Friday, 12 January 2007

Genre: High, Low and Quality.

Larry King Live (CNN) might not be an obvious starting point for discussing Literary Genre, but yesterday there was a fascinating programme on 24 - featuring interviews with Keifer Sutherland and the rest of the cast of the current edition (number 6, I believe).

For those who haven't watched, 24 is so called because all the action takes place 'in real time': i.e. the series lasts 24 hours and all events unfold, like in the ideal Greek Drama, within that realistic time frame.

During the interviews, Mr Sutherland made two fascinating points in regards to the apparent focus on terrorism the programme has and the value of presenting the USA with a realistic, if fictional, Black American president.

Larry King asked if the programme, as suggested by some political and media commentators, vindicated a violent response to terrorism and provided, as a result of its popularity, a straw poll on such tactics.

Keifer Sutherland responded quickly, and strongly, making the point that this was Fantasy - it did not represent the real world and more importantly it was not 'about' terrorism.

Terrorism was used in 24 as a reason for the characters to interact - the interactions are what made the show popular. Because the format required something intense to fill the 24 hour period with interactions, the original writers had looked around for anything which would provide a realistic motivation - they picked terrorism, but some other things would have done equally well.

Sutherland was adamant that 24 was simply 'a thriller' - and could be reduced to a character we care about put under threat.

Which brings me to 'Sci-Fi', Mr Dick and Sheep.

Surely the 'Sci' (which I think would be better designated ‘techno’) is like the terrorism in 24, just a milieu for letting characters interact?

In which case: The stories should be judged on the quality of interaction and character?

With this in mind, I find 'Androids' quite a good book. I particularly like the handling of the Husband/Wife relationship and the effects of pressure of work and status on it. I am also taken with the main character's attempts to define himself through his work and its consequences - and his architypical Pastoral Dream (I mean, Sheep, for goodness sake!).

I'd also single out the interaction of the sub-humans - putting the chicken head and the Android girl into a relationship I found particularly poignant, if not downright painful.

And I also think we can 'reduce' the genre to 'A Thriller' - after all, what happens is no more than a character we have come to care for is threatened.

Which brings me back to Keifer Sutherland.

His second comment was about the showing of Black characters, 'In Power'.

Sutherland made the claim that the show, by presenting in a realistic format a Black President, helps create, "The atmosphere to accept."

Again I was struck by this apparently over simplistic statement.

We are dealing here, not with personal relationships so much as with public ideas.

Has ‘Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?’ been influential - without our realising it?

I find a degree of paranoia against science and technology in the book - and despite the apparent humanistic questions, the answer seems to come through the barrel of a gun. From this side of the pond, the American suspicion of science and scientific findings (witness the recent Chrysler comments on 'hysterical' Europeans and climate change) seems to originate in such an atmosphere.

I can't but help compare with Mary Shelly's Frankenstein - the monster, though ugly, is positively optimistic.

High and Low fiction? - for me these are 'snob' classifications: Shakespeare wrote low don't forget.

At the heart is the question of genre and our wish to classify - but what for?

If what we are searching for in fiction is interaction (and I am aware that Keifer Sutherland was talking about television), then that can be depicted successfully or otherwise in any genre.

Quality fiction is therefore not limited to any genre?

Oh dear, could there really be a quality 'Mills and Boon'?

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