagraphy that didn’t exist five seconds before, however. It contextualizes the musical theatre genre within actual musical theatre — in this case a High School Glee club in the fictional McKinley High School of Lima, OH.
The members of the Glee club are outcasts and outsiders who don’t fit in anywhere, as well as the odd-man-out for the outsiders — Finn Hudson (Cory Montieth) the quarterback of football squad, who has cultivated a love of music from an early age.
The show is quirky, cute, fun and inspirational, with compelling oddball characters well cast and well-performed. Especially outstanding are Jane Lynch as Sue Sylvester, the coach of the socially dominant “Cheerios” cheerleading squad, Lea Michele as Rachel Berry, self-styled ingenue, and Jayma Mays as Emma Pillsbury, the cute OCD school counselor with feelings for the Spanish-teacher director of the glee club.
In what I can only hope will be a tradition for the show, two pieces from the Pilot are available as iTunes downloads — a rival glee club’s rendition of Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab” and the McKinley glee club’s version of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing”, well-chosen for its ability to be a theme not just for the pilot, but the whole show.
Glee is a quirky, oddball show full of underdogs. Initial response to the show is very positive, and there is a lot to be positive about. I encourage readers to look for the pilot episode on Fox.com and Hulu, then watch the show as it continues this fall.
Young Reader fiction has the distinct advantage of trending towards short. This facilitates marathon-style reading, which is one of the great literary pleasures. The speed at which I breezed through the novel is also a testament to the book’s readability.
The Lightning Thief arrived in 2005, and is the first in an ongoing series (three books in the series are available already, with the fourth arriving in May of 2009.
The series’ hero is Perseus “Percy” Jackson, a 12-year old son of an Olympian God (the identity of said god is revealed in the book, but does constitute a notable spoiler) who joins other Half-God children at a camp/training ground for demigod children. His heroic companions (because that’s how heroes roll) are Grover Underwood (no relation), an earnest but clumsy satyr, and Annabeth Chase, brainiac daughter of Athena. Percy is impetuous (a good plot device, and explained as being part of his divine heritage), but he is also fiercely loyal to his mother, which provides much of the other motivation for Percy’s actions in the book.
Riordan shows a great faculty for bringing the Greek myths to life in new ways, re-casting the Furies, Medusa, Procrustes, and more into a contemporary context. He has a decent excuse for moving the pantheon to America, and provides the best sourcebooks/inspiration for White Wolf’s Scion that I’ve seen so far.
The whole book has the feel of Bronze Age, 21st century-style. Young readers coming to the book with only a vague background in classics will be able to learn the history through an accessible lens, as Riordan gives various mythological figures’ original stories to contrast their contemporary incarnations. Riordan’s re-interpretations are clever, if not brilliant, and there’s a great sense of fun to the whole book which goes hand-in-hand with Percy’s age and the old saying that the real Golden Age of Science Fiction is twelve.
It’s a quick read, and if you’re a Classics Geek at all, it’s certainly worth your (short) time. I’m looking forward to the later books, but there’s a Mieville ARC on my counter that demands my attention.
Leverage has arrived on TNT, and we’ve now had four episodes (the pilot which I discussed earlier and three more).
As the show settles into its digs, we can see what the series is likely to look and feel like in an ongoing fashion. Leverage is clearly over-the-top, trading mimetic realism for the joyous fun of heist and con-man action where Awesomeness is a clear and present aesthetic agenda.
In “The Two-Horse Job” and in “The Miracle Job,” the characters’ backstory is central both to the reason for the team taking each case and also plays out in the interpersonal drama between the leads and the guest-star clients. Other characters’ investment in the individual jobs waxes and wanes based on their personal beliefs regarding the lines which the team has to cross along the way, which keeps the procedural formula from growing stale.
Leverage plays like a 21st century A-team, but instead of being a group of ex-special forces soldiers, the show draws more upon the caper, heist, and do-gooder fixer traditions of series including Mission: Impossible, Burn Notice and films like Ocean’s Eleven, among many others. The characters are a WASP-y ex-insurance claims investigator, a black geek-chic computer hacker, an Autism-spectrum super-thief, an actress who is abysmal in productions but inspired in confidence games, and a wise-cracking thug. The actors bring enthusiasm and oddity to their characters, making sure that each character is just a couple degrees off-center for their archetype.
We’ve also been introduced to an ongoing antagonist for the characters in Jim Sterling, played by Mark “Badger” Sheppard. Sterling is a worthy opponent for our team, having taken over in the job formerly held by Nathan Ford (Timothy Hutton), the team’s leader.
One of the main reasons the show is compelling is that for all the heroes’ schemes and plotting, things keep going wrong. They have a good idea which goes much further than intended, and then they need to come up with a new scam to un-do the earlier scam. This scrambling and reversal forces the characters to go out of their comfort zones, improvise, and get into more trouble.
