Sunday, April 12, 2009

Fantasy and Pop Culture

3 days ago, David Arneson, one of the co-creators of Dungeons & Dragons died. (Co-creator Gary Gygax died in 2008.) In the 35 years since the two created the role playing game, "fantasy" has gone from a marginal genre, the realm of socially awkward teen boys — the rainbow and unicorn teen girl version is equally disparaged — to a pervasive part of pop culture.

In much the same way that "romance" has become less a distinct genre unto itself and more of a ubiquitous element in all other genres (is there any film made today that doesn't have a love interest needlessly embedded into the plot) so too has fantasy become widely embedded across other genres and aesthetics. Much as been made of the popularity of myths, superheros and the supernatural in film, television, the gaming industry and popular culture but there is an even more pervasive and subtler presence of fantasy and of the fantastic.

In my essay 1970s Airbrush Art & Contemporary Graphic Design I pointed out the influence and presence of airbrush art and fantasy illustration in todays visual culture.

Beyond discussions of genres and aesthetics there is a broader examination of our engagement in fantasy on a cultural level that is probably worth making. For now, I'll simply reference a piece from the news. This week Woody Harrelson defended himself against charges of assault on a cameraman claiming he mistook him for a zombie. From CNN: "I wrapped a movie called 'Zombieland,' in which I was constantly under assault by zombies, then flew to New York, still very much in character," Harrelson said in a statement issued Friday by his publicist.

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