It’s 2013. We survived the Mayan apocalypse. Or did we? (Cue spooky music).
What a curious year in science fiction 2012 was. The real story was at the cinema box office. Skiffy is no longer subculture genre; it’s mainstream. The biggest movies of the year were science-fiction themed: The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises. Add to that list Looper, The Hunger Games, SkyFall, Spider-man, Twilight, The Hobbit, Men In Black, and Prometheus, and it becomes clear that so-called genre content completely drives the modern Western entertainment industry at the moment. Check out the box-office winners.
Geekism is the norm, and it’s caused a bit of a crisis of identity for many who define themselves as being on the cultural fringe. But whatever; that topic mostly bores me. What I really want to talk about are what I believe are the most important skiffy moments of 2012. Since everyone likes a list, let’s do it as a countdown:
5. Prometheus showed Ridley Scott’s true (lack of) skiffy credentials. It was a crappy movie that dressed up banal ideas in shiny suits. Its failure at the box office showed, I hope, that the audience has advanced to a stage where they are no longer going to accept shallow ideas as philosophical pablum, just because a fancy British director expresses them through dry ice and irrational characters.
4. The failure of the Disney film John Carter means… I don’t know what. But it means something. John Carter was a pretty good movie. Really, it was. It had good actors, a great director, an boatloads of money behind it. But someone made the mistake of marketing it as John Carter, and not John Carter of Mars. For those of you who don’t know, its source material was the Edgar Rice Burroughs Barsoom novels, which were the inspiration for Star Wars, Flash Gordon, the works of Clarke, Bradbury, Heinlein, and countless others. John Carter is the grandfather of American science fiction, the DNA template of the geek culture that now dominates Western entertainment. And yet no one bothered to mention it in the marketing. Dumbfucks. I think this is important because it shows that the marketers assumed the audience was still afraid of science fiction connections, rather than the opposite; I think many mainstream audience members would have taken well to John Carter‘s historical importance to the products they adore today.
3. The death of Ray Bradbury, last of the original Grand Masters. With his passing marks the end of a kind of innocent, permissable and forgiving science fiction, grounded in humanism and ignorant of actual science. Many will vie for the throne, but there will be no new king.
2. The death of Neil Armstrong. The explosion of skiffy as an artform and genre went hand-in-hand with the manned space program. And, for my money, there was no finer moment in the human story, since Columbus crossed the ocean, than when Armstrong and Aldrin stepped upon a new world while the entirety of the old one watched on live television. The lines between science and science fiction were blurred then, and the impact and import of this particular genre is great for that very feat. Armstrong’s passing marks the transition from the era of classical, heroic exploration to one of structured, purposeful and more knowledge-driven, though less heroic, travails. His death is an epochal moment.
1. The Avengers tops the box office. What is it now, the 3rd highest grossing film in history? Why is this important? Because look at what it is: a cheesy, science fiction, ensemble super hero movie with only two bona fide movie stars. Its revenue wasn’t driven by the geek audience, but by the rank and file. Its ascendancy marks the arrival of skiffy into the mainstream and the rise of geek culture to normalcy.
Honourable mention: DC Comics’ re-launch of its flagship titles, together called “The New 52”. Technically, they were launched in Sep, 2011. But we can only assess their importance after a full year in the wild. At first, many were convinced that this was a stupid move, re-imagining all of the iconic characters, including the stalwarts Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. But I have to admit, the stories have been pretty good, and it’s nice to see some new excitement breathed into well worn old tropes.
So what do you think? What 2012 skiffy stories have I missed?