Table Talk and The Joy of Planning
The show also plays like a tabletop RPG game, unsurprising since the show and certain traditions of tabletop play draw influence from the same sources. Each character is an expert in their niche, they have diverse and intriguing backgrounds, and most of all, they bicker and banter over planning in a way that is highly reminiscent of any number of gaming sessions where characters spend more time thinking of the plan than actually executing those plans.
And here’s the thing — in a caper/confidence game situation, the planning is one of the most fun/exciting things. The architecture of a scam, the construction and unfolding of a human Rube Goldberg machine provides one of the main aesthetic thrills of the narrative mode which Leverage makes its home territory.
Where shows like LOST have used extended flashbacks to provide B-plots for episodes, portraying characters at different stages of their life to show character growth or lack therof, Leverage often goes for quick flashbacks to provide punchlines to jokes our to counter-point/undermine what a character is saying in the present. Leverage‘s flashbacks are more mad-cap, and provide a fair amount of the sjow’s Over-The-Topness.
Leverage is a show to watch, and has the benefit of Prime-time cable-drama ratings expectations rather than Network Prime-Time expectations. I doubt Leverage will ever be a big hit, but it may be able to achieve a strong following based on its quirky and compelling over-the-top caper action.
Written and directed by Michael Showalter, The Baxter is a romantic comedy about romantic comedies, where Showalter plays CPA Elliot Sherman, a decent but boring man who is doomed to be a “Baxter.”
Baxter n. “A good but dull man who is not the right partner for the female lead of a romantic comedy. The Baxter is left at the alter when the leading man makes the dramatic return to win over the leading lady.”
Elliot has been stuck as a Baxter several times over the course of his life, and spends the film trying to shake the Baxter curse. Showalter displays great familiarity with the genre conventions of the romantic comedy, employing several classic motifs with Elliot and company being more conscious of the narrative structure that they’re fitting into.
Elizabeth Banks plays Caroline Swan, Elliot’s latest romantic interest, whom he meets the same day as Cecil Mills (Michelle Williams), who is hired as his temporary secretary. Justin Theroux rounds out the cast as Caroline’s old flame, Bradley Lake.
The plot is as predictable as any romantic comedy, and it’s this predictability which the film siezes on to set itself apart from the majority of the instances of the genre. The humor in the film is often understated, doesn’t go as far into slapstick as films like The Wedding Crashers or There’s Something About Mary, instead falling more into the Indy aesthetic of small moments with awkward but charming people.
The moral of the story is that the reason the Baxters get left behind for the romantic leads is bravery, the bravery/bravado/foolishness to do those big stupid romantic things like standing outside her house with a boom box, flying to Portugal to propose to her at work, doing a rain dance to make it rain, ask her to dance during the last song of the night, etc.
The Baxter urges us to take a chance, to put ourselves out there, to make the big romantic gesture. not necessarily because the gesture works on its own, but that spontenaity and the willingness to be vulnerable will be what puts you in the situations to fall in love and win someone’s heart.
But even a romantic comedy about romantic comedies is still fitting into a formula, as do other meta-romantic comedies like Hitch. The Baxter says that we can change our archetype within the romantic comedy structure, we cannot escape it completely. Sherman only gets his happy ending when he realizes that he’d been living the wrong role opposite the wrong leading lady — which is only enabled by having the ‘right’ leading lady in his life to be able to make that realization. Without the ‘meet cute,’ the story cannot get moving, the real romantic comedy cannot begin.
For the people still looking for the person who stars opposite them in the romantic comedy of their life, these stories serve as consolation. They are a cultural promise that says “Do not despair. The right person is out there, and when you meet the right person, whackiness may ensue but if you put yourself out there, the two of you will have your happily ever after.”
Is this ultimately a healthy message that these films send? Stories can be many things to many people — and for some they are consolation, for others passing entertainment, but they feed into a larger cultural mythology about how romance and relationships work.
We’re seeing more women in the protagonist romantic lead role of the genre, as the person who has to make the romantic gesture and put themselves out to get hurt or get what they want. Gender equity in whose responsibility it is to initiate a relationship goes part and parcel with third-wave feminism, but cultural forces haven’t just dropped away to allow this gender parity to take place — everyone has expectations influencing their decisions. Lingering double-standards position a sexually-agent male as a ‘go-getter, a virile man,’ while a sexually-passive male is ‘effeminite.’ But on the other hand, a sexually-agent female is a ‘loose woman’ while a sexually-passive female is ‘in her place,’ is being ‘proper.’
It’s good to have meta-narratives critiquing the assumptions of narrative genres, but when you engage a genre, you are often stuck feeding into the expectations of that genre or reacting against them. Finding the middle ground more akin to Jose Esteban Munoz’s notion of disidentification, where a critique can be made and self-definition be made manifest, that is much harder, but it’s the path that each of us live day by day, taking the narrative tropes and stories that make up the fabric of our cultural canon and working them in and out of our lives.
