Thursday, October 01, 2009

View From the Phlipside - Science Fiction

These are the scripts from my weekly media commentary program on WRFA-LP Jamestown

My name is Jay Phillippi and I've spent my life in and around the media. TV, Radio, the movies and more. I love 'em and I hate em' and I always have an opinion. Call this the view from the Phlipside

For most of my life I have been a member of an oppressed and even reviled group of people in our society. Folks looked down their noses at us, we were ostracized and told that we weren't welcome in decent society.

We are science fiction fans.

Science Fiction, also called Sci Fi though there are some in the clan who dislike that term, has never quite been allowed into the nicer parts of our culture. It was for people with too much imagination and not nearly enough sense. It didn't matter that we produced some great story tellers who were also great writers, science fiction simply wasn't something that nice people dabbled in.

Then came the 1970's and '80's. Star Wars and Star Trek (the movies) and Stargate. A whole bunch of movies and even TV shows started to make the move into the mainstream. Real people started showing up and getting excited about our beloved genre. It looked like we would finally be allowed to culturally sit at the big folks table.

Well it appears as if our dreams are going to be shattered. The golden age of mainstream science fiction appears to be dead. Bookstores are reducing their shelf space down to the same level as westerns. Sword and sorcery stuff and, of course, teenage vampire stories are shoving us out. But the greatest insult may be on TV. SciFi channel is now SyFy channel. S-C-I-F-I is now S-Y-F-Y channel. The better to program more haunted house shows and, oh yes, professional wrestling. It makes me want to weep.

The logic behind the change is expressed this way by Sci Fi president, Dave Howe, “The Sci Fi name is limiting. If you ask people their default perceptions of Sci Fi, they list space, aliens and the future. That didn’t capture the full landscape of fantasy entertainment: the paranormal, the supernatural, action and adventure, superheroes.” My question is that if that's where you want to head as a network then why keep the whole sound of SciFi? The answer to that is probably really simple. They can trade mark the SYFY version which has business advantages. Being able to then ride off in any direction they choose is just a side benefit.

The curious thing is that while all this is going on science fiction, good old fashioned aliens and space and the future is doing quite well at the movies. This past summer was a great time for sci-fi at the movies with Star Trek, District 9 and Surrogates. Let's hope that all that other stuff is merely a small set back.

Call that the view from the Phlipside


Dan Swackhammer said...

Can't agree more.. the SyFy name is just a mee-too action, TLC and all the others are going for brand, and that Brand has to be an acronym that means nothing. Just like Blackwater changing their name to Ze or Xe, or whatever..

Ian Eastman said...

Forry Ackerman of Famous Monsters magazine coined Sci-Fi in the 50s when "Hi-Fi" records were the hot new thing.