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bear by san

March 2017

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sf doctor dance

the schooner ship is sliding across the kitchen sink

...I'm working on my essay for a book on women in Doctor Who fandom, which necessitates discussing the difference between noir and clair sensibilities in fiction, and I just had a cross-fandom realization.

SSA Aaron Hotchner is a classic noir hero. He is the lone* ethical man, moving through a debased, indifferent, and sometimes actively malevolent world without moral compass, winning qualified and sometimes pyrrhic victories in the face of overwhelming odds.

Or as I keep saying, in Criminal Minds, prayers are answered. And you usually wish they hadn't been.

*except, this being CM, he's not alone. Bors has other knights to help out around the house.



Which now has me thinking about the classic debate about the perceived clash of sensibilities in science fiction versus fantasy, where fantasy is often portrayed by its critics are presenting a world that is more just and less arbitrary than reality, whereas science fiction is portrayed as being more ruthless and relentless in its portrayal of reality*. (I disagree with these assessments as generalities, though I cannot deny that in specific cases they are often correct.)

*with the implied or express value judgment that this is a better/more correct viewpoint, because Real Art Is Serious.

And now I'm thinking about Doctor Who (clair) and Sapphire & Steel (noir), and why (a) remains so insanely much more popular than (b). Because, well, after a while, (b) gets hard to take. 'Cause let's face it, killer feather pillows aren't any dumber than killer cannister vacs that can't climb stairs.

Comments

It's all fluffy wish-fulfillment, you know.

*g*

(And you're right about the trappings. They're totally changed--because Hotch's morality does not admit of any of those things as ethical behavior. On the other hand, it becomes more and more plain that in his world, rules are for people who don't have ethics.)

Edited at 2009-03-25 02:49 pm (UTC)
where fantasy is often portrayed by its critics are presenting a world that is more just and less arbitrary than reality

I don't agree with that either. A lot of fantasy worlds have feudal systems or monarchies, and if portrayed seriously those systems are not just at all. Not to mention magocracies like in Jordan's Wheel of Time.
But, how often are they portrayed seriously? Fantasies with idealized, benevolent feudal or monarchical systems outnumber realistic historical portrayals. (If there's an evil king-oid but the Force of the Plot lends itself towards getting rid of him, that's idealistic.)

However, when I say that fantasy generally portrays a more moral reality than ours (not always, but this is a category marker) -- and I do say that -- I don't mean it's *better*. I mean that in those universes, laws of physics have moral weight; good is *objectively* different from evil. They're not just in people's heads. This ranges from individual honesty (spells that detect or require truth), through justification or disjustification of causes (only dark Jedi zotz lightning from their fingers) up to immanent deities of good and evil. (And the evil ones have nasty hissing voices and they smell bad.)

Lots of fantasy works against this generality, but it has to *work* against it. The book has to show the bad guys being justified on their own terms, or have the good guys explain why they're zotzing lightning or raising zombies; otherwise the reader will be off-balance.

PS: I really have to watch Sapphire&Steel at some point.
I consulted the almight Wiki and read the entrails on Google, but couldn't seem to find an entry defining "clair" as a style. I wouldn't think of asking for a lecture, but would you happen to have a link of some sort explaining/defining it?
It's basically the antithesis of noir.

In a noir universe, a moral hero struggles against the vast indifference of a corrupt and defiled universe, and the best he can hope for is to hold entropy back a bit, knowing it will eventually roll over what he's done--if he even accomplishes that much.

In a clair universe, there is justice, and it can be served. The good guys have the power to win, and when they win it makes the world a better place, even if only marginally.
the difference between noir and clair sensibilities in fiction,

I feel like a rank noob walking into Freshman Criticism 101, but I haven't heard of clair. I've been trying to catch up on film noir for years, so it seems like I would have encountered this. The Mighty Google produces Pinot Noir from St. Clair, but significantly less clarity all the way 'round.

Please: Is there a reference or essay you could point me towards?
truepenny, fantasy writer and literary critic extraordinaire, invented the term. *g*
I really want to read this essay.

Did you know that Sapphire & Steel originated as a pitch for a children's show? I love British television. :)
*g* Well, I have a draft 2/3rds done. I need a transition now, and a closing argument. La.

