Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Biased Opinion - Not All Opinions Matter

It seems to have become an article of faith in many places that all opinions, no matter how loony, must be considered. On internet boards especially, one seems to be expected to respond to the most ridiculously silly opinions offered, simply on the basis that someone holds such an opinion. If you ignore them, you are accused of ducking the issue, or the other party declares that such a non-response is evidence that their views are valid, or some similar accusation. It has become accepted that one must spend time and effort responding even the most outlandish claims.

This is, to put it bluntly, simply idiotic.

All opinions are not made equal. All opinions do not deserve respect. In point of fact, some opinions deserve little more than derision and scorn. Specifically, I am referring to uninformed opinions. An opinion announced that is based upon no actual knowledge on the part of the speaker is worth exactly nothing. (I believe that it was Harlan Ellison who said, "[y]ou are not entitled to your opinion, you are entitled to your informed opinion. If you are not informed on the subject, then your opinion counts for nothing.") I don't think this should need to be said, but apparently it does. If you show up at a discussion, and offer up an opinion on a subject you know nothing about, you should probably expect to be ridiculed. And you deserve to be.

So, why does this matter? Well, with respect to science fiction, it comes up a lot. Many people assert that they don't like science fiction. When asked what science fiction they have been exposed to, the answer is usually "Star Wars" (or "Star Trek"), and often not even that. The answer to that is that they have demonstrated, at most that they don't like Star Wars, not that they don't like science fiction (that's okay, I don't much like The Matrix, I still like science fiction though). Recently, while being interviewed concerning his role in a production of MacBeth, Patrick Stewart was chided by the Newsweek interviewer about attracting weird Trekkies to the theatre. Unlike what happens most of the time, Stewart asked the interviewer how many Trekkies he'd actually met. The interviewer was unable to identify any. Stewart asked him to explain why Trekkies and Star Trek are weird. Rather than try to talk his way out of his now shockingly exposed ignorance, the interviewer terminated the interview and ran an unflattering article about Stewart.

Opinions are also frequently aired by people seeking to distance their "good" production from "bad" science fiction. It is currently in vogue for actors to talk about their new science fiction series as if it were a significant break from science fiction of the past. I believe it was Katee Sackhoff who said that Battlestar Galactica wasn't like other science fiction because it had characters and plot. It is treated by most media as being so apparent that science fiction is usually devoid of such things that the obvious follow-up question "What science fiction programs are you referring to as lacking in such elements" was never asked. I suppose that neither Katee nor her interviewer had ever heard of Babylon 5, or Farscape (read review), or Firefly, or Blade Runner, or The Matrix, or 2001 and on and on, many of which had an actor at some point try to argue that their show wasn't like all those "bad" science fiction shows because it broke new dramatic ground and has characters and plot. I am curious to see the next actor who forgets Katee's statements about Battlestar Galactica and claims their new show is great because it isn't like all those old, trashy characterless and plotless shows that came before.

This sort of ignorance on parade is not new. I remember a short-lived series called Earth 2. In the hype leading up to the series, much was made of the fact that they weren't going to use veteran science fiction writers for the show. They were going "break new ground" and show those silly people living in the science fiction ghetto what real writing was like. Earth 2 would be innovative and great, with plot, characters, and new ideas. What really happened was this: because they had no knowledge of the genre they were entering, the writers and producers of the show rehashed ideas that had been old in science fiction books, movies, and television years or even decades before. Instead of being innovative, the show was the same tired old cliches (many of them done worse than they had already been done before), and didn't even know it. By not knowing the genre they expressed their opinions on, the makers of Earth 2 simply embarrassed themselves.

So, the next time someone says "I don't like science fiction", ask them to back up their statements. Ask if they have read any. Most people will say "no". In this case, the question becomes, how they would come to a conclusion that they didn't like something they had never tried. And the truly sad thing about these sorts of opinions is that most people have read and enjoyed science fiction, without even knowing it. But they expect science fiction to be what they have been told it is - ray guns, funny aliens with tentacles, robots, and exploding spaceships.

When I find someone who is adamant about their dislike of science fiction, I try to find out what they have read or seen. I ask them about Flowers for Algernon, about Frankenstein, about 1984, about Brave New World, about The Road. I ask them about The Left Hand of Darkness. I then point out that all of these are science fiction and see if they might want to revise their uninformed opinion to an informed one.

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