Monday, March 31, 2008

It's Not Just The *Better* Writers

I'm reading the latest issue of Weird Tales, which is a delightful magazine, although it seems even more enamored of its pedigree than I am, and reading a nonfiction entry got me thinking, along a series of barely-connected lines, that insanity used to be much more interesting. I don't know if it's improved psychiatry or the Internet's ability to help anyone find people like them, but the lone, distant madman has been replaced with whole message-boards full of sorry screwballs.

Go back to the 1930s and talk about someone who thinks he's the reincarnation of an elf and you have some quality crazy; hell, you can sell crazy of that caliber to Weird Tales. Now, everyone nods and says, "Yeah, an Otherkin. They're crazy." Yeah, they are, and there are thousands of 'em, all headbent in the same way, taking up psychic space where good ideas might go.

The writer of this article, who is not an Otherkin or a furry fetishist, describes her mental illness in lycanthropic terms, and I found myself thinking that what might once have been a clever conceit has been reduced to banality by over-exposure. Our writer also mentions the frustration of seeing her uniqueness reduced to a clinical definition, and I can sympathize there, because huge swaths of "modern occult fantasy" (insert your favorite genre name) has been reduced to a laughingstock, because our society is flooded with literary incompetence and dull-as-dirt clinical insanity.

Seriously, not to sound bitter, because I'm not--I'm...wryly amused...but: Try writing a story about a modern-day "elf" and you have to dodge all the cliches and nuttiness that has cropped up around the Otherkin movement. Write a story about werewolves and you have to avoid the tired psychoanalysis and pop-psychic explication of the "real" phenomenon. God help you if you want to give a character wings. This isn't the fault of psychiatry, or the Internet, or crazy's not even really the "fault" of our own greater self-awareness. Instead, it's inevitable in a genre (and in a society) that has such an accumulated cruft of what-has-been-done-before. But damn, I already have a loud enough internal editor, telling me that this isn't good enough and that isn't publishable; I don't need an eidolon carved out of our society's disappointment with its own fiction, snickering because the story I want to tell has a whole fanfiction fetish site full of maladjusted teenagers devoted to it.