Should Science Fiction Be Dumbed-Down For The Masses These Days?

Discussion in 'Science Fiction' started by Modern Day Myth, Oct 12, 2012.

  1. Modern Day Myth

    Modern Day Myth Registered User

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    I'm hearing it more and more.

    As a science fiction fan, writer, and filmmaker, I love hardcore science fiction. But, the big business machines behind the genre are telling writers to dumb it down.

    One of the most vivid examples was when Josh Friedman, writer and executive producer of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, was told by the Fox TV Network to dumb down the show after Season One. He took this issue public on the Internet and a ComicCon. The public backed him to keep it sophisticated and not dumb it down.

    I'm bringing it up, because I use Josh as an example every time someone tells me to dumb down an AI / cyborg and human relations series I'm working on. That shows the public on a whole still appreciates a story with characters that make you think instead of watching a million explosion a minute with chop-socky action with no plot or story direction.

    On the other side of the coin, I see more and more people horrified at the re-image of Sherlock Holmes from detective to action hero.

    I am happy to see more and more people appreciate The Watchmen on DVD as a movie that makes you think.

    Long lasting classical science fiction should have a story with social value.

    Do you agree with the big business push for dumbed-down science fiction? Or, keep it traditional and keep people thinking?
     
  2. Modern Day Myth

    Modern Day Myth Registered User

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    I've seen heated debates over this. I'm hoping this is not the case here.

    But, it is something that merits discussion.
     
  3. psikeyhackr

    psikeyhackr Live Long & Suffer

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    This is not new.

    The first Star Trek pilot was accused of being "too cerebral" and the second pilot with William Shattner was made.

    Kurt Vonnegut commented on it in 1965.

    https://sites.google.com/site/zscslaughterhousefive/reading-plan/week-4-science-fiction

    psik
     
  4. Riothamus

    Riothamus Registered User

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    Dumbed down? No. Better presented and more poetically presented? Yes. The clinical nature of a large amount of science fiction while it serves it's function, people respond to emotion, and I think that emotion can be balanced with scientific analysis when put in the form of the story. It's not whether you dumb it down or not, it's about how you present it.
     
  5. owlcroft

    owlcroft Webmaster, Great SF&F

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    Objection, Your Honor!

    Counsel is leading the witness.

    Do you agree with extraordinarily leading questions? Or keep it to neutral phrasing and avoid the "When are you going to stop beating your wife?" kind of "question"?

    How about Isaac Asimov for Isaac Asimov fans and M. John Harrison for M. John Harrison fans? So people can select which suits their tastes and capabilities?

    When the topic turns to television, which is a markedly different medium than books, it's another matter, because the Mike Harrison type of work might not pull enough audience to justify the costs involved in producing it, which are rather huger than those of publishing a book. Science-fiction fans who want works like Light and Empty Space probably just need to accept that the economics of television (and movies) are not terribly likely to bring them works of that sort, and are well advised to stick to books.
     
  6. Fung Koo

    Fung Koo >:|Angry Beaver|: <

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    Well, there's two kinds of dumbing down -- one, the traditional method, is to clobber your reader with extensive exposition about the nuts and bolts of what's going on, explaining the science in the story so virtually anyone could understand it. This quality is probably amongst the most significant contributors to SF traditionally being in the literary ghetto -- that love of gee-whizz-bangery that is a hallmark of so much SF. On the other hand, it's a good way to go about keeping the high level science in hard SF. Pros and cons, cons and pros.

    Then there's the other dumbing down, where technology magically works, no explanation, a la the Star Trek technobabble so common in TNG.

    I'm in favour of including some of the first sort of dumbing -- the expository dump -- because it is a genre convention of SF. It's actually fairly important.

    The Big Bang Theory has been noticeably dumbed down as far as the science is concerned, but on the other hand it was getting a little repetitive, and it was preventing the characters from developing (after all, the show is really about how uber-intellectuals navigate "mundane" society, and how the mundane's interact with the uber-intellectuals -- the science is simply the intellectual backdrop for the characters).

    In the end, there's a question of integrity there. You have to remain, at least basically, true to the genre or it doesn't have integrity, and if it doesn't have integrity it doesn't get respect from either the mundanes or the SF nerds. But we always must remember that most SF has loosey-goosey science at best, and Hard SF is one of many minority shares within the genre. "Harding it up" has been a lament of the hard SF crowd forever, leveled against virtually all other SF subgenres. So there's an internal community issue at work, too. SF in general isn't hard enough for the Hard-ons, and Soft SF is sometimes too hard for the non-SF crowd.

    All in pursuit of the grand dream of making SF something that isn't a special interest...
     
