By Rex Hurst
Now while this statement seems almost self-evident, it’s practically a tautology, I’ve noticed a current trend in the traditional genres of escapism (Fantasy, Superhero, & Science Fiction) have become more and more preachy, as if they’re using the medium to talk down and “educate” the idiot masses. Sometimes it’s a smug little quip about some “social justice” issue. More and more it’s been almost feature length “messages” horned into previously popular franchises.
For me the breaking point was a recent episode of Dr. Who. The new Doctor, in a female incarnation, meets Rosa Parks- not so bad in itself – but most of the episode, 55 minutes in length, was spent of lecturing the clueless companions (and through them, us the idiot audience) all about the Civil Rights era – a lot of which was incorrect or way too condensed. The actual “story” took up about fifteen minutes of time and revolved around some racist from the future coming back in time to knock Rosa Parks off before she could sit at the front of the bus. Not an alien who happened to be around at that time, maybe trying to get home, maybe dealing with similar issues on their own planet. No it was some cookie-cutter red-faced racist who wanted to destroy Rosa Parks. Why? Because he’s evil, that’s why. What more do you need to know, you racist! The entire endeavor was as subtle as a sledgehammer.
The purpose of these escapist genres was to allow the reader to cast their minds away from the nonsense of the world. For the reader to believe that the biggest evil in the world could be cured by throwing a magic ring into a volcano, that there was no problem too big for Superman to handle, that only a spaceship ride away was a world of adventure and beautiful green-skinned women. The escape from reality is why all of these genres became popular in the first place. People want to leave the world and have fun.
That isn’t to say, you cannot talk about social issues in your story. Take a look at any issue of the X-Men from the 1980s (the Claremont era for those in the know) and you will see a message of tolerance for those who are different from you. Somehow this straight, white, male author managed to place this message without disrupting the story or being preachy.
How did he do this? By putting the escapism and story first. If you are working in the fantasy, science fiction, horror, or superhero genre and the purpose of your tale is to push forward an ideological message, then you have a clunker on your hands. Stick to being outraged on Twitter. In escapist genres, the world, the oddity, the break from reality, has to come first. People don’t want a lecture, they want to see something beyond the norm. If you can’t deliver then, more onto a different type of writing.