Yeah, but

I was going to write something else today but as squeecore arguments are still raging on my social media I wanted to pull out some of my own views on where the discussion is, partly because there’s a lot of directions the arguments are going.

  1. Is there’s a dominant style in SFF in the sense of the works that critical buzz and award nominations? Yes, so long as we a generous with both “dominant” and “style” but it is fairly nebulous (as was New Wave for example.
  2. Is there a dominant style in SFF (in the sense above) that is so ubiquotous that is pushes out nearly everything else? No unless you define “style” so expansively that it can’t not to be true i.e. the claim becomes tautological.
  3. Is there a dominant style in SFF in terms of big budget TV and movies and mainstream popular culture. Yes, again and there’s a better argument for ubiquity here because of the dominance of the Disney corporation. Now here there is a historically unprecedented aspect in that SFF (especialy superheroes) is now such a big part of major movie output. It’s a trend that started in the 70’s with Lucas & Spielberg.
  4. Point 1 and point 3 are connected. Yeah, sort of and to a degree. There’s a lot of discussion on that from a media critical perspective that varies from fascinating to trite going on. However, we have a handy-dandy way of tracking that in terms of a whole Hugo category where we can see how a subset of 1. is voting on issues around 3. The Avenger’s 2013 win wasn’t the first time superheroes were finalists in Best Dramatic Presentation (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugo_Award_for_Best_Dramatic_Presentation) but a Marvel or DC superhero film has been a finalist every year since & has won 3 times. So yes, people are influenced by popular media.
  5. Point 3 also takes us into a different discussion about diversity and representation. A corporation like Disney includes representation of people by gender, ethnicity, sexuality and (less often) disability for cynical commercial reasons. I could unpack that but I think I can just state it as a fact. I also think it is a net good that they do so even if it is shallow. Popular culture is a tool of a neoliberal capitalist consensus!
  6. Point 5 is often argued fallaciously though. Disney’s motives in letting a movie like the recent Marvel superhero flick Eternals have a diverse cast are cynical. However, that doesn’t mean the director’s or the screenwriter’s or the actor’s motives are cynical.
  7. A different argument connected with 3, 5 & 6 is the extent to which a product of popular culture put out by a major corporation MUST be neoliberal propaganda. I think that is a fascinating area of discussion but here I’ll confess to thinking people overstate the effectiveness of art and propaganda to influence people’s thinking.
  8. The current discussion on squeecore as a term conflates multiple aspects of each of these things.

23 responses to “Yeah, but”

  1. I kind of think people understate the effectiveness of art to influence people’s thinking. Everytime there’s a new blockbuster sponsored by the US military, the Pentagon policy department saying what is acceptable or not for the movie, I see people around me and on social media starting to echo talking points, even bringing them in when talking about the news.

    One single movie won’t affect anything, but hundreds of blockbusters, years on years without end, will. And the US army has found a good way of making sure movies are made according to their script. Even most “critical” movies are usually propaganda, showing how all soldiers really want to help, but everything is so *complicated*.

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    • The US military clearly think it is money well spent but I suspect if they didn’t spend a penny you still wouldn’t get much in the way of major US movies in which the US military where the bad guys towards non-American heroes [you’d still get movies in which US military are the baddies towards plucky American heroes standing up for the truth & liberty]

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      • When US military sponsors a movie, they go through the whole script, not only what is related to how the military is presented. They send comments on needed changes in plot, how characters are described, world view and more. They impose much more control than people are generally aware of.

        Liked by 4 people

        • This is something that should be better known and is also the reason why explicit anti-war movies are much rarer than they used to be and also much less anti-war than they used to be, choosing to focus on the American soldiers who only mean well and are so traumatised by all the awful things they are forced to do. Because if you don’t play by the US military’s rules, you don’t get their support, can’t borrow their equipment, stock footage, soldiers as extras, etc…

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        • The Shapiros (creators of Dynasty, among other shows) said when they show-ran Emerald Point NAS, about lives and loves of the people on and around a Navy base, they’d get complaints like “You show a Naval officer having an affair overseas. Navy officers never cheat on their wives.” and “You show a Navy wife developing a drinking problem because of her husband’s absence. That never happens.” Though the Shapiros won out in those cases.

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  2. Squeecore is a bad word in any case. It doesn’t sound anything like the definition.
    I think 5 is part of the problem for some conservatives. They don’t object to cynicism but they hate it that cynical calculation sometimes means “let’s add diversity and representation” rather than “play it safe, stick with white dude heroes.”

    Liked by 6 people

    • Disney and other major corporations have figured out that straight white dudes are not the only demographic that counts and that women, people of colour, LGBTQ people, disabled people, etc… have money, too, and are willing to spend it to go to the movies or subscribe to Disney Plus. They also figured out that if you appeal to more than one demographic, your movie/TV show does even better. Shocking, I know.

      Also, the recent Marvel output has been straight white dude dominated, the occasional Shang-Chi or diverse Eternals cast notwithstanding. Spider-Man? Straight white dude or three of them. Hawkeye? Straight white dude paired with white woman of undetermined orientation. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier? A white and a black dude of undetermined orientation. Vague hints that Bucky may be bi, but that’s just Disney queerbaiting. Loki? Bisexual Norse god who looks like a white dude and falls for a woman on screen. WandaVision: Straight white woman and a straight android who looks like a white dude.Even Eternals, for all its diverse cast, focusses a lot on Kit Harrington’s character, who is a straight white dude. Shang-Chi is the odd one out here with a majority Asian cast.

      Liked by 5 people

          • I’m confused as to whether you’ve actually seen Eternals. Phastos is not a “blink and you’ll miss it cameo”, and his relationship is unambiguous. Nor does the movie “focus a lot on Kit Harrington’s character”, who is entirely absent for at least 3/4 of the movie and contributes very little to its plot; maybe you’re thinking of Richard Madden? The lead is unambiguously Gemma Chan though, and I think you’re stretching really hard to be uniformly dismissive.

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      • China is a major market for movies, so this may be one of the things driving Disney to add more Asian characters.

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  3. I have mostly stayed out of this discussion, since I think that it is mostly pointless – I simply don’t think there is a dominant mode of science fiction in the modern era, and I don’t think there can be. The genre is simply too big and broad to make that possible. Even just looking at award-nominated and winning books over the last couple of years (as many in this conversation have done) has shown that this is the case.

    The only thing I think that the proponents of “squeecore” as bring the dominant mode of science fiction now have accomplished has been to show just how little of the genre they have read recently. Once again, this discussion has shown that people who have actually read the books the “squeecore” proponents have vaguely waved their hands at don’t see how the “squeecore” label could apply to most of them.

    Really, it seems that “squeecore” is being used in a way similar to the way “neoliberal” is used in practice: To mean “I don’t like this, and I’m going to label it with this buzzword even if it doesn’t make much sense”. (Note: This has nothing to do with the actual meaning of “neoliberal”, just with how it is used in practice on the internet).

    The upshot is that I don’t think benedict has said anything insightful or even very interesting. She’s just another poorly read whiner complaining about books she clearly has not read trying to pigeon-hole a genre that is too vast to pigeon-hole.

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