So Cory Doctorow has characterized myself and some of my associates as being upset “that science fiction [has] changed to reflect the world since the 1970s.” This is of course grossly unfair, and given the number of easily debunked assertions that he makes within the same paragraph I should probably just let this go right along with all the other libel that’s being amplified by megaphone types all across media outlets of late. I mean, what’s it to me if these people want to completely burn up their credibility to the same degree that Devin Wilson did last year?
But I do take umbrage at this sort of thing. I mean… at what point did it become cool to dump on the seventies? The seventies were awesome! There was no AIDS. No political correctness. No selfies. You had Genesis, The Police, Electric Light Orchestra, Pink Floyd, ZZ Top…. That was some seriously good stuff. And really, I know hatemongers like me aren’t supposed to admit it… but the Bee Gees weren’t that bad. You could turn on The Midnight Special and see The Cars or Cheap Trick playing live. You could turn on Sesame Street and hear Stevie Wonder doing an extended vamp on “Superstition”. Musicians could still build a career based on their ability to… you know… play music… not on how they looked. (That was done by the time Mr. Doctorow would be in high school, when Millie Vanillie was lip syncing and M. C. Hammer was dancing around to recycled music.)
So the seventies had more than a few redeeming qualities. But what about the science fiction? There’s all kinds of reasons why it might have been better back then, too. For starters, there was more money in it… not least because was still legal for the cigarette industry to prop up the magazines. And I know that for myself, I gradually drifted away from science fiction novels in general over the years. I could never quite put my finger on what had gone wrong… I just tended to do more with games or maybe just pick up an occasional masterwork like The Mote in God’s Eye or something. Now that the mask has come off in other domains it’s a lot easier to see what’s going on, though.
Take for instance the Bechdel Test, which gets a strange amount of attention lately:
The Bechdel test asks if a work of fiction features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man.
Now I know that whoever came up with that (someone named Bechdel maybe?) had a point they were trying to make and all… but seriously that has to be just about the least dramatic premise for a scene that I can think of. Now I’m too much of a nice guy to poke fun at someone else’s ditty. It’s enough for me to point out that the fact that it’s just not at all a selling point for me if a film or story that passes the Bechdel test. But it’s not cool to knock it without coming up with something that’s potentially better, so here’s mine:
The Jeffro Test: The work in question must include at least one scene where one man attempts to kill or otherwise beat down another man in single combat out of a combination of rage, hatred, and envy– especially over a loss of status, position, and (usually) the favor of a mind-numbingly hot superbabe.
Okay, now we’re talking! While this is not a sufficient test to determine whether or not a film is good or not, I have to say… it certainly seems to nail down the exact point when a good film becomes awesome. Here are some examples:
This scene from Back to the Future was positively epic. I remember seeing it in theaters and people actually cheered at the end of it. Just brilliant.
Superman II had a very similar moment:
That was the low point of the film, too. But when Superman flew up and said to General Zod, “would you care to step outside?” Ah, that was positively electric!
Now… this one’s more recent… and I’m not much for Masterpiece Theater, but even that show can get me on the edge of my seat when it makes a hearty effort to meet my standards:
Lord Grantham has noticed that this guy seems a bit overeager to spend time with Lady Grantham, but when he comes home early from an event to find the bad guy from Hudson Hawk chatting her up in his own bedroom, well… it’s about to get real!
Now you might at first think that this is some kind of a dude thing and the women in these scenarios are being treated like trophies, prizes, property or whatever. This is of course completely unfair to women… who so eat up the chance to be at the center of this sort of drama that they will even engineer this sort of thing on occasion:
However it happens, it is almost invariably entertaining. This is not some sort of edifying pro-social message by any stretch… and that is just fine with me. But then… something other than politics is my priority here, isn’t it?