Stranger Than Life

If you’ve been hanging around this place for any length of time, you’ve probably got a pretty good handle on my tastes in entertainment. I like pulp adventures, science fiction movies, superhero comics, horror novels, and British comedy. In the simplest possible terms, I’m a geek. But aside from the social stigma of daring to like such things, what is the connection between them? Why is the core appeal of all these various genres?

A blogger named John Seavey has a pretty good idea:

Ultimately, I think the only thing they have in common is that they all present the world, in some way, as stranger than real life. This is most overt in science-fiction, which is why I think that it all tends to get lumped in as sci-fi, but even the non-science-fiction series like ’24’ or ‘Alias’ show a world which is bigger, more dangerous, more exciting, and more vivid than the one we live in every day. (And sketch comedy shows, almost by definition, explore a “stranger than life” idea to its logical conclusion–like the Lumberjack sketch, for example.) I think this is what we’re attracted to, the idea that we live in a super-interesting universe, and that these are looks around the corner to the bits that we don’t usually see. Bits where kids can build a working space shuttle out of stuff they send away from on cereal boxes, bits where hidden wizard academies teach the sorcerers of tomorrow; bits, in short, that we can always imagine ourselves just about to stumble into.

I think that captures almost perfectly the appeal of many of the stories I like. It definitely describes one of the things I find so compelling about the movie Highlander and its spin-off TV series (we shall not discuss the sequel movies or the Raven TV series that spun off from the first series), namely the idea that wonderful, fascinating, beautiful things (usually involving wonderful, fascinating, beautiful people) are happening just beneath the surface of the mundane world. The Highlander movie prologue (spoken by the uber-cool Sean Connery) spells this out explicitly:

From the dawn of time we came, moving silently down through the centuries… living many secret lives… struggling to reach the time of The Gathering, when the few who remain will battle to the last. No one has ever known we were among you… until now.

Oh, yeah, that’s the stuff. That raises the hair on my arms. There’s a similar vibe of ancient, secretive activity in Buffy the Vampire Slayer as well (well, really, in pretty much every vampire story). The interesting thing, however, is that I don’t care for conspiracy-theory tales, which are about secretive activity taken to the nth degree. The X-Files and other, similar series do nothing for me. So apparently, I like secret things going on beneath the surface, but only up to a certain point. Or maybe it’s the paranoid negativity I don’t like. Hm. I might have to ponder that one a bit…

In the meantime, my thanks to Chris Roberson for bringing Seavey’s theory to my attention…


One comment on “Stranger Than Life

  1. Jen B

    It makes sense that the attraction of genre things like that comes from the possibility that the world is far more interesting that it looks like on the surface… (Maybe that’s why Doctor Who is so popular — in Britain, anyway.)