I’ve since come across speculative fiction tropes and references everywhere in the general media. I’ve seen articles in the financial pages of major newspapers referring to “my precious” in relation to market motivations and “winter is coming” in terms of a slide in economic indices. Really? Is that what the power of fantasy and science fiction should be used for? To comment on the Dow Jones?
I guess we should be flattered. The Eye of Sauron is now everywhere. Speculative fiction was once seen as a ghetto – a glorious golden ghetto, but a ghetto nonetheless. A place where outcasts eeked out an existence. A dark corner for the literary impoverished, the room under the stairs for the writers and readers who couldn’t breathe in the mainstream.
That has all changed. Speculative fiction has transformed into humanity’s overarching narrative. Our genre has not just become the mainstream, it is now the prism through which the world is seen.
In a Time magazine article earlier this year, Lev Grossman wrote:
Something odd happened to popular culture somewhere around the turn of the millennium… somewhere around 2000 a shifting of the tectonic plates occurred. The great eye of Sauron swivelled, and we began to pay attention to other things. What we paid attention to was magic. … Fantasy wasn’t a fringe phenomenon anymore. It had become one of the great pillars of popular culture and, increasingly, the way we tell stories now.
Maybe we should be cheering that we’ve won, that we’ve cast our spell over the muggles and they now all see what we’ve always seen. And yet, somehow I feel if we’re not careful we’re in danger of being subsumed by corporate wraiths who want to use the magical power for their own evil ends. To make all of us do things we wouldn’t otherwise choose to do. To cast a spell to sell their products. To make us believe things that aren’t true.
Let’s be vigilant and call out when speculative fiction is being used to manipulate. The genie might be out of the bottle, but hopefully we can find the right words for the spell to shove it back.
A version of this appeared in Aurealis #86.