I just read an article at File 770 called Waukegan Public Library Unveils Ray Bradbury Statue (click the link and read, the story’s pretty short). Waukegan was Bradbury’s hometown and I’m thrilled to see that he is being honored. He is a truly timeless writer, and I can prove it, since my 33-year-old son Michael just read Something Wicked This Way Comes.
Over a year ago, I wrote my own wee Bradbury essay titled Should We Burn Ray Bradbury’s Books?. I crafted my missive in response to Katie Naum’s essay at Electric Lit called The New ‘Fahrenheit 451’ Movie Fails to Reckon with Bradbury’s Racism.
I seriously doubt he was a racist, at least in the dictionary definition sense, but assuming Bradbury had character flaws and perhaps some dated beliefs given that he was born in 1920, that doesn’t change his influence on the field of science fiction, nor make him unworthy of being honored.
Of course, we’ve seen this sort of thing before.
Just a few days ago I wrote my own commentary on fantasy author Jeannette Ng’s severe criticism of the late editor John W. Campbell, including calling him a fascist, as she was receiving the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. In the self same essay, I pointed out that Hugo Gernsback, for whom the famed Hugo Award is named, was hardly an upstanding and honest citizen.
Scratch the surface of just about anybody and you’ll probably find out that they have an opinion or two you don’t agree with. Go figure.
Speaking of which, on the aforementioned File 770, I read The Mandalorian — Official Trailer, which depicts a soon to be released “Star Wars” television show featuring “The Fett” on Disney+. I made the mistake of lamenting how well-established franchises, such as “Star Wars” and “Star Trek” are being so severely reimaged for 21st century progressive social and political viewpoints, that they’ve lost their original vision and magic.
I should have known better, although the person who took me to task was very nice about it. I let the person have the last word because he/she (name’s “JJ” which isn’t terribly revealing) didn’t seem to want to take “your mileage may vary” lying down. Oh well.
My point is that people aren’t perfect, and stories aren’t perfect. On the one hand we all like our sacred cows, such as Ray Bradbury, Star Trek, Star Wars, and so on. When someone tries to tip one or more of those cows (look up cow tipping), we tend to get upset. I’m quite guilty of that. On the other hand, time marches on. People and art (assuming you consider Star Trek and Star Wars art) are products of their eras.
The Star Trek television series of the 1960s, although innovative for its time, feels very dated now, and I don’t mean the special effects. Kirk’s relationship with human and alien women has earned him the nickname “Captain Pig” between my 10-year-old grandson and I. Some of the episodes have been labeled racist (which just about everything is these days). Yet Star Trek really couldn’t have been anything different when released in 1966, and certainly would never have seen the light of day if Roddenberry had somehow managed to predict social justice and political correctness as we understand the concepts in 2019.
Like it or not, what was created in the past reflects the past. People born nearly a century ago probably had a different outlook on a lot of things than people born more recently (this isn’t absolutely true, but in general I think the statement holds).
For me, what passes for Star Trek and Star Wars these days just doesn’t cut it, although I’m certain they reflect the modern era. I’ve tried to like the newer productions, but frankly, they leave me cold. The original vision has been lost. This doesn’t mean that new stories can’t be written and new series based on older concepts can’t be great. Star Trek managed to retain Roddenberry’s original “feel” through “Star Trek: Voyager” and possibly into the disappointing “Star Trek: Enterprise.” It kept its “Star-Trekness” if you will. The more modern incarnations of both franchises, not so much.
That said, people can like the newer versions, and especially for young people, that will be their Star Trek and Star Wars. So be it.
Ray Bradbury might have held a few “difficult” viewpoints back in the day, but that doesn’t “undo” what he did for science fiction. I love John Hogan’s novel Inherit the Stars but some of his opinions drive me nuts. That doesn’t mean he’s a bad writer.
We take the good and bad together because people, television, films, and novels are rarely all one or the other. We can also choose to say, “I won’t patronize a film, show, writer” because of X, Y, or Z. Doesn’t mean everyone will agree with you, and it’s arrogant to believe that everyone must.
I love the satire site “The Babylon Bee.” Today, I read and disseminated by social media something called Opinion: When The Founders Wrote The First Amendment, They Never Imagined There Would One Day Be Things I’d Disagree With. It’s funny because there’s so much truth crammed into it.