Academic journal article Science Fiction Film and Television

‘They Brought It on Themselves!’: Adapting and Reflecting Cultural Fears, from the Shop to Rossum

Academic journal article Science Fiction Film and Television

‘They Brought It on Themselves!’: Adapting and Reflecting Cultural Fears, from the Shop to Rossum

Article excerpt

Dominic: The technology needs to be reined in and controlled.

DeWitt: By a clandestine organisation with little government oversight?

Dominic: It's embarrassing how naive you are. 'A Spy in the House of Love', Dollhouse (10 Apr 2009)

Max Factor had little to teach the US government about good cosmetics.

(King Firestarter 208)

Stephen King opens his conversational analysis of the horror genre, Danse Macabre (1991), with an anecdote about the launch of Sputnik in October 1957. The announcement of the launch interrupted his viewing of Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (Sears US 1956), and King pinpoints that moment as the 'instant when I began to sense a useful connection between the world of fantasy and that of what My Weekly Reader used to call Current Events' (29) - that is, the way in which the social, political and economic milieu affect and inflect upon the world of the story. For King, that particular Cold War moment, when the Russians beat the US into space, dumped the baby boomers out of the 'cradle of elementary political theory and technological dreamwork' - i.e., that the United States was the great and dominant world power - and into 'the beginning of the nightmare' (25) that would result in Vietnam, nuclear proliferation and the numerous excesses of Cold War politics. The fact that King chooses this particular moment as one of resonance for him is shored up by the ways in which the socio-politics of his time find their way into much of his fiction.

King has asserted, both non-fictionally and fictionally, that politics, or other message-type proselytising, should never be the driving force of fiction. In a 1986 article for The Writer, King claimed: 'You want to get up on a soapbox and preach? Fine. Get one and try your local park' ('Everything' 19). In a similar vein, Joss Whedon claimed that he would never write a 'very special episode' of his debut series Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Rochlin 19) - that is, a didactic, lessonteaching episode of the sort popularised by numerous dramas and sitcoms in the 1980s and 1990s, that dealt with social problems such as drinking, drug use and sexual assault. As Rhonda Wilcox asserts, 'Whedon expected more mental action from his audience' (Why Buffy Matters 18). Thus, for both King and Whedon, any 'message' should be subordinate to both character and plot. King underscores his apparent belief in the proper place of politics in fiction through the character of novelist Bill Denbrough in IT (1986). In an extended recollection, Denbrough reflects on the single creative writing class he took in college, and subsequently dropped after receiving his first publication. While his fellow students debate whether Joyce Carol Oates is 'radioactive in a literary sense' (119) and write abstract, sociopolitical think pieces masked as fiction, Denbrough responds with what could be read as a thesis statement for King's views on fiction's purpose: 'Why does a story have to be socio-anything? Politics ... culture ... history ... aren't those natural ingredients in any story, if told well?' (120; ellipses in original).1 In On Writing, King says, 'I think the best stories always end up being about the people rather than the event' (190). This does not mean that either King's or Whedon's work is deliberately apolitical or empty. King writes that part of his revision process is striving for 'resonance ... without spoon-feeding the reader or selling my birthright for a plot of message' (On 214). Whedon, in the commentary for the Buffy episode 'Innocence' (20 Jan 1998), says that two of the most important elements for a successful episode arc are 'emotional resonance, and rocket launchers'.

Resonance, emotional truth and interaction with the sociocultural environment in which their works are created are not the only elements that King and Whedon share. In this article I will argue that both King and Whedon reflect the particular cultural fears of their respective eras - of government malfeasance (Firestarter (1980)) and corporate malfeasance (Dollhouse (US 2009-10). …

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