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Cultural Illiteracy

As a lot of folks already know, I have a genuine problem with my community and its form of illiteracy. I'm not talking about the inability to read, I'm talking about the other definition of illiteracy - the unwillingness to read despite having the ability, the type of illiteracy that means that you’re ‘unread,’ or haven’t read enough to be considered ‘literate’ by your peers.

Especially in this age we live in with countless devices that allow us to carry an entire library in our pockets, it’s not that some of us in the nerd community can't read but the refuse to do so. They would rather 'download' everything via movies or television. They can’t hold a conversation with other fans because they have no frame of reference beyond their favorite Sci-Fi franchise.

It’s what Harlan Ellison calls “cultural illiteracy.”

This issue came to a head a couple of days after enjoying the Audible version of “The Mysterious Island” by Jules Vern. I was challenged to read a Jules Verne novel for The Steampunk Journal. Read (or listen to an unabridged version via Audible) a book by Jules Verne and then hammer out a review. Which I did, and done, hence the review that’s posted on The Steampunk Journal.

Then I saw this post on social media...

For anyone to entertain for a minute that Roddenberry is "The Greatest SF Creator" means that one must ignore everything that happened before and after September 6th, 1966. Saying Gene Roddenberry is the greatest means you've never read "DUNE," any of the "Foundation" books, any of Jules Vern's books like "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea" or "Journey to the Center of the Earth.”

To believe that Roddenberry is "The Greatest" means you must ignore someone like Mary Shelly who is considered the creator of the SF genre.

Since I was on the topic of Jules Verne; To claim that Gene Roddenberry is actually "The Greatest Creator in Science Fiction," also means that you must be so ignorant that you don't even realize that the work of Jules Verne was – and still is - a huge source of inspiration to real scientists and other writers because of his vivid imagination and scientific mind that helped him predict the technology we take for granted today. (National Geographic has a great article on this that you can find here...)

Not to perseverate too much on this, but for someone to say Roddenberry is "The Greatest SF Creator" is to imply that person is clueless about all the other great SF since 1966 as well. I could post a few examples of other great SF that’s been write for novels or produced for the screen, but I don’t have to, you should know enough already.

This gets back to Harlan Ellison who wrote the script that is considered by many to be the greatest episode of episodic television of all time; “The City on The Edge of Forever…” Harlan Ellison has a series of non-fiction books about the topic of television and science fiction in the media, one of them is “Harlan Ellison Watching.” One of his biggest complaints – and one that I share – is that SF writers must dumb down their work and “talk down” to the audience because ‘the masses’ have no concept of history, literature, or mere current events outside of celebrity gossip and over-politicized news that hasn’t been so tainted with bias that it’s indistinguishable from propaganda.

What was only true about sitcoms and tv drama series has happened to SF and Fantasy, everything has been so dominated by franchises that too people have zero idea that there are other stand-alone works of science fiction. There are “Trekkies” out there who have no concept of there being SF outside of Star Trek that they have nothing new to say on the genre, and that everything must be seen through the prism of ‘that would make for a great Star Trek episode.’

I’m picking on poor Star Trek, but there are other franchises that are to blame, too. But then, Trekkies are so damn annoying… I get angry with these dorks who discount and discredit the work of anyone else besides “that guy.” These Trekkies are responsible for cultural illiteracy in SF and I’m not afraid they might be responsible for dumbing down the most intelligent genre in entertainment. Maybe I give them too much grief, or maybe they really do deserve it.

Now with streaming A\V services on more platforms I can count, there is zero excuse for Cultural Illiteracy in the SF community. None. There is no excuse for anyone to have not seen the greatest SF or fantasy movies that came before and since the Autumn of 1966. There is zero excuse for not seeing movies like “Forbidden Planet,” “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” or even “The Martian” from a mere 3 years ago as of this writing. All the great works by The Masters of SF can be “read” through Audible or via every device you have via the Kindle app. They all can and should be seen by everyone who considers themselves SF fans, or “Raypunks.”

There’s no excuse for this kind of Cultural Illiteracy. Except for being lazy. Or overwhelmed because you don’t know where to begin. That I can understand. What should SF or "Raypunks" read in their effort to come more learnered? What are the essential SF movies every fan of the genre should see? Comment below.