This application and analysis of narrative is a necessary part of being a functioning being in society, but like any crafts-person, the better the raw material we have to work with, the more effective tools we can make for understanding and confidently and successfully moving through life. What if more romantic comedies had strong elements of how-to videos, teaching body language, conversational techniques, and real-life appropriate methods for putting yourself in situations where you are more likely to meet people with whom to make a connection? All of this would of course have to be done under the aegis of entertainment so as to be more widely distributed and more appealing to people who want to find love but are for one or another reason unlikely to purchase or investigate ‘how to’ manuals for dating. This brings us back to aesthetics and the reasons why people seek out romantic comedies. Not everyone is looking for advice from them, but perhaps a few people could find it, given the right film/show/narrative to provide it.
Now I’m not saying that all romantic comedies should be didactic dating how-tos with a thin plot, but it’s important for creators to be aware of the cultural/psychological effect their narratives have on the way people experience and understand life. The stories available to us inform what we imagine as the range of possibilities in what has (and therefore can) be done. It’s the approach I try to take with my own work, and in my research, I plan to investigate that part of the creative process as well, setting aside ‘the author is dead’ in favor of ‘the author is very much alive’ — there’s a maxim in writing that says ‘write the novel that you want to read’ — we write for many reasons, and exorcising our demons or exploring psychological possibilties are among them.
Ethnography can go in a lot of directions, and one of the things I want to do with my career is to see how working with people at all levels and stages of the culture-making business in addition to audiences and those who take narratives and transform them to their own ends (fan-fiction, vidding, etc.) can lead to a greater overal understanding of the cultural process of making meaning and understanding the world.
Ever since my seminar on aesthetics, I’ve been thinking about awesomeness. Awesomeness as its own aesthetic, a distinct artistic urge/dao that is often slavishly followed, draws huge attention, and yet hasn’t really been examined in a way that makes me happy — or if it has, I haven’t seen it.
I’ve been talking about how I’m going to write an article called “On the Aesthetic of Awesomeness” — so here are some notes for me to start with, as building blocks. This is intended to be a work in progress, a making public of my academic process for the purposes of discussion and self-reflection. I’m aware in this discussion of the inherent silliness of talking seriously about awesomeness, but I think there are important points not being explored here.
What do I mean by Awesomeness?
Awesomeness is an aesthetic agenda associated what we call in the speculative fiction field the ‘Sense of Wonder’ — The sense of wonder is revelatory, the amazement that comes from being confronted with something new and striking. I’d say that the Sense of Wonder is one of the modes of the aesthetic of awesomeness.
Other notable moves/moments that would count as Awesome:
- The lobby scene in The Matrix
- Your first glimpse of Iron Man in the 2008 Iron Man.
- Watching Optimus Prime transform in Transformers.
And more generally:
- Stuff Blowing Up Real Good (TM).
- Breathtaking visuals (esp. special effects — practical or digital). The Pod race in Star Wars Episode I, the battle of Pelennor Fields in the film ofThe Return of the King — this is where the Sense of Wonder comes up.
Awesomeness is about potency, strength, competence in action, it’s the stuff that makes you go ‘whoah’ in varying degrees of Keanu Reeves-itude.
Awesomeness vs. ‘literary merit’
Just because something has what people argue over as literary/artistic merit doesn’t mean it’s awesome. Awesomeness has been ignored in aesthetic considerations (and no, it’s not the sublime, though the original meaning of the word awesome would suggest as much.)
‘Awesome’ has experienced a cultural linguistic renaissance in the last few years, with notable champions in popular culture such as How I Met Your Mother, “Captain Awesome” in Chuck, and others.
Often times, films will get horrible reviews in terms of their narrative, thematic, dramatic chops, but are still well-recieved/popular. Why does this happen? There are a number of explanations, and Awesomeness is one of them.
Artistic paragons of awesomeness who have been critiqued for their lack of artistic merit could include but not be limited to Michael Bay (Transformers, Armageddon, The Rock), Jerry Bruckheimer (Pirates of the Carribean, Top Gun, Black Hawk Down), The Wachowski siblings (The Matrix trilogy, the new Speed Racer), and George Lucas (Star Wars, et al.) These creators make immensely commercially successful works that are often panned by cultural critics/gatekeepers such as reviewers, literary critics, etc. Such films are called ‘childish/immature’ — as their primary aesthetic (awesomeness) doesn’t fit into established and accepted artistic parameters.
Here’s another thing — for most summer blockbusters, the primary intent of the film is to impress the audience, to take their breath away, make them clap and shout. Summer Blockbusters play a simple but potent game of pulling on heartstrings and pushing buttons. Really, the primary aesthetic agenda of the Summer Blockbuster genre is Awesomeness.
This is not to say that a narrative cannot be both awesome and dramatically compelling, beautiful, grotesque, or any other aesthetic. Mostly I just want to identify a chunk of the aesthetic field we’ve been ignoring/spurning.
Thoughts for further investigation
- A more specific articulation of the sense of experiencing awesomeness
- The overlap between awesomeness and other aesthetics
- The negotiation and appreciation of awesomeness in fan communities.