And yeah. It didn't wind up much of a kid's show....
*ponders* While I think you're right that Hotch is a bit of a noir hero (as is Morgan, as Garcia kindly points out in True Night), what makes that interesting is the universe isn't really a noir universe. The system is not invariably corrupt, the world is not unrelentingly bleak, there is, as you say, someone else to get your back. (Or as Rossi said last week, it's a job, and if you stop doing it someone else will.) But while it'd be possible to write a really, really bleak "noir-hero-in-non-noir-universe" (which is kind of what Watchmen is?), with Criminal Minds you have the opposite, a non-noir universe in which the noir heroes conform to the non-noir standards.

Classic noir heroes are acting in the service of an ideal, justice, which is impossible to achieve in the system. And I suppose that's what they're doing on CM, too, except that Hotch in particular, does think that justice is achievable through the system, and moreover, that the proper application of law is the only way to do it. Not because the law is perfect, but because it's better than all the other options.

It's a complicated little universe they've got going on over there.
The thing is, it's got some serious noir elements--the system is not entirely corrupt, but the universe itself is indifferent, when it's not actively malicious. I think the main departure from a real noir sensibility is that there are an awful lot of decent human beings in the CM universe. They're not the default, by any means, but people *do* step up out of their denial and what would be easiest to do what's right.

And when they *don't*, somebody is there to remind them that they could have done better.

Oh, that's it. It's a noir universe, but the characters do not relate to it in a nihilistic fashion, so the noir universe becomes the antagonist rather than an unquestioned geological feature, like a mountain or something you have to walk around.
Which now has me thinking about the classic debate about the perceived clash of sensibilities in science fiction versus fantasy, where fantasy is often portrayed by its critics are presenting a world that is more just and less arbitrary than reality, whereas science fiction is portrayed as being more ruthless and relentless in its portrayal of reality*.

I don't agree with the above statements either. They're just not true, or too much of an oversimplification of both genres.

I haven't seen Sapphire & Steel, but i think the New Doctor Who (and the old one too, but i haven't seen that one either) is so very popular because of the positive message it always ends with. The "anybody can do this, anybody can be extraordinary, you can do anything" message. Also, being contemporary and most of the episodes taking place in familiar places (like London) it's just more relatable than most science fiction. It's easy to watch an episode and not look at the underlying dark themes and morality issues, so everybody likes it.

Also, David Tennant helps.
Can't comment on CM, having never watched an episode, but comparing Sapphire and Steel and Who in terms of popularity is, well, a little extreme. It isn't just the fact that S+S is dark, it's more the fact that it was so insanely enigmatic that (a) made it so interesting and (b) meant that it was only ever going to have a limited lifespan (there's only so many stories you can do when you really don't know a damn thing about your main characters). I wouldn't say S+S is 'noir'ish – (if I'm interpreting that right) or if it is, it's as bleak as noir possibly gets. One of the things I've always liked about S+S is the fact that it's almost Lovecraftian in the way it presents the universe beyond our everyday existance as an absolutely terrifying place that normal people can barely comprehend, and which will (more often than not) chew up and spit out anyone who's foolish or unfortunate enough to 'stray from the path'.

Whereas Who has, almost always, been about a sense of wonder and the idea that the Universe is a wonderful place to be - and has only ever really gone wrong when it's wandered away from that idea (there are plenty of miserabilist stories in the Eighties that get it very, very wrong). New Who is definitely in the 'Yay! Universe!' category - RTD may have stretched it a little at times (most notably in 'Midnight'), but he's never strayed that far from the positive path.
Definitely like this idea about Hotch, by the way, which I meant to say earlier and forgot.

fantasy is often portrayed by its critics are presenting a world that is more just and less arbitrary than reality, whereas science fiction is portrayed as being more ruthless and relentless in its portrayal of reality*.

Yes, I keep seeing critics saying things like this, even when however-many decades of evidence stands against it--and then stumbling over their feet while spluttering in confusion when presented with things like Ash and the recent finale of Battlestar Galactica. I can agree to a point with fantasy presenting a less arbitrary world than reality, often because fantasy worlds are more stylised and the ethical schemata are more apparent, not to mention being involved in the narrative in ways they sometimes aren't in science fiction. But 'more just' is a problem. Frequently fantasy worlds aren't - not intrinsically, at any rate. The characters have to make them that way.
*issues a quiet prayer that "Costuming: More Creative Than Drugs But Just As Expensive" does *not* follow your bit.*

:-D