Increasing popularity/acceptance of fantasy?

Mr Fraaz

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Hi,

In my experience, fantasy (books, RPGs, games etc) was considered quite esoteric and geeky (in a bad way), perhaps even childish, when I grew up some 20 years ago. Today I'm finding my way back into fantasy, and I believe that it is now more popular and also more accepted outside of the dedicated fandom. Fantasy culture is much more developed and visible.

On the one hand, I suppose this could be explained by, for example, the Tolkien movies, A Game of Thrones, perhaps also a number of popular computer games. These releases are attracting new groups. But on the other hand, I guess you could say that these successful releases are also symptoms of an increased public interest in fantasy?

What are your experiences on this? Has the 'social status' of fantasy slowly been increasing? How do you make sense of this? Is there something in society/culture at large that could explain this? Is it some kind of generation issue? Will it fade back into relative obscurity?

Big fuzzy question, I guess, but feedback on any aspect is much appreciated!
 

Brian G Turner

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I guess you could say that these successful releases are also symptoms of an increased public interest in fantasy?

Indeed - the way I see it, geek has gone mainstream, so mainstream wants geek.

Speculative fiction I think is growing in size and will continue to do so because of this, and over the past 10 years especially the fantasy genre (at least) has been diversifying more.

Certainly it's trying to tackle more adult themes, and suit mature tastes more.

However, I think this is more an acceleration of a process that has already been happening - I think a lot of fantasy authors have been slowly chipping away at the standard tropes, but that the dam of restrictions has burst somewhat.

Even still, fantasy is still very limited - I don't think we see anything near enough of the ancient cultures of the world explored and that ancient Mesopotamia, Mesoamerica, China, and India especially are all very rich and ripe and fresh and just waiting to be explored.

More than that, I think the audience is already there, and just waiting.

When that happens, the fantasy genre is just going to explore. Can't wait for that. :)
 

biodroid

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Geeky it still is but then geek is ruling the world. GOT has shoved the genre into super popularity, my dad hates fantasy but thinks this is the best show ever.
 

AnyaKimlin

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Actually I suspect Harry Potter has as much to do with it as anything. Children that read the books grew up and started looking for other similar 'grown-up' versions of the stories they loved.

That combined with Dr Who going global the way it has.
 

allmywires

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You could say that about other things as well, though - everything is growing in popularity these days purely due to overexposure. Game of Thrones brought fantasy to the fore proving that it doesn't always have to be about mages and wizards, it can have blood and guts like any other blockbuster. It's given it a mass appeal rather than a niche appeal.
 

Mr Fraaz

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Thanks for the replies, everyone!

Actually I suspect Harry Potter has as much to do with it as anything. Children that read the books grew up and started looking for other similar 'grown-up' versions of the stories they loved.

Yes, I suppose quite a few of the 'geeky kids' of the past (also 80's and 90's) were intellectually minded persons who eventually got educated. If so, they might now have some purchasing power and perhaps also relatively influential positions in society.

You could say that about other things as well, though - everything is growing in popularity these days purely due to overexposure.

I'm not sure I understand? What kind of overexposure do you mean?
 

Gumboot

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I think a number of factors are at play. One of the big ones is simply that the fantasy genre has finally been around long enough to start maturing and become interesting. For a long time fantasy was woefully derivative and simplistic, but increasingly you are seeing works coming out that are quite complex and sophisticated.

Another factor is that over the last ~20 years or so technology has started to allow fantasy to creep into the mainstream. Historically, fantasy has always been popular because it means spectacle, but fantasy is difficult to achieve in the popular entertainment forms of the 20th Century - namely film and television. Those works that had sought to present it tended to be enormously expensive.

In recent years technology has caught up with the imagination of writers. By the early 90s it was accessible enough that fantastical creatures could be presented regularly in television. I think the TV shows Hercules and Xena were vitally important to paving the way for mainstream acceptance of fantasy.

The final factor is social context. Generally speaking, the worse society's state is, the greater the demand for escapist entertainment, and there's no greater escapist entertainment than fantasy. Over the last decades of the 20th Century and into the 21st Century, western society has become increasingly cynical, apathetic, and disenchanted with the state of our world. This has accelerated over the last decade or so with a global resource crisis, climate change, ambiguous wars, increased global corporatism, the global financial crisis, and an increasing social conscience. Simply put, people look at the state of the world and get pretty depressed, so when they're being entertained they want to be transported to an alien world where they can forget how crappy the world is for a time.

