Where’s the Family-Friendly Sci-Fi?
[Psst. Welcome Clayton Cramer readers, where he gives a bit more insight into why Hollywood does what they do.
And welcome to any folks coming from Usenet, where someone copied this. FYI, I don’t mind this sort of copying as long as the link is provided, which it was in this case. Some discussion over there on this, and some…shall we say, tangents. But that’s what Usenet does best. >grin<]
Last TV season, I thought my kids would like to get into a show that was rather science fiction in nature called “Surface”. I’m a big sci-fi fan (mostly TV, don’t read it much) and my kids have shown an interest in it (my sister introduced them to her Star Wars videos), and it’s rubbed off a bit onto the kiddos. “Surface” looked like an interesting story, so we started watching it. (Unfortunately, it didn’t last past the first season.)
Well, actually, how it happened was that I started taping and watching it myself, and after a couple of episodes thought it would be OK for the kids…except for the occasional thing here and there. And that annoyed me a bit. There would be occasional questions to one of the main characters, Miles, from his father and his friend from the marina about whether or not he was surfing the Internet for porn on the occasions they walked into his room while he was doing some research. That may be happening on home computers in a lot of homes in America, but must it be brought up in a TV show going into homes where that curiosity and potential addiction hasn’t been started? Even in homes where it may be starting, the references were light-hearted, in almost a “no big deal” way, which would give the impression to a kid that everyone’s doing it so how bad can it be.
Later on, Miles is urged by his neighborhood friend to fondle a bikini-clad girl who was giving him a kiss. In one scene, Dr. Laura Daughtery, needing to swim out in cold ocean waters to a nearby boat, stripped off all her clothes, leaving only underwear, oiled up (to stave off the cold) and dove in. Sure this might have been a bit of realism, but in a show about sea monsters and other genetically manipulated animals, quite a number of other bits of accuracy were certainly sacrificed for the sake of the story. Missing this one wouldn’t have made one bit of difference to the story.
Yeah, I’m going to sound like a prude. Whatever. My point is that with just a few quick edits, I wouldn’t have to man the VCR remote and skip past these things, and my kids could enjoy some grownup, intelligent sci-fi stories and not have to get indoctrinated into the cultural “norms” that have brought on so many problems in society. (Quite the multiple personality syndrome, eh? Society is shocked–SHOCKED–at the number of teen pregnancies and the rising number of porn addictions, and then turns a blind, or approving, eye to neutral or approving references to the same things.) Sure there’s kid-oriented sci-fi, but most of it’s pathetic. (Don’t get me started on “Phil of the Future”, which is simply another cookie-cutter high school sitcom with gadgets, where bad attitudes and actions aren’t changed and where sexual innuendo is almost as prevalent. Thanks, Disney.)
I thought the new show “Heroes” would be a possibility, but with one main character who’s runs her own Internet porn cam site, a hero who only has his powers when he’s strung out on drugs, and some pretty gory scenes, there’s no way a simple use of the fast forward button is going to make this one suitable. That’s too bad, because the story line looks to be very interesting.
Family-friendly sci-fi, or just about any genre, can be made without this, and without distracting from a good story. It doesn’t have to be shown on Nick or the Cartoon Network to be family-friendly. As a good example, I’ll point to the revival of the long-running British series “Doctor Who”, running on the Sci-Fi channel. But for a couple of insinuations about a possible sexual relationship between The Doctor and Rose Tyler (which they denied), innuendo has been refreshingly absent. There have been issues regarding the feelings each has for the other, and especially when a previous travelling companion of The Doctor made an appearance, but this has been treated as a question of love, and treated very well. These relationships are complex and they haven’t been dumbed down. Yeah, there’s a lot of silly gadgets and rubber aliens, but it’s fun without being cartoonish with the characters. So this, as well as the major part of “Surface”, proves to me that it can be done, it just isn’t being done enough.
And no, it’s not a case of giving the people what they want. One example of this fallacy is that movies rated G and PG and that present “strong moral content” consistently perform better at the box office than their negative counterpart. (See here and here and here for just some examples of this.) It’s not that Hollywood is producing what the people want, reflecting the people’s values. It’s that they are reflecting Hollywood’s values.
Another example of this was an interview I heard with Don S. Davis, a versatile character actor, who was discussing the series “Stargate SG-1”, in which he played General Hammond. (Sorry, don’t have a link to the podcast where I heard this.) The series was initially on Showtime before it moved to Sci-Fi, and while on Showtime it had a single short nude scene in the 2-hour series premier. When asked about this, Davis said that once the Showtime execs agreed that the writing for the show was indeed good, they decided they didn’t need to add nude scenes anymore. This speaks volumes for the writing talent in Hollywood when you realize how much gratuitous sex is used. It also says that given excellent writing, a show can indeed be family-friendly.
It can be. It just isn’t. Instead, Hollywood is getting lazier and lazier, thinking that a little titillation will make up for bad writing, or is required for good writing. So where’s all the family-friendly sci-fi? Check your plumbing. Most of it is going down the toilet. Bummer.
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