The Imagination Problem

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It seems fiction has, for the most part, fallen to the wayside in favour of reality TV shows, biographies, ghost-written star stories and factional retellings of stories we’ve heard a million times before. The majority of TV and many of the books in the bestseller list have a compulsive fascination with the ‘real’, attempting a simulacrum of lived truth. But the problem is, these hyped-up, often trashy, lowest-common-denominator stories sap creativity rather than encouraging it. People aren’t encouraged to question, think or imagine, but rather to accept and receive. If it’s true, you don’t have to deliberate, right? Wrong! Who said it’s true? Why is it being presented as truth? Why are you so happy to sit there and take it, and why are producers so happy to dish it out at ten-a-penny?

In response to this, however, I have seen a similar trend: a rise in speculative fiction. For a while SF/F was considered geeky and trashy. Much of it is, unfortunately, but not all of it. And it’s become popular again. Even horror is on the rise again. After the 90s when franchises like A Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween were run into the ground, we’ve seen a spate of new horror films and reworkings of classics to thrill, shock and horrify bored audiences who’ve been numbed by years of processed, production-line ‘reality’.

Now we have Harry Potter and the tricksy hobbits entertaining huge audiences. The White Witch and Aslan excite us. Audiences are crying out for imagination.

Perhaps this also explains the rise of genres like bizarro, irrealism and avant pulp. People want to throw every semblance of reality to the wind and revel in chaos and pure flights of fancy. On the surface, the realists would argue this is pure escapism. Sure, it is. But so are The X Factor and American Idol. What reality TV doesn’t do that spec fic does, is make you think differently. Even if it’s only to ponder ‘What if . . .’, it’s better than thinking ‘Can I afford to ring that premium rate telephone number again?’

Thinking outside the box is what leads to cures for cancer and HIV. It’s what led to the lightbulb, the aeroplane and the special theory of relativity. Not thinking is leading us to accept a police state, whether in the US or the UK. It’s time to think again.

So ditch the tabloid with its sensationalist ‘real’ stories, drop Heat Magazine, switch off Simon Cowell and get imagining again.

About the Author:

Shaun Duke is an aspiring writer, a reviewer, and an academic. He is currently a graduate student at the University of Florida studying science fiction, postcolonialism, posthumanism, and fantasy.

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