Thursday, February 01, 2007


Cult Fiction

John Seavey has posted some interesting thoughts on what he calls "cult fiction," by which me means all the sorts of stuff that geeks like us like.
Ultimately, I think the only thing they have in common is that they all present the world, in some way, as stranger than real life. This is most overt in science-fiction, which is why I think that it all tends to get lumped in as sci-fi, but even the non-science-fiction series like '24' or 'Alias' show a world which is bigger, more dangerous, more exciting, and more vivid than the one we live in every day. (And sketch comedy shows, almost by definition, explore a "stranger than life" idea to its logical conclusion--like the Lumberjack sketch, for example.) I think this is what we're attracted to, the idea that we live in a super-interesting universe, and that these are looks around the corner to the bits that we don't usually see. Bits where kids can build a working space shuttle out of stuff they send away from on cereal boxes, bits where hidden wizard academies teach the sorcerers of tomorrow; bits, in short, that we can always imagine ourselves just about to stumble into.
I started reading Seavey's blog a few weeks back, having followed a link to one of his colums on various comic series as "storytelling engines." Some very insightful stuff along the way.

Interesting post. It does always tickle my brain why certain shows that are not classically SF nonetheless seem to have a wide appeal with that crowd - not just something more obvious, like Lost, or Alias, but the less obvious shows, like 24 or The West Wing. Part of it is simply, I think, because those shows tend to be a bit more intelligent than most, and geeks tend to be the same; but I think he's onto something here as well.
Or Deadwood or Rome.
It's richness of milieu & continuity - shows that have enough of a canon being established that they they lend themselves to discussion, multiple viewing, etc...

This is why Netflix pairs Buffy the Vampire Slayer with Gilmore Girls.
I think you've both got good points, and that there's clearly more at work in the popularity among geeks of any particular show, but I think that Seavey is really onto something here. In fact, it could be argued that the kind of depth of worldbuilding and continuity you're talking about, Lou, is part and parcel with his "stranger than life" notion. Or if not "stranger", perhaps instead "more interesting than life", more rich and detailed.
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