  7. psikeyhackr

    psikeyhackr Live Long & Suffer

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    Yes, SF for books versus SF for TV and movies that can be "successful" needs to be evaluated differently.

    psik
     
  8. Chuffalump

    Chuffalump A chuffing heffalump

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    Is there any dumbing down? As Owlcroft says, I can go to the library and get out a book that fits into any part of the SF spectrum depending on my taste. I would imagine that there are naturally fewer authors writing Hard SF since, to do it well, requires a more scientific bent in the first place. My annoyance is the inclusion of romantic urban fantasy on the SFF shelves in my library. Pouring that stuff into limited storage space leads to the exclusion of the less popular literature. The blame for proliferation (if any) of 'pulp' or mass-market dumbed down literature lies solely with the readers.

    Rant! This new format isn't showing me the smiley graphics.
     
  9. Rosie Oliver

    Rosie Oliver Registered User

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    Yes, there's loads of dumbing down from the erudite cerebral topics that science fiction could cover... where are the civilised quotes from the ancient Roman and Greek civilisations? Where are the in-built logic conundrums that allow you to derive conclusions that are not written down? And where are the obscure facts that make this world so interesting? And of course where's the explanation of science and technology? It seems to be a thump, bump and love culture the publishers are creating... very Caliban-like. [Look up Shakespeare's The Tempest if you must.] definitely understood by a larger audience and therefore more likely to sell...
     
  10. Modern Day Myth

    Modern Day Myth Registered User

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    In defense of SF on TV and the movies, would a dumbed-down The Day The Earth Stood Still, Forbidden Planet, Blade Runner, Colossus Of New York, Colossus: The Forben Project, Star Trek, The Outer Limits, and The Matrix have the same staying power of classics dumbed-down?

    Personally, I think not.
     
  11. phil_geo

    phil_geo Rat Thing

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    Well, Blade Runner was dumbed down on release - they added the Harrison Ford voiceovers. And while cult fans now love the Director's Cut without the voiceovers, the question is whether the movie would have been a success without them? It's itneresting you mention The Sarah Conner Chronicles - they were intelligent and complex, but they were also cancelled after 2 seasons. Was that the reason? Maybe if they had made them more accessible with more exposition, they would have generated enough viewers to stay on the air. Personally in that case I think it was more the slow pacing and weak John Conner character turning off the die-hard fans that doomed the show, but you never know...
     
  12. Modern Day Myth

    Modern Day Myth Registered User

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    Isn't it obvious what killed The Sarah Connor Chronicle?

    Too many lead characters and the story going off in too many directions in Season 2. If they stuck to four leads in Season 2, like they did in Season 1, the show would still be on the air.

    The same problem killed Being Human in the USA. They sent the plot off in too many directions with too many characters and lost focus. The Show in the UK outlasted the USA version with less supporting characters and more focus on the three main leads.

    Narrations in Blade Runner or any other film don't dumb down the story, they enhance it with character.

    As you said, The Sarah Connor Chronicles was sophisticated. And, each episodes had lots of lead character narrations to bring us inside Sarah Connor's head.
     
    Last edited: Oct 13, 2012
  13. Steven L Jordan

    Steven L Jordan I like SF. SF is cool.

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    Does no one remember Galactica?

    Here was a series, based on a pretty dumb original series, and reimagined by delving into deep psychological and social issues. There was nothing "dumb" about it... and yet, it became one of the most popular and successful SF shows in decades.

    And speaking of the G's... Gattaca was a strong SF movie about a man who wasn't genetically "perfect," but managed through his own effort and cunning to prove he could be anyone's equal (and discovering he had allies in his effort).

    Both productions are an indication that audiences aren't getting dumb... but they are changing. They are no longer as concerned with the nuts and bolts of old SF as they are with how people are going to react and adapt to these modern changes in society and in each other... a science that's looking inward, not outward.

    There's a quote from the movie Citizen Kane, spoken by Mr. Bernstein when a reporter commented that Kane made an awful lot of money: "Well, there's no trick to making a lot of money... if all you want to do is make a lot of money." Comments about "dumbing down content for the masses" are all about responding to the base elements that draw the most people to your media productions, specifically, less cerebral content, explosions, fast cars, male models and girls in skimpy or slutty outfits, soapy exposition and histrionics. And if all you want is to attract the most people to your content... by all means, give them what they want.

    But there are plenty of examples of smart productions that still manage to tell a good and honest story, and achieve popularity and success. If that's what you want to produce... produce that, and be happy with what you produce.
     
  14. Modern Day Myth

    Modern Day Myth Registered User

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    Where is the "Like" button for this? I agree 100 percent.

    I believe that is true about Dexter too. With narrations, we get to know Dexter better. We see a serial killer as an avenging angel who goes after other serial killer. "You have to earn the right to be on my table."

    Good dialogue for his narrations builds the character and interest in the story.

    In Season One of The Sarah Connor Chronicles, there were no narrations to show us what was in the cyborg Cameron's head. Instead, we saw the world through her digital vision and text messages of what she and other cyborgs were thinking. The humans had voice over narrations. We also saw Cameron mimicking humans to learn from them. As she tells John Connor. "We are programmed to blend in."
     
