Are monarchy and age differences becoming problematic?

The past couple of years I’ve noticed a lot of grumbling that so many fantasies are still using monarchy as a backdrop. Why do writers think that’s a good thing? Why aren’t we using our talents to propose more intelligent ways to organize society, particularly now when the American system shows so much strain.

This is something specfic fans and creators have argued about for years. As Brian Aldiss said in the introduction to his Galactic Empires anthology, some people assume that writing a story in a space empire automatically endorses imperialism. But it seems like I’m spotting a lot more calls for change lately.

Maybe not; it may just be the Internet making them more visible or the random pattern of which specfic sites I visit. Then again, Kate Elliott’s Black Wolves got rave reviews because “So much of the epic fantasy field accepts the a priori legitimacy of monarchy—or the a priori legitimacy of power maintained through force—invests it with a kind of superstitious awe, that to find an epic fantasy novel willing to intelligently interrogate categories of power is a thing of joy.” I personally found zero joy in that book but I don’t think it had anything to do with the politics. Though I admit I don’t find anything problematic in using monarchy as a setting the way I’ve come in the casual, unremarked-on use of slavery. Then again, I don’t mind having monarchy questioned either (below, Bob Pepper’s cover for a book in which kings often make bad decisions, but monarchy isn’t questioned).

Then there’s age gaps, in the sense of Young Woman/Older Man. Particularly since #metoo took off I’ve seen lots of analyses of movies with big age gaps. And also a lot of people who find similar gaps in real life to be inherently squicky with a dangerous power differential.

I haven’t done any statistical analysis or opinion polling on this one either, but it does seem as if attitudes are changing. People have always mocked movies with absurd age differences, but they found them more ridiculous than creepy. And for some people, I think, it doesn’t take much of a difference. A few years ago, after Dylan Farrow restated her claim Woody Allen abused her as a child, I was reading an online discussion. A surprising number of people asserted that someone in their midtwenties hitting on/lusting after college students was creepy; thirtysomethings hitting on twentysomethings is creepy too. I can’t say I’d find either of those inherently objectionable, or indicative of an imbalanced relationship. Assuming the participants were cool with it, I don’t see a problem (of course TYG is fifteen years younger than me, so I may be biased). Hollywood age differences annoy me more, but I can let them slide if I like the movie (e.g., Marisa Tomei/Joe Pesci in My Cousin Vinnie).

Which is not to say my judgment’s right.

Right or wrong, I’m curious to see if there are indeed trends developing here. Time will tell.

#SFWApro. All rights to cover remain with current holder.


Filed under Reading, Writing

2 responses to “Are monarchy and age differences becoming problematic?

  1. I like outdated repressive forms of social organization as a setting for stories precisely because they are unfair. They highlight the inherent unfairness in most hierarchical structures and emphasise them to a level in which modern readers don’t need much persuading to buy that it is a just cause to try to rebel against it.

    As with romance in fiction, I think age differences are the least of the problems with creepy relationships.

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