Tuesday, August 27, 2019

July: Ernest Hemingway, Star Wars, and the Adolescentization of America

Two birthdays came in July while I was working on my story. One was of a girl I knew a long time ago (though not in a galaxy far, far away). The other was Ernest Hemingway's. Both came on the same day, July 21, and I thought of both as I wrote.

Ernest Hemingway was not a genre writer, even if his name is in the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. (It's there because his story "The Killers" appeared in Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural, from 1944.) In fact it's hard to imagine an author less interested in genre fiction than he would have been. (Being blown up at age eighteen will do that to you.) He was not an escapist and did not seek to retreat into otherworldly fantasy. On the contrary, he faced life (except when he didn't anymore) and pursued and embraced life at its extremes. No matter what else he might have been, Hemingway was active and engaged in the world, as an outdoorsman, journalist, wartime ambulance driver, author of big novels, war correspondent, world traveler, adventurer, bon vivant, father of three sons, and husband of four remarkable women. He was, in short, a man (more or less), and a strong contrast to entirely too many genre authors, moreover, to too many myriads of fans of science fiction and fantasy of today. Although he wrote about adolescence, most notably in his Nick Adams stories, Hemingway was not an arrested adolescent, or at least not as we might think. Unlike another suicide about whom I read recently, a forty-two-year-old man who lived and worked in the West, Hemingway was not buried in a baseball cap and a Star Wars t-shirt. Even if there had been Star Wars in 1961 when Hemingway killed himself, he would not have owned a Star Wars t-shirt, let alone have been buried in one. Men of his time didn't do such things. They were too busy being men. In these and so many other things, he was emblematic not only of his own generation but of the two generations of men that followed his own. (The women of those generations were pretty tough, too.) But all of that changed, and if I had to pinpoint the date that it all changed, I might say that it was on May 25, 1977, when the one and only Star Wars was released.

Star Wars was great. There's no getting around that. The movie itself, though immensely enjoyable, especially for children, is not great (not in the big sense), but the phenomenon of Star Wars was. But only for children. Therein lies a problem, for Star Wars, far more than Star Trek and most if not all other science fiction and fantasy franchises, has allowed, attracted, and invited grown adults to remain in adolescence for all of their lives. (1) Even now, forty-two years after the movie was released, we live among children masquerading as adults and attempting at all costs to avoid life as adults and the responsibilities and obligations that come with it. (That man who killed himself was forty-two when he died by the way.) They would rather try to live as children, even though living such a life beyond childhood is an absurdity and an impossibility. Call it the adolescentization of America, and consider the possibility that it began in 1977, coincidentally or not the year in which the largest cohort in American history aged out of their teens and into their twenties. (Carrie Fisher was older than they were by only a year.)

* * *

Kat Timpf is a humorist and political commentator. In November 2015, about a month before Star Wars: The Force Awakens opened, she said and wrote these words:
"I have never had any interest in watching space nerds poke each other with their little space nerd sticks, and I'm not going to start now."
"Yesterday I tweeted something, and all I said was that I wasn't familiar with Star Wars because I’ve been too busy liking cool things and being attractive." (2)
In response--and probably very predictably--Star Wars fans threatened to assault, rape, sodomize, and murder her, or they expressed hope that these things would happen to her. In other words, they confirmed the stereotype of Star Wars fans--and fans of fantasy and science fiction in general--as immature geeks and nerds who don't know how to deal with adult situations or differences of opinion, or how to respond to disagreement, or least of all how to treat women. Or, as Joaquin Pheonix's character in Signs points out, they're the kind of guys who don't have girlfriends. Or, as I have written here, they have never moved beyond adolescence and are forever stuck at an age when somebody else made their lunches for them and the clothing that now seems to be a uniform among adults in our country was what you wore because you were a kid. How did this ever happen--grown "men" with their Big-Mac-and-pizza guts and their ugly, crusty feet dressed not even as teenagers dress but as a bunch of five-year-olds in t-shirts, shorts, baseball caps, and flip flops? When are they ever going to grow up? Never, I guess, not in our thoroughly adolescentized America. (Yeah, I know, it's an ugly word.) I suppose all of this represents a business opportunity for the enterprising casket makers and undertakers of the near future, as these generations of never-adults go the way of Darth Vader (yeah, I know, he was burned up, but stay with me here): caskets made to look like your favorite Star Wars spacecraft, plus all of the accessories you'll need when you go into the ground, including your favorite-colored nerd stick at your side or clutched in your cold, dead hands. (3)

(1) Just this week on the radio, in a story about how there are too many white men who have accomplished things, I heard a medical student--a grown man--talk about the talking portraits in Harry Potter and how something or other . . . (I just couldn't listen anymore after that.)
(2) To read more, go to "I Will Not Apologize for Making a Joke About Star Wars" by Kat Timpf on the website National Review, dated November 24, 2015, by clicking here.
(3) Or here's another possibility: the undertaker, dressed as Darth Vader (both wear black after all), sweeps through your standing corpse with his light saber, and in that instant you are vaporized (through some currently undeveloped and un-patented process), your Jedi's cloak and light saber drop to the ground, and all of your mourners (consisting only of your mother) cry and cheer now that you've gone to that great beyond. Before your death, you could even record messages like a jihadi and these could be played back at key moments after your death in a blue 3-D haze as if you're a Force-ghost. (Just make sure your comments are generic enough to suit all occasions.)

Pulp magazines didn't just go away: they evolved. One successor to them was the mass-market paperback, which, even if it contained a piece of serious literature, might have pulp-type art on its cover. Such was the case of  the Bantam edition of For Whom the Bell Tolls. I had this book at one time. I wish I had it back.

The men's magazines of the 1950s through the 1970s were another successor to pulp magazines. They, too, had pulp-type art on their covers and in their interiors. Artists such as Ed Valigursky and Norman Saunders kept busy on them even after their previous employment in pulp magazines had dried up. Note the links to Hemingway: Booze, sex, war, Chicago, and Cuba.

Original text copyright 2019 Terence E. Hanley


  1. This...


    1. Dear Anonymous,

      You are right on time. Thank you. This is what I mean when I say that the science fiction imagination cannot possibly keep up with developments in the real world.