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David Hines [userpic]

rich fantasy lives

January 9th, 2010 (10:24 pm)
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I found this story kind of depressing: folks on AVATAR forums talking about how much they wish they could wake up on Pandora. Some of them talk about trying to dream about it, or have even more drastic thoughts. The site in question is making fun of the people, of course, but I can't laugh about it much; it's a curious aspect of modern society that so many people project upon contemporary fantasy worlds the kind of world-to-come aspirations and love and hope that people of previous centuries ascribed solely to heaven. (Or, in the case of my own folks, the World-to-Come, which I think is the nerdiest heaven ever: the Jewish World-to-Come is pretty much *exactly* like this world, except 1) all of the dead are resurrected and 2) everybody agrees that the Jews are right. YES, OUR IDEA OF HEAVEN IS A PLACE WHERE WE GET TO WIN A FRIGGING ARGUMENT.) I suspect that this is because while heaven is a place of ultimate closeness to God and all that sort of thing, contemporary fantasy worlds are simply Places Where Cool Shit Happens, which probably has more appeal for the viewer who is not particularly interested in communion with the Deity.

Wishing you could inhabit a fantasy world is a fannish staple, but I'm uncomfortable and even alarmed by the cited juxtaposition of the love of AVATAR's Pandora with vehement hatred of one's own society -- misery is hard enough to live with, but fetishized, institutionalized cultural self-hatred of this sort makes me profoundly uncomfortable. (Guys? Do you realize they don't have the frigging INTERNET on Pandora? Well, okay, they do have an equivalent, but getting to plug into it is evidently a Big Deal For Special People and you don't get to just do it any time you feel like it for hours at a time. As Popular Mechanics pointed out in their review, James Cameron would be bored out of his goddamn skull on Pandora, fer Chrissakes. It's like -- okay, this is a digression, but recently NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ran an article on the Hadza, who are hunter-gatherers in Tanzania. The NG reporter lived with the Hadza for a couple of weeks, even going on a baboon hunt. Y'know who I felt for, reading the article? One of the Hadza, a guy named Maduru. He's a misfit in a group of maybe thirty people. When they pass out the snakebite remedy, he doesn't get any, which upsets Maduru greatly, as it goddamn well should, because his community is saying that it *literally* doesn't care whether he lives or dies. Anybody who has *ever* been on the shit end of the list knows exactly how Maduru feels. I spent a good chunk of my childhood being Maduru. I know people who are Maduru to this day. Except they live in a fucking awesome society that gives them the Internet and discussion boards and World of Warcraft, so even if they wake up every day being Maduru they get a chance to escape into a place where they're not Maduru any more. Except the *real* Maduru, of course. He lives in a hunter-gatherer society, so he doesn't get to do that; he just gets to wake up and get shit on every day. This is why, when the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC article notes that the eminent Jared Diamond has called agriculture the greatest mistake in the history of humanity, my immediate and visceral response is, "FUCK JARED DIAMOND IN HIS MOTHERFUCKING EAR.")

Anyway. That all aside, it inspires me to ask: what fannish worlds have *you* wished like hell you could live in?

My guess is that for most fans of a certain age, STAR TREK is the unquestioned champion in the "I'm-closing-my-eyes-now-God-so-oh-please-let-me-wake-up-there" sweepstakes. Because it *was,* explicitly, so utopian. When I was a kid, I wished I could live in the STAR WARS universe; looking at it from the outside as a grown-up, I wouldn't live there if you paid me. The Vorkosiverse is like that for me, too. Love to read about it. Don't wanna live there.

For my part, I occasionally get a little bummed when I think about the fact that I will never ever get to have a TARDIS. I think part of this is because it solves all of my issues with moving. You can fit *all of your stuff in it.* You *never have to move again.* You can park it *anywhere, anytime.* It has *indoor plumbing.* You never have to pay rent or property taxes. If you go by the classic series, it has a food concentrate dispenser, so you don't even need to go to the store if you run out of stuff and get hungry. Seriously, if the TARDIS has an internet connection, which the modern version evidently does, I am fucking sold. I will go to the future and bring back some cures for friends with serious medical issues, and then I'll rescue H. Beam Piper, Robert E. Howard, Stan Rogers, and the Elephant Man, and then I'll go on jaunts of sightseeing that include lengthy intervals of me being parked on a beach on the Devonian because I never have to bother or be bothered by anybody ever again. That is my idea of heaven, right there.


