So last night, The Man and I went to see Cabin in the Woods. We almost never watch horror movies even on DVD, and this may actually have been the first one we’ve seen together in a theater. I’ve been angsting a little lately about choice and free will, and the lingering feeling that all my really important choices have been more or less engineered.
So going to this movie was a tiny little rebellion: doing a date night on Monday, and going to a movie instead of dinner, and going to see a horror film. This all ended up being kind of ironic, considering the subject of the movie. A big part of the plot is the idea of engineered choices, and some shadowy force pulling your strings without your knowledge.
The movie was really funny, and had enough tense, scary moments that it also worked as a straight up horror movie. But mostly, it was meta fiction in the same vein as Scream. It’s a knowing send-up of its genre while still also being a perfectly serviceable example of that genre.
A similar film in an entirely different genre is Disney’s Enchanted. It’s making fun of classic Disney princess films even while my 8 year old daughter will tell you, it works perfectly well as an example of one, too.
I recently downloaded and read the first four chapters of John Scalzi’s Redshirts, which promises to be a literary version of the same kind of meta fiction. Redshirts is exactly what you might infer from the title: a Star Trek/space opera send-up from the perspective of the poor schmucks who always buy it on away missions. I really enjoyed the sample–I’ll probably buy it as soon as it comes out in June.
I think that to some degree, all this meta fiction is a response to an increasingly postmodern, deconstructionist audience. In the 80s, you could do a straight slasher film like Friday the 13th, and people just went with it.
Now, we’re jaded and we have to deconstruct EVERYTHING. We can’t take anything at face value. We want to know WHY?
We deconstruct science fiction because we need to know why the redshirts don’t wise up and just stop going on freaking away missions. We deconstruct fairy tales because we need to know why the princess always ends up with some incredibly lame blank slate of a prince, instead of a more interesting guy. We deconstruct horror movies because we need an answer to WHY THE HECK DO TEENS ALWAYS SPLIT UP WHEN CHASED BY PAIN-WORSHIPPING REDNECK ZOMBIES? AND WHO THINKS CREEPY WOODS ARE A SEXY PLACE?
These meta-narrative stories are still part of the zeitgeist, though. They’re still part of the body of stories we tell, and as I keep saying, stories are how we try to make sense of the world. So they matter, just like the more straightforward stories. What it tells me is that there are a lot of people asking “Why?” and not being satisfied with the oversimplified, sometimes counterintuitive answers they get.
People who tell meaningful stories for a living (pastors, counselors, authors, etc.), take note.
What do you think? And heck, if you don’t want to talk about meta-narrative and subversive fiction, feel free to chime in about whatever strikes you. Fate vs. free will. Stupid things people only do in movies. How the quality of movie theater popcorn butter has really gone downhill. The floor is yours. 🙂