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AFTER THE GOLDEN AGE for 06/12/2000
June 12, 2000
Nothing is quite clear to me anymore. And that's wonderful. Uncertainty does indeed appear to be one of the blessings of old age. Perhaps I owe something also to the times we live in- where all our previous certainties are disappearing into such variegated shifts of meaning and value that we have to reshuffle all our tidy ideas into something vastly richer and more encompassing.
And where did it all start? Would you be surprised if I said sex?
It shouldn't surprise you. The daily press is full of it. The scientific and medical reports are staggering in their implications. And mostly, the ones who are wildly resisting and yelling "degeneracy" and "sin" are the ones who started it all- the fundamentalists who read so literally that Eve was born of Adam and that forever the sexes are fixed in their x or y chromosome rigidity, and are meant to stay that way so that mankind can be fruitful and multiply, never mind how that might result in upsetting the entire balance of nature.
As gays all over start to come out of the closet, the fundamentalists are countering with movements to convince them of their sinfulness, while in their great mercy they are setting up clinics to help psychologize the sexually deluded out of their psychoses and behave as those x and y chromosomes provided by the Almighty were meant to make them behave.
Poor confused things. They're always a few decades behind the times. When the human genome was simpler, and they heard that x made boys and y made girls, they grabbed onto it as proof that men were made for women and women for men, after all. But now, as the medical evidence mounts staggeringly against this simple comfortable idea, they're in total confusion.
What medical evidence? Why the fact that you can't really tell a boy from a girl just from the outside. Almost all of us are born with some elements of the opposite sex in our makeup. Some boys have small ineffectual sex organs, or even none at all. Some girls have clitorises as large as the male organ, and very little of the accompanying female organ. For a while, doctors have tried to correct these anomalies, these boys who seem more girl than they're supposed to be, and girls who seem more boy than they're supposed to be. Medicine used to resort to surgery to make a girl or a boy more effectively what they appeared to be on the outside. But gradually, they're beginning to discover that these surgical changes don't change the temperaments that also come with these anomalies, so that we continue to have girlish boys and boyish girls, and a whole range betwixt and between. And since nearly all of us are somewhat mixed up in this fashion, although to somewhat lesser degree, such as boys with small breasts and girls with hair on their chests and-- well, you know- the real story is that more boys and girls, with their mixed sexuality are starting to love both boys and girls. And with the emancipation of women from the pressures of pregnancy to the dependence on the male for support there are more straightforward AC-DC relationships than ever before. While all about, the traditionalists and the fundamentalists see the world crumbling in wave after wave of degeneracy. Dear, oh dear what confusion and foolishness.
What does it all mean? Where will it lead? Licence? Debauchery? I hardly think so.
We're all so unique and different in the real selves that were given us, that not one of us is purely male or purely female, but different mixes of each, and this makes for wonderful variation and wonderful surprise as we set about seeking a mate or, in some cases, depending on the chromosomal distribution, the mates with whom we might be most congenial, that the resulting combinations border on the miraculous. And since we live so much longer, we can spin out our needs longer by engaging in serial polygamy. Which is in fact what we do today. An early marriage, then a later and better one. Or maybe a series of unsatisfactory tries.
But first let me tell you what got me started on this touchy little subject. I received a note from Justin on my Round Table. He asked me which kinds of stories I preferred to write-or, in his words, he simply wanted to know -" what are your favorite kind of stories to tell? Comedy? Thriller? Action? Mystery? Futuristic? Biographical? Others? None? Combination of some?"
He might just as well have asked me- what kinds of women, (or even men) I prefer. The question implied that there are clearcut categories into which art or literature or sexual preference are expected to fall. I tried to explain in a preliminary answer that I don't have any interest in so-called genre stories. To amplify that here, the genre question to me is a little like determining in advance the fact that boys must be boys and girls must be girls. A detective story is a detective story; a romance is a romance, etc.
Now the indications are that these genre categories are very popular. The more formulaic, the more popular. 75% of most books sold are romance novels. So that's what the market demands and that's what publishers produce. But-wait. Let's look at this another way. Almost 95% of the world's cola drinks are either Pepsi or Coke. Are there other colas out there? Thousands. Are they as good as Pepsi or Coke? Many of them are better. Just as a statistical fact, out of thousands, there are bound to be some better ones. But they're not available, so you really can't buy them. People buy what they've heard about-what's advertised.
Let's look at it another way. Romance novels outsell Nobel winning novels by the carload. But over the long term, the romance novels disappear like spring flowers while mostly the Nobels have a longer life span, and far outsell individual romance novels. (This, without denying that some Nobels have also been dogs). So before I get any more complicated about all this, let's just say that genre novels are not necessarily better or more interesting because they sell more. Because, in the long run, they don't sell more. But in the short term, they serve the publishers far more than the reading public.
In the end, the best books are not bound by artificial and mechanical genre strictures. They pick up and use bits of everything. A great novel can combine romance, comedy, mystery and a number of uncategorizable things between its covers. Now this has also been true for me when I wrote comics. As I said in the Round Table, I tried to write, or let's say rather I wound up writing unSupermanlike or unBatmanlike stories. That is, I didn't copy myself to produce and fit into a certain pattern. I kept the outlines of the character but tried to expand and enrich it. I used comedy in a crime story. I used crime in comic stories. I gave as much detail and characterization as possible to my villains. Some of them were straight comic types, like Ogies. Some villains weren't villains at all, like Professor Duste, the rigid physicist of the cyclotron story. Some stories were simply formula events to express a broader picture of a place, a milieu, a world, such as the Greenwich Village of the forties I revealed in my story about the Russian character who ran a fast food place and played the mandolin-The Chef of Bohemia. I used detective story elements to further not so much the plot as to reveal the character and the milieu.
And mostly this approach worked. It produced some pretty good stories even though, to get there, I had to change my superheroes a little, like having Superman fly instead of leap. By gradually expanding his xray vision into heat vision. By having him look foolish at times, but never a fool. In short by not insisting that black is black and white is white, or boys must be boys and girls must be girls. So really, the secret of good writing is to break through the fixed usages, the hard categories, those opposites we create for ourselves to make the world look simpler. In the end, the simplifications only lead to a loss of quality, a lowering of taste, and even a great deal of confusion and bitterness. So what am I really saying here?
There are no clear opposites. There are variations of everything. As in the Chinese Yin Yang symbol, the big dark side contains a smaller white side. The big white side contains a smaller dark side. The best literary or comics villains are never just all bad. Only in part. Or, as I've quoted here before from that great philosopher Hegel, "There is no absolute negative, only the negative of a particular positive."
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