Friday, July 30, 2010

Gigantism's appeal, question of belonging

Continuing this series of why immensely large objects seem to especially resonate with me. It's certainly a topic that's been on my mind, as we saw the Giant Redwoods (and even the oil distilleries and other sprawling industrial locations), but that will tie in more next time. For this post...well, this one's a bit out there, but it was something that occurred to me a while ago. It requires a bit of an explanation.

In college I became obsessed with the movie Zoot Suit. "It was the secret fantasy of every vato..."


Zoot Suits were not only a chicano thing--they essentially cut across most minority groups at the time, the common tie being people who grew up in the US and so felt themselves a part of it (so usually not immigrants themselves, but children and grandchildren of immigrants, as well as grandchildren of slaves), but at the same time weren't completely accepted by the greater US society that they identified with.

So one analysis I came across in several articles tied zoot suits--as a typical aspect of US society taken to an exaggerated, oversized extreme--with low-riders, which do essentially the same but with cars instead of clothing. The theory was that in both cases, the zoot suit and the low-rider were ways of participating in the dominant culture and yet maintaining their distance by making them their own.

So the connection with writing... A few years ago, shortly after I'd begun my stories set in the impossibly tall trees of Boskrea, I recalled that analysis of zoot suits, and it occurred to me that I might be doing the same. I was essentially taking what otherwise has become a cliche of fantasy--people living in very tall trees--and exaggerating that to the point where it no longer felt cliche. At the time I was becoming aware of some writers that have become among my favorites, but because I wasn't spending much time online paying attention to the wide range of speculative fiction, I was basically tied to what my local library had on their shelves, which was a wide selection but definitely weighted toward the pop/commercial fantasies that were wearing thin for me. So I think I felt a sense of not fully belonging (though unlike the analysis of zoot suits and low-riders, it was by my own choice and tastes, not by the opinions of others, which I think is an important distinction), but fantasy and especially secondary world fantasy were still where I felt most at home in my reading.

So for me at the time, the Boskrea stories served as a way of identifying with the secondary-world fantasies that I'd loved so much, but also distancing myself from what was most prominently available. Whether this is an explanation I can generalize to the other forms of exaggerated gigantism or not, I'm skeptical, but I think it does play a partial role, at least, in what drew me to those stories.

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