Saturday, August 04, 2012

Pulp Fiction

I enjoy many aspects of pop culture. Not music so much, because for some reason I cannot delineate, I stopped listening to pop music when I hit my mid-20s. I still listen to the stuff that came out during that time (and before), but anything since is largely foreign to me and does nothing for me.

But I do enjoy a lot of the more vulgar forms of pop culture. Books, comics, movies, some TV shows. I also don't muck about with video games, the appeal of which is totally lost on me. But if it floats yer boat, then fine.

My main interest in popular fiction and film is what I would term "pulp fiction". This originated as a largely derogatory term to describe the output of the fiction magazines that were quite widespread and profitable from the late 1800s until around the mid-1950s when TV killed them off. Today, there are only a bare minimum of pulp magazines remaining on the marketplace--ELLERY QUEEN'S MYSTERY MAGAZINE, ALFRED HITCHCOCK'S MYSTERY MAGAZINE, THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY & SCIENCE FICTION, ISAAC ASIMOV'S MAGAZINE OF SCIENCE FICTION, ANALOG SCIENCE FICTION & FACT...and that's about it. I can't think of any other pulp fiction magazines on the shelves of modern newsstands, bookstores, and convenience shops.

Pulp fiction has generally gotten bad press from the critical community. And to be sure it's pretty basic stuff. You aren't going to get much in the way of deep meaning or thinly-veiled philosophy from the likes of Robert E. Howard, John D. McDonald, Mickey Spillane, or their contemporaries. And as the pulps faded the practitioners of that kind of fiction had to migrate like an animal fleeing the effects of global warming. They had to move higher up the slopes or farther toward the poles. In the case of the pulp writers they transitioned to film, or to paperback originals, or to teleplays. There were so few markets for the kinds of modern fiction-speak they were creating that they had to do something.

One thing that I have always liked about pulp fiction, whether it's in comic books, or magazines, or paperback books, or on a TV or theater screen is the simplicity of it. The genius of pulp fiction is that everything is boiled right down to its essence. In this case, conflict. That's what pulp fiction is all about: conflict. You don't have to wonder about anything or dig around trying to figure out what it's all about. It's about a bad guy versus a good guy, or a bad guy against an even badder dude. There are slight variations, but that's basically the theme.

And it's there in all sorts of pulp fiction. Westerns, crime, suspense, science-fiction, fantasy, mention it, and the name of the game is conflict--the more violent, the better.

That's where, I suppose, the bad rep came in. Pulp fiction was about the basics. Violence and vulgar language and hot sex. As the years progressed, the hotter the sex became and the more bloody the violence, the more crude the language. I've enjoyed the whole sorry lot of it.

The old pulp venues are long-gone, it seems. Those pitiful few volumes on the newsstands, the dwindling bookstores with their paperback books...all going or soon to be extinct. This is sad to me. I am left to find it in film and TV, I suppose. Even the comic books are fading slowly away, supported, I reckon, because it seems for the moment to be fertile ground for the entertainment industries to grow their crops.

Here's to the pulp fiction of old, though! Raise yer glass high for the guys and gals who wrote the great old stuff and the ones who are still with us writing the great new stuff. They'll be gone too soon.

Jove help me, I loved it so.

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