Last night I watched monsters and a chunk of dead snow and cabin in the woods. Citw was a formuliac scrap of shite, barely a cut above dead snow. This was Joss Whedon don’t you know. If you’re going to have a backstory, make sure it’s something at least plausible and not a membrane of swiss cheese. Try not to set an extravagant construct (technology, cast, world) atop a creaking stack of cheese puffs. The elder gods, how did humans cut the deal with them in the first place, who were the spectators upstairs, how could the monsters remain warehoused, why all the rigamorole of force fields and old cabins – why not just gather and execute the people? The lack of compelling intriguing premise is a shard of glass under the skin of the story, it’s hard to ignore afterwards that the backstory makes no sense, so the aftertaste is – oh, that was a waste of my precious time.
That might have been ok in the 80s and even 90s before there was a world of excellence to sample and VERY little time to sample it, but not now. Every choice in the 21st century media profusion forms the select trickle that one wants to manage expertly, to get the best chunks for solving the puzzle of existence, win the computer augmented strategy game of 21st century life. We have so many choices and are confronted with real dilemmas – how to follow our bliss, how to pay the bills without contributing to a suicidal and or oppressive civilization, how to negotiate our emotional health, how to be ready for the apocalypse around the corner, what technologies to adopt and which to shun, how to not be poisoned, who to trust, on and on and on. We want movies to teach and guide, to point the way, to turbo charge our choice making. So the construction of an efficacious myth intake – be it movies or books – becomes essential, becomes THE key decision in modern times.
Campbell said that we are living without myth, implying that new “appropriate” myths would heal and integrate us, would make society humane and utopian. But nowadays it’s truly “every man his own priest”, with the end of superstition and central dogma, the rise of the story of science… each us have been given the awesome responsibility of making our own myths, of grabbing the steering wheel of the super organism. Story is what gave humans domination over the planet, so the chunks of story that we choose to intake is far from trivial. We use these chunks to build our own worldview, effective or not. Toxic media clutters our paradigm for crucial days (if not months or years) afterword, that’s why bad movies or Fox News feels like poison.
Ok summary. To thrive in an unprecedented world, we must first feed our own internal paradigm with virtuosic stories. The stories we adopt/adapt reveal the most relevant data to attend to, help us identify reliable allies, enable rapid recovery from mistakes, on and on. Our entertainment choices are not trivial, they are the basis for whether or not we thrive in a post science fiction, globally catastrophic future. There’s no time to watch crap, it’s not a matter of I liked it or I didn’t, it’s a question of did that cognitively jump me up or set me back.
Stories mediate cognition.
Science fiction is dead because so many contemporary stories are just mild soap opera supported by technological novelty. It feels like NOW. Who is writing the paradigm transforming epics? What could be weirder than right now? In fact, the best science fiction still shows us how weird right now is.