  15. Jennifer P

    Jennifer P Registered User

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    My honest opinion on the matter?

    We need science fiction that is understandable by the average person AND science fiction that is cerebral and deep...we need both. However, if you're writing for network television, then you need to make something that can be related to by regular people or it just won't get good enough ratings. That's the way the world is...although it might change as broadcast television becomes more and more obsolete.

    Know your audience - is your audience people who read Analog or is it your next-door-neighbor?

    But without science fiction regular people can understand, then we lose one of its important roles - to get ordinary people to appreciate science and technology and think about the future.
     
  16. Modern Day Myth

    Modern Day Myth Registered User

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    Terminator: The Sarah Chronicles Season 1 had the best of both worlds with its focus on four main characters and an unusual family made up of teenage John Connor, his mother Sarah Connor, Cameron a cyborg made in the image of a teenage girl to pose as his sister to be his constant body guard everywhere he went, and uncle Derek Reese who will one day be a soldier in the adult John Connor's war against Skynet. So, Derek is a soldier who travelled back in time with Cameron to protect John from Skynet. The character development was great and focused on four leads. It was preachy at times with the coming of The Singularity and AI out of control. But, there was enough for everyday people to relate to with their family life they maintained to be low key to hide from Skynet.
     
  17. Chuffalump

    Chuffalump A chuffing heffalump

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    I have no idea what other erudite cerebral topics SF could cover. That's why I'm not a writer, I don't have the imagination :). But.... if you want quotes from ancient civilisations then Mil-SF is one place to look (not sure if this counts as 'civilised' :D). They are often full of quotes from Tacticus (or do I mean Tacitus? One Roman, one Greek) or Sun Tzu or Alexander the Great, not to mention Kipling and Shakespeare. I come across historical quotes in other kinds of SF but much less often. Personally I find it irritating and pretentious it this is done too often. It feels to me as if the author is either lazy or trying to beat the reader round the head with their own classical knowledge. Much like the ST:TNG episodes that used Patrick Stewart's Shakespearian credentials to fill a few minutes of screen time. Not sure exactly what you mean by 'inbuilt logic conundrums' but it strikes me that this is down to the ability of the author, not something that should be deliberately included. I've read plenty of books over my life where the author was good enough that events or descriptions or tiny asides in one part of the book mean you understand actions, motivations, cultures or events in another part of the book. Without great long paragraphs explaining exactly what's happening. I agree about the obscure facts. Can't have too many obscure facts. I've seen a fair few over the years but it always adds to the enjoyment. My favourite was in a Robert Rankin book. For the life of me I can't confirm it anywhere on the internet, but it related to some special 'pills' doled out to pilgrims visiting the Dalai Lama. Maybe it's not an obscure fact at all :(. As for explanations of science and technology, loads of it. Usually at the hard SF end of the spectrum. Greg Egan's The Clockwork Rocket is practically a science lesson in a universe with timelike dimensions instead of spacelike. I first heard about the Lorentz-Fitzgerald Contraction theory in an SF book.

    These books might be vastly outnumbered by the 'adventure stories in space' but they still exist and they are still getting published. Maybe there is no dumbing down by the publishers. Maybe there are just a lot more 'dumbed down' manuscripts being submitted and therefore a greater proportion of 'dumbed down' literature being published.

    Bloody smileys still not working on my PC! Grrrrrrrr.
     
  18. Modern Day Myth

    Modern Day Myth Registered User

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    I would like to mention there is a big difference in the realism and science fiction between the three original TV movies of The Six Million Dollar Man and the TV series made afterwards. Besides his infrared vision in his bionic eye being green instead of red, all of the action scenes and science downloads were more realistic in the movies. In the credits, a medical prosthetic manufacturer was used for the bionic limbs to add more realism too.

    The action was slowed down and made to look "artistic" (fake), like many other shows with action to please anti-violence lobbyists.

    I watched the executive producer comments on the DVD box sets of Kung Fu and The Incredible Hulk to find out about these lobbyists and the hold they have on TV networks.
     
  19. Steven L Jordan

    Steven L Jordan I like SF. SF is cool.

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    It's safe to say they don't have the hold that they used to... which is good for viewers, as it means better and more diverse characters and more compelling situations.

    There will always by TV viewers who believe "Friends" is the pinnacle of programming. Fortunately, there are a few of us who demand more from TV, and TV is rapidly learning that if we don't get the programming we want, we have plenty of alternatives. Any TV producer who assumes the only audience worth pursuing has no more than a 6th grade education is just plain... well, he has something in common with the viewers he covets.
     
  20. Modern Day Myth

    Modern Day Myth Registered User

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    I( was just thinking today that Jethro from The Beverly Hillbillies seems to be the perfect role model of who the networks want to cater to with his "sixth-grade-educated-brain."

    There is a void to be filled since Battlestar Galactica went off the air on SyFy.