Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Genre Writing

It's a dirty story of a dirty man
And his clinging wife doesn't understand
His son is working for the Daily Mail
It's a steady job but he wants to be a paperback writer!
Like the fantasy or science fiction genre, success in writing in the political genre does not depend on whether or not what you are writing about is even remotely possible in the Real World, but instead relies on the writer's ability to manipulate the tropes of the genre.

Time travel paradoxes must be addressed in time travel stories one way or another, because readers would revolt if t'were otherwise, and dragons dominate the culture and history of Westeros because, for chrissake man, there have to be dragons:
Phyllis Eisenstein (1946-present) is an American science fiction and fantasy author. She is a friend of George R.R. Martin's. She had a big influence on A Song of Ice and Fire when, during the earliest period of Martin writing the series, she suggested to him that he include dragons and magic when he was more inclined to leave out the fantastical elements. A Storm of Swords is dedicated to her, as Martin thanks her for making him "put the dragons in".*
This rule not only applies to what a writer who wants to sell his or her stuff within a specific market should include in their stories, but quite often there are equally inelastic rules about subject matter which is verboten.  Fred Pohl reminisces:
...Kay Tarrant had come with the job. Her official description was secretary-assistant, but as John preferred to do most of his own typing, she spent most of her time copy-editing the manuscripts he bought (and those bought by his successor, Ben Bova, as well) to prepare them for the printer.

That was not necessarily an arduous job. John did not normally go in for the kind of lavishly creative editing that characterized, say, Horace Gold’s tenure at Galaxy (and infuriated so many of his contributors), and when John took a notion to rewrite sections of a particular story to make it more like John’s image of what it should have been, he did it himself.

But Kay Tarrant, too, had impulses that went beyond the simple correction of faulty grammar, spelling or punctuation. She hated — hated! — smut. And she devoted her life to erasing every trace of it from the magazine.

This, of course, had an effect on the corps of science-fiction writers, a sadly rowdy lot. The more troublesome ones initiated a contest to see who could get something bawdy past Kay Tarrant. Many of them tried. All saw their best inspirations slain on the copy desk until George O. Smith stepped up to the plate. He won when he got past Miss Tarrant’s eagle eye his definition of a tomcat as “a ball-bearing mousetrap.”
Which brings us around, in a rambly kind of way, to the genre of Very Serious political writing in America.  It is a genre which is decidedly fiction and for which there are apparently no lower-limits to the writing skills demanded by the marketplace.

It also comes with a couple of simple rules which you must follow if you want to actually make a living at it and not waste your time and talent on collecting piles of rejection notices high enough to ski from.

First Rule:  Anyone even slightly the Left of the Grand Nagus is a hippie-dippie pot-head refugee from Woodstock:
The Freakification of Bernie Sanders

Shoot me.

These weren't your everyday Americans who came out to support Bernie Sanders on Tuesday. The self-described democratic socialist kicked off his long-shot run for the White House in his adopted hometown of Burlington, a lakeside city full of characters who might not have passed the pre-selection process for Hillary Clinton's tour of round tables...In the afternoon, a "people's assembly" of hundreds of Sanders supporters gathered in City Hall Park, where dreadlocked guitarists played in the morning and patrons browsed at the nearby Hempest, which advertises itself as the largest organic hemp product store in the world.
I don't know Jonathan Topaz, nor do I know much about his work. His bio is that of a smart, shining young man out of the Ivy League with a pretty cool name, but this passage should be a career-killer. What, pray tell, young Jonathan, do "everyday Americans" look like? Perhaps like the Duggars of Springdale, Arkansas? The hayshaking Bible-banging cultists whom I saw gather in Iowa earlier this spring? Sheldon Adelson? But Jonathan should not bear the punishment alone. Every editor, sub-editor, and researcher who read this and didn't say, "Holy hell, this is some cheap bullshit right here. It's beneath even our standards!" also should find their careers taking on water...
Second Rule:  Every problem and conflict in the Universe from entropy to the Anglo-Zanzibar war was caused by the aforementioned hippies.  If no hippies are readily available, blame The Extremists on Both Sides and move on.
The Tired Old “Both Sides Getting More Extreme” Meme

In my recent book and elsewhere, I’ve noted that the meta-narrative Republicans were promoting—and much of the MSM was echoing—during the 2014 midterms was that the Great Big Moderate Adults of the GOP had gotten the crazy extremist Tea People under control, and were ready to govern in a serious way that Serious People could appreciate. An important sub-narrative to the completely phony Republican Shift to the Center was that Democrats were moving to the left so fast that they’d probably start singing the Internationale at party events before long.