Posted by: tried to eat the safe banana (thefourthvine)
Posted at: January 10th, 2010 03:53 am (UTC)
Batgirl in glasses

I - wow. I can't think of any fantasy world I've ever wanted to live in; they all fall into the category of "nice place to read about, but I would be fucked if I lived there." (I will admit, though, that I did occasionally fantasize about a magical future with superior medicine when my father was dying. Not really the same, though, since it wasn't any specific future.)

It's just like - I am totally narratively kinked for time travel. (True story: I made Best Beloved watch the latest version of The Time Machine in the theaters, and as we left, we both agreed it was terrible. "And I'm buying it as soon as it comes out on DVD," I added. I just cannot help myself.) But I remember being 12 and ripping through all time travel books in the library and trying to imagine an era it would be fun to visit, and realizing that for me, most eras would absolutely suck. (It did give me the solid conviction that now is the time I'd most like to live in of all the ones that have happened, though, which is a good thing to know.) I used to brace myself for time travel - I had to be ready! Because it was fun to read about, but WOW would it be hard to do it.

Same with most fantasy worlds. There's a reason we create characters in AD&D: it's because they need to be tougher and smarter and more skilled and wiser and prettier than we are.

I just suspect that the people who dream of being Somewhere Else are also firmly believing that either it will be one of those situations where just being a modern American white guy will be enough to get them the keys to the castle, or they will magically be different when they get there.

Posted by: advancedatheist (advancedatheist)
Posted at: January 10th, 2010 03:02 pm (UTC)
Turning your fantasy into reality

A few years ago the A&E cable channel ran a series on "The Unexplained." One episode dealt with "human transformations," which showed two contrasting approaches to the problem of living out your fantasy life. In one segment, a guy obsessed with Star Trek tried to live in that world by befriending other Trekkies, collecting the usual Trek-related things, going to the conventions in costume, and even remodeling his home to look like a Star Trek set.

The other segment showed Cindy Jackson, who grew up as a plain-looking Ohio farm girl and wanted to live the sort of life she imagined her Barbie doll would have. So when Cindy came of age, she moved to London (and why wouldn't Barbie live in London?), made a living as a rock musician for a few years, then when she inherited some money from her father, she started to undergo a series of cosmetic surgeries to make her look more like Barbie. She capitalized on her improved appearance by inserting herself into more fashionable circles in UK society (apparently as a courtesan), and eventually started a consulting business for other people considering cosmetic procedures:


Both Cindy and the Trekker have some emotional problems they probably could have dealt with in better ways. But I came away from the show respecting Cindy a whole hell of a lot more than the Trekker geek. She chose a feasible fantasy as the organizing principle of her life, then took practical steps towards making it as real as she could. What comparable things could the Trekker have done? We don't have a real Starfleet Academy he could have tried to enter.

Posted by: Zornhau (zornhau)
Posted at: January 11th, 2010 09:23 am (UTC)
Re: Turning your fantasy into reality

Trekker could have either joined the navy, or gone to uni to put himself on a track to join the Arctic Survey or equivalent.

Posted by: Karl Gallagher (selenite)
Posted at: January 10th, 2010 04:33 am (UTC)
worse if life is fair

Completely agreed on Jared Diamond.

Posted by: HIH Thomas,Son of Richard, KA, DMH, LMMO, CES, etc (forvrin)
Posted at: January 10th, 2010 05:08 am (UTC)

Worlds I wish for:

1) 7th Century Constantinople, with the following caveats: I am powerful enough to be stinking rich, but not powerful enough to be caught up in the politics.

2) Sigil: the Planescape city.

