It’s one of life’s little mysteries to me – why do so many literary and movie plotlines, of certain genres, fall into such predictable tried and tested scenarios? Perhaps it’s the nature of the subject matter – there are, no doubt, certain moneyspinning formulae that are guaranteed not only to appeal, but provide a fairly rich vein of source material – even so, i can’t help wondering if some of the less extreme, yet equally likely story lines, might spawn some unexpected results.
Why is it, for example, that all-powerful super-computers always have a shocking secret to hide?; Why do the bad guys always have superior firepower, sophisticated plans and greater numbers, yet inevitably get beaten by a rag-tag bunch of misfits and amateurs?; How come the future is always a post-apocalyptic war zone, concrete dystopia presided over by an iron-fist government, or a place where humanity has become enslaved to robots/aliens/monkeys?; And why, oh why, are meteors, comets, aliens, computer programs, insects and natural occurences never, ever benign?
Just for once, it might be fun if the giant meteor completely failed to hit the earth, the aliens turned out to be friendly guys with an interest in art and sixties music, and the future was a place where we all lived in country cottages, with chickens pecking corn in the back garden, rather than hi-rise blocks covered in neon advertising. How about a movie where the good guys have the odds stacked in their favour, or why not let the baddies win for a change? And what about super-computers whose only hidden agenda was to spam the world with emails from Nigerian business men?
Why do i get the feeling you’re laughing at me?
To tell the truth, i’ve nothing against the well-worn, formulaic old standbys – take one of my personal favourites, Bladerunner – it has it all: bad boy androids, dystopian cities, evil corporations, freaky scientists, forbidden romance, eye-gouging, dancing girls with snakes, Daryl Hannah’s thighs and Vangelis. Even if you never seen the film, and have never read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, you can probably work out the plot based on that information alone. More than that, what it has in abundance is that quintessential atmosphere – tension, suspense and foreboding: the signature elements that go towards making a true page-turner or blockbuster.
Perhaps that’s exactly the point – when we’re looking for escapism, even the familiar and formulaic are far more appealing than the commonsense and down to earth. After all, if our retreats from the real world were as mundane, limited and factual as the lives we’re trying to escape – albeit, only briefly – then why bother escaping at all? i don’t imagine for one minute that sl would capture our imaginations half as well as it does if we couldn’t fly, had to queue for buses to get around and were forced to wait for the shops to open, before trudging wearily around them trying on item, after item, in cramped changing rooms (3 items or fewer, dammit! Not less!) – much as we might like to profess that sl mirrors the real world, that’s the one thing it certainly does not do. We don’t flee to sl for the prosaic and everyday, we escape there for the fantastic, the edgy and for the atmosphere.
We don’t have to stick to the storyline either – we can make our own, incorporating our own individualist elements and idiosyncrasies to make our version of sl just that little bit different from the experience of everybody else. We may work 9 to 5 shuffling paper in the real world – that’s a story we have little influence over – but, in sl, we can be producer, director and leading actor in a story that we’ve written ourselves: whether it’s seedy street hooker in a back alley bar, or talking dog strutting their stuff on the dancefloor… we make the rules, and the chances are they’ll be nothing like the ones we have to follow in rl. The quite remarkable thing is that sl is incredibly tolerant and flexible when it comes to absorbing our own particular screenplay – Goreans, furries, roleplayers, shopaholics, fashionistas, vampires, or plain old everyday person in the street, sl mixes it up in an eclectic melting pot that is both surreal, yet strangely acceptable, all at the same time.
Perhaps that’s what escapism really is, and all those other everyday, run-of-the-mill things belong elsewhere – securely back in the real world where we’ve left them. Only by doing that, i suppose, are we able to experience worlds where we can truly say, “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe…”
The beams become my dream
My dream is on the screen
Blondie – Fade Away And Radiate