A lot of people who don’t completely buy the GOP Shift to the Center are happy to promote the false equivalency classic of Everybody’s Polarizing at Exactly the Same Pace. But there’s one species of observers who are deeply invested in the Democratic Lurch to the Left meme: Republican “moderates” who spend a fair amount of time criticizing their zany brethren and need an excuse to reassume the Party Yoke when elections come around.

Peter Wehner is one such person, and so he pens the classic so’s-your-old-man-and-actually-maybe-your-old-man’s-worse op-ed for the New York Times. Ignoring the fact that most actual lefty Democrats think Barack Obama is too much like Bill Clinton, Wehner’s case almost entirely depends on contrasting the noble centrist Big Dog (who, of course, conservatives denounced as a godless socialist when he was actually in office) with the left-bent Obama.
In the last 100 years, (unless you count Scientology) fantasy and science fictions stories have done no harm to anyone and have been a source of wonder, entertainment and occasional wisdom to hundreds of millions of people around the world.

In the last 30 years, the Both Siderist genre has become the foundation stone on which our Elite Media has been built, has made a few people enormously wealthy, has provided undeserved employment to thousands of hacks, con men and professional rat-fuckers and has done incalculable damage to our democracy.

And while the present condition is dire and getting worse, I take some comfort in believing that, 100 years from now, people will still be reading and loving "The Lord of the Rings" and "A Canticle for Leibowitz" while the entire corpus of Both Siderist claptrap will either be dead and forgotten, or studied with incredulity by future historians:
In Search of Historic Bobo 

If you want to start a brawl in the media scholar faculty lounge at any major university, stick your head in the door and ask them to settle the question of the historical authenticity of "David Brooks" once and for all.  Then duck, because this is the subject which has most loudly and aggressively divided students of the so-called "Fucking Crazy Years"* of American political media for the last century.

Of course as every high-school student knows, almost all of the original digital and analog records of the Guild of Pundits during that period were destroyed during the Great Discontinuity -- the early 21st century's Elite media's last ditch effort to evade accountability for their crimes.  And what few fragments we do have from that time come down to us filtered through the fun-house mirrors of surviving backups of the "fuckingblogs".  

And yet such is the enduring fascination with the fallout from those terrible, lunatic "Fucking Crazy Years" that despite the paucity of first-hand evidence (or perhaps because of it) thousands of master's theses, doctoral dissertations, best-selling "histories", graphic novels, stage plays and dirty limericks have been written about the era.  

(Artist's rendering of "David Brooks" offering a ritual "Social Security" sacrifice 
at the Temple of St. Reagan)

And as the original events have been sifted and re-sifted by popular culture, fan fiction and hermeneutics, the academic world has more-or-less evenly divided itself into two, irreconcilable orthodoxies -- the Historical Brooks versus the Fictional Brooks -- each of which finds strong support for its own theory in the literature itself.

Based on the radically divergent accounts of writings attributed to him during a single decade, roughly half of all professional media historians -- The Historicals -- subscribe to theory that "David Brooks" in an amalgamation of several real but wildly different people. The other half -- The Fictionals -- maintain that since so much of what he was alleged to have written was so obviously false and absurd, "David Brooks" had to be a literary contrivance: something analogous to Poe's nameless recounter of "The Telltale Heart" or Greta Van Sustern -- a fictional narrator whose own pathological unreliability is integral to the story...

*  Full disclosure:  Phyllis is a pal of mine.

1 comment:

Mike Lumish said...

What do you know: just yesterday I started reading "A Canticle for Leibowitz" again. With all my little heart I agree that, a century from now, people will still be reading it alongside "Brave New World" and "The Fifth Business."