So a Wired post in “A Geeks Guide to the Galaxy,” I think by David Barr Kirtley, and a post on SyFy Channel’s official blog by Marc Bernadin, both quote Michael Chabon insisting that writing professors are biased against genre fiction in general and science fiction in particular.
“I had a lot of shameful, cowardly answers for that question. Like, I had been taught early on in college and graduate school that I wouldn’t be taken seriously if I wrote genre fiction, and not only would I not be taken seriously, but people just really didn’t want to read it, like, my workshop mates and my workshop leaders. I had workshop leaders who just out-and-out said, ‘Please do not turn science fiction in to this workshop.’ That was discouraging, obviously, and if I had had more courage and more integrity, I might have stood up to it more than I did, but I wanted to be read, and I wanted to receive whatever benefits there were to be received from the people I was in workshop with, and the teachers I was studying from.
Bernadin, in particular, grouses on about how this is bigotry, ending his post by saying “stupid professors.” I’m used to academic bashing. And Chabon and the bloggers and commenters would be right if the broader field of composition was discouraging genre fiction. But they’re not right; in fact they’re completely wrong. Incorporating pop culture, genre fiction, and video games are an absolute obsession in composition studies right now. Trust me; as someone who is more of a traditionalist, I and others like me actually feel a bit of pressure to introduce those things into our pedagogy. There are thousands of classes on science fiction being taught in the academy. There are dozens of journal articles on fan fiction and online fandom communities. There are conferences just on Joss Whedon and MMORPGs. This stuff has penetrated our field on the highest level. What Chabon is saying simply is not an accurate depiction of the field anymore.
I’ll leave aside the continuing issue of the strange contention that genre fiction and its fans get no respect, when they are the single most powerful force in the entertainment industry. Here’s the larger question: why did nobody perform a reality check? The Wired blog is a professional blog. The SyFy blog is a professional blog. People are getting paid for this. Why didn’t they do fifteen minutes of Googling and find out if this was still an accurate portrayal? Blogs are over a decade old now. They have saturated our media and our now among our most powerful and well-read media institutions. And yet there remains no consistent standards of evidence on blogs. I remember several years ago, reading the car blog Jalopnik. One of their writers, again a professional, said that electrical cars couldn’t be that good for the environment because the electricity has to be generated somewhere. As commenters swiftly pointed out, it’s far more efficient to generate electricity at a power plant than it is to run an internal combustion engine. But they shouldn’t have had to. Why on earth would someone getting paid to blog not do even minimal research on a contention he was making? That lack of consistent standards and failure to research is still all too present in the blogging form, and I see no evidence that it will soon improve.