Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Sturgeon's Law

“I repeat Sturgeon’s Revelation, which was wrung out of me after twenty years of wearying defense of science fiction against attacks of people who used the worst examples of the field for ammunition, and whose conclusion was that ninety percent of SF is crap. Using the same standards that categorize 90% of science fiction as trash, crud, or crap, it can be argued that 90% of film, literature, consumer goods, etc. are crap. In other words, the claim (or fact) that 90% of science fiction is crap is ultimately uninformative, because science fiction conforms to the same trends of quality as all other artforms.” Theodore Sturgeon

Theodore Sturgeon was one of the prominent science fiction writers from the days when pulps ruled the reading roost. Sturgeon’s Law, later reduced to “Ninety percent of everything is crap”, can be applied to pretty much everything. If your were to replace the word science fiction with the word “romance” or “erotica”, you would embody the view point that our critics have of us who write in these genres. I’m not even sure they’d be as generous as to grant us that small ten percent of what we write as actually good. Thing is – you have to know how to read us. As Mike Kimera says what you read is not what we wrote.

My kid was watching a movie on TV called “Dragon Wars”. It was a new Korean fantasy - science fiction movie, a direct descendent of the awful and mindlessly charming horror movies cranked out by Toho Studios in war ruined Japan in the ‘50s and ‘60s. He hated “Dragon Wars”. He thought it was stupid, awful, a waste of time, an insult to his intelligence. All of which was certainly true. Yet I thought he was being unfair. It was fun. I told him “You don’t know how to watch these movies, that’s the problem.” Pauline Kael famously observed, in a variation of Sturgeon’s Law, that “Movies are so rarely great art that if we cannot appreciate great trash we have very little reason to be interested in them.” I would add to that, not only movies, but pretty much everything including stuff I write.

In modern Asian cinema a movie like “Dragon Wars” and its improbable characters are called “Daikwaiju” meaning “Giant strange animals”, like Godzilla, which is a sub-sub-genre of a sub-genre called “kwaiju”, meaning “strange animals” which is part of the genre “Tokusatsu” which is the whole world of low budget gonzo fantasy cinema involving super heroes like Power Rangers, and Pokemon as well as samurai sorcerers, kung fu zombies and all the rest. This is a distinctly over-the-top Japanese, and lately Chinese way of making movies, with a mythical pantheon of impossible, treacly cute creatures and heroes and memorable dialogue (“Let’s beat ‘em up!”) which are enough to put a westerner off his popcorn but feed an insatiable Asian appretite for fantasy the way romance novels feed that appetite in the west. Tokusatsu movies don’t just insult your intelligence – they give it a big wet kiss with tongues.

I feel a little sorry for Harold Bloom and others like him who are in the business of defining crap and steering the culturally innocent away from it. I’ve tried to read his books, god knows I’ve tried, but the truth is I’d rather being watching “Godzilla vs Mothra” with a bag of Cheetos. We do need high minded snobs, who have their place in the scheme of nature like parasites and biting flies, to occasionally teach us how to go about squeezing the juice from a classic book, but we have to avoid thinking they know what’s good for us better than we do.

In Thomas Harris’ book “Hannibal”, Hannibal the cannibal Lecter is asked sincerely by his good friend Barney, the guard in the asylum for the criminally insane “How do I develop good taste? How do I know what is good?” With an odd humanity, Lecter advises him more or less – start with what you love. Begin by having confidence in your own judgement first. Don’t let anyone tell you in the beginning what is good. Start with what you yourself believe is good, and learn from there. I like that advice so much I passed it on to my boy. Not only is this true in the world of creative work, but its true with people too.

With people and things and ideas, and finally regarding yourself - in the end you just have to love whatever there is there to love. Just as it is.

“In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations, the new needs friends.”

Aton Ego movie: “Ratatouille”

C. Sanchez-Garcia


  1. Hi, Garce,

    I think you've hit on a simple truth here. If you love something (or someone for that matter), analysis means nothing. And the ability of a movie, a book or a person to evoke your love or admiration is a priori positive and worthy, regardless of what the critics may say.

    (And how did you learn so much about the weird sub-sub-genres of Japanese cinema?)


  2. I watched probably 2000 movies while I was in high school. If I had to think of them, I could name titles, and they would be among the big blockbusters of the time, but the first image that pops into ym brain every time is those minature twin girls in the case in Rodan. It's not crap if it warps your brain or opens your eyes or shakes you out of your POV rut, or even, god forbid, you just enjoyed it. (BTW - Rodan and Mothra versus Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Mosnter From Out Space, was a fav)

  3. Hi Lisabet

    I agree that if you love something, it goes beyond analysis. but it works the other way too. After seeing the movie "Nine" I read the Roger Ebert review and found it was a remake of Federico Fellini's "8 1/2". (DeEtta was a big Fellini fan, back in the day.) So I watched the Fellini movie and most of it went over my head, except the famous "harem" scene which as you can imagine i can relate to. But I know I'll probably want to read what the critics say about it and then go back someday and see if it makes more sense. I need somebody to explain it to me.


  4. Hi KAthleen

    Aren't they fun?

    I don;t think they were intended to be scary, because the Japanese can make disturbingly scary movies when they get serious. Rodan - was he the giant turtle or the dinosaur thing? I remember those two fairy girls. I saw that movie on TV whem I was a teenager and thought "WTF?? What's with these weird girls?" They had some kind of magical symbiotic connection I think to rodan, kept each other alive or something. It was so totally different from any western notion of a monster movie.



Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.