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Addendum: The Gorbals Vampire & More

This is an addendum to a previous post. I recommend you go read that first, and then follow the link at the end of the post to read this one. However, if you’ve already checked that out, then have at:

My friend Jack Illingworth posted an article that has eerie resonances with my recent post about the moral panic over computer gaming and the internet in Korea. It’s a piece about the context of a mid-twentieth century crusade in Scotland against the “corrupting power” of… comic books. What it traces is how comics were selected as the cause for a bizarre sort of moral panic over a vampire among children, which led to a second moral panic among adults as to why kids would believe such a thing.

Those most concerned behaved just as the anti-gaming and anti-internet people in Korea today do: ignoring the likelier sources, which were a passage in the Bible and a poem taught in schools–and, frankly, just the imagination of kids, which is more powerful than that of adults–they decided that comic books would need to be censored. Very strictly, too. And they got their wish.

And of course, after reading the piece on the Gorbals Vampire, Ursula K. Le Guin’s essay “Why Are Americans Afraid of Dragons?” comes to mind. It’s an essay in the collection The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction. I have a copy of it around here somewhere–I think, in my office–but it’s been a while since I’ve read it, so I’ll rely on this review to summarize the essay:

In “Why Are Americans Afraid of Dragons?” she analyzes distrust of fantasy as a consequence of the Puritan work ethic, profit-mindedness, and, most distressingly, the American male’s fundamental distrust of imagination itself.

I don’t remember her blaming the American male, actually, but a ferw summaries of the article online claim she argued that American men were particularly raised to fear and distrust their own imagination. One is tempted to wonder whether Le Guin here isn’t, behaving more like the “teachers, communists, and Christians” in Gorbals by laying the blame on whatever happens to be appropriate to her ideology.

When I go to SF conventions today, I see no shortage of men–in fact, rather the opposite–and though I’m sure things were different 30 years ago, one must stop and remember that SF fandom for the longest time wasn’t just predominantly male, but as far as I can tell seeemed to present itself to the world as almost wholly so. (Which was sexist, as well as bad for the genre, but that’s another matter.) Sure, things have changed: this article raises questions about whether Americans indeed still are afraid of dragons.

And as for the repudiation of fantasy being especially male, well, I have my doubts. I’ve seen as many women as men exhibit a snotty attitude towards fantasy or fabulation of any kind, and in fact, when it comes specifically to people rejecting magic and fantasy on religious or scriptural grounds, and this is purely anecdotal on my part, it’s nearly always been women I’ve run into doing this. (In little cases like this one reported by Mark David Gerson.)

An interesting comparison would be to look at the gender breakdown of people actively involved in groups like BADD (Bothered About Dungeons & Dragons) or at similar groups who spread moral panics about Satanism, rock’n’roll, and stuff like that. Though perhaps extremist groups don’t reflect more general sentiment, I still think it would be interesting to see, and might put the lie to Le Guin’s claim that anti-fantasy sentiment is predominantly, or especially, a problem with male Americans.

(Incidentally, the Gorbals Vampire story sounds like an amazing basis for a piece of fiction. Hmm.)

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