Sometimes when my fellow staffers and I are playing door guards for one of our events, we like to sell our track to passers by. "Come see our panel on [insert literary topic here]! Books rule, TV and movies drool!" is one common refrain. But actually, as you all know, I do media too. Since 2005, I've spoken on panels covering such topics as the depiction of genocide on Babylon 5, the flaws of Trek's Prime Directive, the omnipresence of the military in science fiction, etc.
This year, I appeared on three AMSF panels, two of which I will now discuss:
The Failures of the New V
On Friday afternoon, the AMSF track held a fan discussion on the reimagined (and recently canceled) V that ultimately became a conversation regarding why the new series failed. Ultimately, the audience, my fellow panelists, and I settled on three major problems. First of all, there was no unifying vision. One minute, the writers painted for us a frightening picture of how the modern mass media can be manipulated by our enemies. The next minute, they hopped onto the spiritual track and started talking about the human soul. And were we ever quite clear on Anna's intentions for humanity? I appreciate subtlety as much as the next geek, but "we want to use you to breed a master race" never had quite the same impact as "we think you're yummy". I understood - I think - what the writers were shooting for there. And I definitely understood that the threat was existential for the human race. But evidently, my comprehension was in no way universal.
Secondly, the human characters were, by and large, poorly written. In opposing two mother figures, the writers were trying to do something interesting and unique, but unfortunately, Erica just wasn't badass enough to serve as a credible opponent for Anna. "She was always focused on that damned kid," said Joe Crowe, "and he was a douchebag." That last comment was met with the unanimous audience sentiment that, in the end, Tyler "needed killin'".
But perhaps the biggest problem with V was articulated by Aaron, the former director of the AMSF track, when he complained: "They're going to resist the V's -- but they don't want to hurt anyone?" I almost jumped out of my chair and kissed my Irish acquaintance. In the end, what killed V was political correctness. Remember the episode in which Erica's resistance cell was presented with an opportunity to destroy one of Anna's blue energy reactors? Well, according to one member of the audience, the writers actually intended for New York to be destroyed. Oh, yes, you read that right -- originally, Erica was supposed to make the decision to kill several million people in order to save the rest. Can you imagine how awesome that would've been? Unfortunately, ABC put the kibosh on that whole plan in the name of "sensitivity". Ugh, ugh, ugh. Dear network execs: The threat Anna represented, as I noted above, was existential. In a situation like that, collateral damage is a given. If you can't accept that the good guys can kill people inadvertently in their desperate struggle to survive and yet still be the good guys, get out of the science fiction market. Seriously.
Why All the Blood and Guts?
On Sunday night, meanwhile, I participated in a panel discussion with a more general focus, namely: Why have geeky media products in recent years featured so much graphic violence? Why depict, in unflinching detail, an alien vivisection in Battle: Los Angeles? Why the artful blood spatters in 300? My own theory regarding this development is two-fold. First of all, there's media entropy. Hollywood's system of incentives is such that a film maker really can't make a name for himself unless he goes further than everyone else. "This guy over here showed someone getting stabbed multiple times on camera? So what? I'm going to depict a decapitation." Basically, it's a reflection of the entire art world's century-long game of oneupsmanship.
Secondly, we have to keep in mind that the people who make our movies and TV shows hail from an extremely monolithic subculture that has a political interest in showing humanity at its worst. Hollywood makes movies in which the supposed good guys behave in a gratuitously cruel manner because Hollywood, for the most part, believes that the good guy/bad guy divide does not exist -- and they want you to believe that too. They want you to believe that, for example, our War on Terror has been a continuous Abu Ghraib from one end to the other -- and they want you to forget about the soldiers giving food to Iraqi children.
Overall, I agree with Aaron that violence does serve the story in some instances. But I feel it needs to be balanced by moments which inspire the audience. It all comes down to this question: What is the purpose of art? Should art shock and repel? Or should art attempt to elevate? I prefer the latter mission.
On the whole, I think the con was a rousing success. I was certainly sad when it ended. It's always hard to return to my mundane working life after a weekend of pure nerdy bliss.