Two worldviews vie for dominance in Western civilization today, the old-school traditional worldview and post-modernist thought. It’s basically a struggle for the minds of Western readers between post-modernist Humanism and Classical tradition.
Classical thought is based on the idea that there is virtue in seeking justice, that a happily ever after is attainable, and life has a meaning and a purpose. This comes from its basis in the idea of life’s origin from a Creator God of love and justice.
Josh McDowell & Bob Hostetler offer the following definition of postmodernism: “A worldview characterized by the belief that truth doesn’t exist in any objective sense but is created rather than discovered.” (Wikipedia)
There is no truth, justice is a myth and life is ultimately meaningless. A happily ever after is just an unattainable fantasy. This is a logical conclusion starting from a basis that life’s origin is a chance coming together of random molecules in a universe of chaos. If we’re nothing but super-intelligent animals evolved from slime, there is no “Truth” and justice is just an outcome we happen to find beneficial.
People like stories that confirm their pre-existing views (or at least don’t challenge them.) If a reader believes in justice, he won’t be satisfied with a story that ends with the villain going free and the virtuous being punished. Readers prefer particular authors and shun others because authors write stories that reflect their personal beliefs. In literature, Humanists search for meaning, knowing it’s ultimately futile. Classicists search for resolution, hoping for justice.
We can see these two incompatible world-views illustrated in Hollywood products. Horror movies today are overwhelmingly post-modernist, nihilist, futile exhibitions of depravity and injustice. The slasher may be defeated at the end of the movie but he always comes back. The wicked escape justice repeatedly and the virtuous perish pointlessly. This confirms the post-modernist mantra “life sucks and then you die.”
Romance, on the other hand, requires a happily ever after where the “right” couple get together. In between these extremes the great mass of fiction struggles between the two worldviews. These days you never quite know how an author stands until you read some of his work.
The Classic worldview used to be virtually universal. You can see this by watching any Hollywood movie made before 1965. A good example is Ocean’s Eleven. In the original 1960 version the thieves fail to escape with the payoff, reinforcing traditional morality: Crime does not pay. In the modern remake, they do. Post-modernist ideology promotes income redistribution. The rich gangster who owns the casino “deserves” to be robbed by our sexy, hip lower-class heroes.
The efforts of Secular Humanist Progressives to remake the American education system have succeeded in creating a fission in society between the Red State Conservative Tea Party Classicists and Blue State Liberal Progressive Post-Modernists. While the mass of people remains sympathetic to the old worldview, a growing and influential minority holds to post-modernist thought. The West Coast Hollywood Elites and East Coast Literati are at odds with the mass of consumers in “Flyover Country.”
You can see this illustrated when a movie or book receives good reviews and awards by the Literati and Hollywood elites and then bombs at the box office. And it’s entirely because of the cultural dissonance of the movie’s message not matching the prevailing worldview of the majority of the audience.
The movie Cloverfield is a good example. The beginning sets up a story where a couple that clearly belongs together ends up separating. Action starts with the guy moving away to take a new job and she’s invited to the farewell party, in the middle of which some kind of alien monster attacks New York. Typical horror/monster tropes ensue with the protagonists trying to escape. But the movie ups the ante by putting him and his friends in a desperate quest, not just to escape, but also to rescue his ex-girlfriend from her apartment across town. This added a lot of interest to an otherwise generic “monster eats <fill in the name of the town here>” movie.
If this film had been made in 1958 rather than 2008, they would have rescued the girl and the couple would have escaped the monster to live happily ever after, even if all the others perished. But being a product of post-modernist screenwriters, after everybody else is picked off one by one, he rescues her and, just as they’re about to be rescued, the monster eats them. They had us rooting for the couple the whole time only to snatch them away (literally) at the end and smash our hopes. I was quite disappointed. The movie did poorly, but I think if they’d had a different ending it would have done exceptionally well.
I don’t like post-modernist stories. I don’t like being told that life is pointless. I am offended by injustice and oppression. I’m just old school and that’s the kind of stories I write.
But the Literati don’t care for “trite, sentimental claptrap” like that. That’s why J.K. Rowling, author of the highest selling book series of all times (Harry Potter) was rejected a dozen times by publishers before finally discovering one who’d publish her manuscript. Notably, even that publisher rejected it initially, but let her daughter read it and then reconsidered because of her child’s avid interest. And even after that the publisher billed it as a young adult read and did not expect the widespread interest it eventually received. But if Harry turned evil and Voldemort triumphed in the end, the Literati would have been all for it.
I’ve seen the same sort of response from my writing, accumulating 379 rejections before Indie publishing my own books. Since then I’ve sold more than 15,000 copies and won the 2012 Crow Award as well as receiving many very good reviews. But even after all that I only managed to get a manuscript accepted by a “real” publisher when I switched to writing romances.
Romance is the only genre free of post-modernist prejudice. By definition romances have to end in a Happily Ever After. Any attempt to produce a post-modernist romance that ended otherwise, wouldn’t be a romance. It’d just be a particularly depressing piece of “chick-lit” about a failed relationship.
Therefore, my advice to writers is, if you want to get published, but you aren’t a grumpy New Age nihilist, you’ll be better off hanging that fantastic story of yours around a romance plot.
For readers, if you’ve noticed a lot of the more recently published books haven’t been as satisfying – this is why. You might want to steer away from releases published by the Big Six and look into Indie published works by authors they scorn.
Some examples of my books:
What if the only way to prevent the Apocalypse is to find a way to kill those who cannot die? The Four Horsemen, an epic fantasy e-novel (with happy ending.) http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/78055
In a world where sugar, cream and caffeine are illegal can one man give the people back their just desserts? Strike a blow for frosting and freedom! Read The Donuts of Doom, a whimsical steampunk fantasy e-novel Now available in paperback: http://www.amazon.com/Donuts-Doom-M-E-Brines/dp/1492183385/ref=la_B005H3CVNE_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1382327252&sr=1-2
The Queen's Martian Rifles, a romantic steampunk adventure, now available in paperback. http://www.amazon.com/Queens-Martian-Rifles-M-Brines/dp/1491289449/ref=la_B005H3CVNE_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1381593465&sr=1-1
What if the Second World War wasn't just the largest war in history, but a supernatural struggle between spiritual entities? The Fist of God, an Indiana Jones-style adventure set during the Second World War. http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/163253