Scramble all that together, and you've got a situation in which fantasy really benefits.
 

Mr Fraaz

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In recent years technology has caught up with the imagination of writers. By the early 90s it was accessible enough that fantastical creatures could be presented regularly in television.

Interesting, and no doubt a contributing factor. Fantasy is now reaching audiences who are interested, but who will not commit to book reading as a gateway into fantasy.

The final factor is social context. Generally speaking, the worse society's state is, the greater the demand for escapist entertainment, and there's no greater escapist entertainment than fantasy. Over the last decades of the 20th Century and into the 21st Century, western society has become increasingly cynical, apathetic, and disenchanted with the state of our world. This has accelerated over the last decade or so with a global resource crisis, climate change, ambiguous wars, increased global corporatism, the global financial crisis, and an increasing social conscience. Simply put, people look at the state of the world and get pretty depressed, so when they're being entertained they want to be transported to an alien world where they can forget how crappy the world is for a time.

Perhaps you're right, but I'm not sure that western societies are more disenchanted today than, say, during the 80's, with the nuclear threat, cold war and the east-west clinch.
 

jastius

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i know that the lord of the rings would never have been made if half of Peter Jackson's production company hadn't already worked upon Xena and Hercules for television. He had the experienced people with a good idea of what needed to be done and how to do it. The whole concept of transferring Tolkien to the screen hinged upon this knowledge.
With out the training from Xena and Hercules then these films could not have been made.
to me this suggests a learning curve and that an infrastructure has to be in place before these things can happen. the actual technology must exist for the virtual technology to be portrayed.
if we examine this from a pop culture history perspective, then the space shows of the sixties were spawned by twilight zone and playhouse 90.
those shows led to more serious pieces like star trek.
Television's star trek led to more space movies including star wars.
And star wars begot industrial light and magic which produced the most innovative special effects and elevated the art of movie making and then filtered down to television effects again.
Each one of the tech innovations continued to push the envelope especially the advances in digitization.
now most people cannot imagine a film or story without these.
and of course. the place where these methods excel is not in depicting what is, but in creating what isn't.. that is their main focus and if you have a very expensive machine you simply want to use it.
call them myths fables fairy tales tall tales campfire story's or urban legends, we have always had these stories... what is new is the ability to depict exactly what we mean to describe. to see it.
i thing this acceptance more has to do with a reversion then any true demarcation. we are reverting to form. we are making our fairy tales real.
and true, studies have shown that this behavior of taking comfort in the familiar, this virtual nesting does take place more when there is uproar whether economic, political or social, but the important point is that it is taking place.
 

Mr Fraaz

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I had no idea that Xena and Hercules were made by the same team as LoTR. I never even watched them seriously, assuming they were garbage. Thanks for the info.
 

Gumboot

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I had no idea that Xena and Hercules were made by the same team as LoTR. I never even watched them seriously, assuming they were garbage. Thanks for the info.


Well, they weren't "made by the same team", in that it wasn't the same people at the top. They used the same crew.

More specifically Hercules and Xena built the New Zealand film industry. Not just in terms of providing a training ground for crew, but all of the infrastructure necessary for big film productions. A quite high percentage of the crew on LOTR had come directly from Xena and Pacific Renaissance's subsequent shows Jack Of All Trades and Cleopatra 2025. In fact a lot of the crew left those TV shows to start on LOTR. The companies that provided equipment and services for LOTR only existed because of Hercules and Xena. And the reason for this is that feature films bring in a lot of money, but only for a very short period of time, with little promise of future work.
But a long-running TV series ensures work year after year after year, which encourages support companies to invest money in expanding their business.

New Zealand's largest specialist film transport rental company is called Henderson Rentals (now owned by a larger national rental company called Hirepool). They provide everything from runner's vans to generators and tech trucks.

When I was a kid, before Hercules and Xena, Henderson Rentals was a tiny little rental car place, with a single site, renting hatch backs and sedans in competition with companies like Hertz. They owe their success entirely to Hercules and Xena (they got the gig because the TV series was based near Henderson), and without infrastructure like their trucks, big productions like LOTR wouldn't be possible here.

(Likewise, Hercules and Xena did some pioneering work in CGI, without which we wouldn't have Weta Digital).
 

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