Posted by: gareth_wilson (gareth_wilson)
Posted at: January 10th, 2010 07:54 am (UTC)

I read that article too, and I was fascinated that the Hadza have no concept of an afterlife. Everyone the reporter asked about it said they had no idea what happens after death. I suppose it's possible that the Hadza afterlife is a secret which can't be revealed to foreigners.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: January 10th, 2010 02:30 pm (UTC)
Always-so things

They sound like the Pirahã:


Posted by: amonitrate (amonitrate)
Posted at: January 10th, 2010 04:06 pm (UTC)

I'll admit to wanting to live in Middle Earth for a portion of my middle school years. I don't think I ever really conceptualized it that way, though, concretely -- as in "wow, I'd really rather live (as me) in Middle Earth" -- it was more "I wish I was (x character)." But probably not even that articulated.

I think a lot of people go through this phase. Hopefully they grow out of it.

Posted by: peppermenthe (peppermenthe)
Posted at: January 10th, 2010 06:25 pm (UTC)

I have to admit that I'd be in the Tardis line up. As long as you weren't being chased around like the Doctor is all the time. "Travel anywhere. Lots of running."

When I was a teen, I was a Star Trek fan, but I don't know if I ever really wanted to go there. Same with the Vorkosigoverse. But I do remember having the feeling of just wanting to be ANYWHERE else in high school. Keep your head down, and use fiction as a consolation until it was over.

The key point to me is that people don't like this world and feel disconnected from the possibility of making it better.

In regards to agriculture- I'd say that the philosophies attached to agriculture (complete right of domination over everything) that have led to environmental degregation aren't great. That said, personally, I'm rather happy not to have been dead of old age by 30. I do think that, as a society, we could be handling things better. But the answer isn't a dreamtime "if only things had gone differently 30 000 years ago".

Posted by: doctor_alice (doctor_alice)
Posted at: January 11th, 2010 12:54 am (UTC)

Oz. When I was a kid I wanted to live in Oz - and not the movie Oz; L. Frank Baum and various other writers such as Ruth Plumly Thompson came up with an incredibly detailed fanasy kingdom-type world with lots of little nooks and crannies. Not EVERYTHING was run by the Emerald City power structure.

Posted by: Drooling Fan Girl (droolfangrrl)
Posted at: January 11th, 2010 04:53 am (UTC)

The assumptions in the opening statement are interesting.

"They grow no food, raise no livestock, and live without rules or calendars. They are living a hunter-gatherer existence that is little changed from 10,000 years ago.
What do they know that we've forgotten?"

I especially find the "live without rules" part silly.

Posted by: Zornhau (zornhau)
Posted at: January 11th, 2010 09:26 am (UTC)

I've been trying to think of a more detailed response, but actually you've nailed it.

I will, comment, though, that I bet people who've been through childbirth are less luddite than those who have not.

Posted by: amore_di_libri (amore_di_libri)
Posted at: January 11th, 2010 05:59 pm (UTC)

The whole idea of time travel and living in a fandom based universe kind of lost its fun when I realized that as an Asian gal I couldn't live in Middle Earth, visit Camelot, or sight-see in colonial America.

Admittedly, the whole of fantasy, sci-fi, and the actual universe is much greater than those particular locations in time and space, but that's what I grew up reading about, and I used to fantasize about such until I grew up and grew a sense of pragmatism and perspective.

I guess my other-life dreams have shifted from a Fantasy-basis to a Science Fiction-basis for the most part, because the examples I've read of the latter seemed to allow for an Asian chick to wander around and visit more so than the former.

Posted by: advancedatheist (advancedatheist)
Posted at: January 16th, 2010 12:07 am (UTC)
Science fictional cosmopolitanism

I guess your experience shows the cosmopolitan nature of science fiction. SF can treat the entire human species as a connected, extended tribe engaged in a common adventure, whereas Western fantasy tends to focus on fictional races modeled after Western Europeans.

Even then some unintentional racism can creep in. "Star Trek: Voyager" had an episode about a holodeck program the characters like to relax in, based on a preindustrial rural Irish village -- inhabited by the whitest holodeck characters imaginable. Why not a black African village? Or an Amerindian village? Or a Chinese village?

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