A few years ago, I saw a film scene I’ll never, ever forget. It appears in Mike Judge’s futuristic satire IDIOCRACY (2006). First, a little snippet about the film for those of you who haven’t seen it:
The film follows “Joe Bauers, an Army librarian, [who] is judged to be absolutely average in every regard, has no relatives, has no future, so he's chosen to be one of the two test subjects in a top-secret hibernation program. He and hooker Rita were to awaken in one year, but things go wrong and they wake up instead in 2505. By this time, stupid people have outbred intelligent people; the world is (barely) run by morons—and Joe and Rita are the smartest people in America.”
The scene that left its indelible mark upon me begins with a shot of a giant video screen with the glowing words “House of Representin” emblazoned across it. In IDIOCRACY, this illustrious phrase has become the new name for the U.S. House of Representatives.
The next thing we know, President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho makes his grand entrance into the “House of Representin.” When I saw who had become president of the United States in 2505, I thought it was one of the most riotous and inspiring ideas for a character I’d ever seen, not to mention the most organic for the story being told.
Escort any children from the room before viewing this fine tribute to President Camacho:
What in the world, might you be asking, does a gun totin’ wrestler-turned-president have to do with science fiction romance?
Well, pull up a chair and one of Chef’s signature gelato desserts and I’ll tell you. Shortly after its release, IDIOCRACY was dubbed, "The Movie Hollywood Doesn’t Want You To See."
The studio’s response to the dystopian black comedy has an eerie similarity to SFR: “Unsure of how to market the film after disastrous test screenings, Fox sat on the near-completed film for over a year, before finally giving it an unusually small release in only 6 markets (skipping over major markets such as New York City). The release was done with little to no marketing.” (Source: IMDb.com)
IDIOCRACY was only released in 125 theaters. The typical theatrical release for a studio like Fox is closer to 2500-3000. No small difference there. Apparently, 20th Century Fox had some kind of issue with a film involving anti-corporate themes. Years after its release, however, it became a cult hit.
When I heard the struggle about Mike Judge’s attempt to reach audiences with this film, it reminded me of the struggle of niche genres, and of science fiction romance in particular.
IDIOCRACY deals with another theme, which is “our responsibility for our shared future.” Despite such a positive underlying message, Fox still went to extreme lengths to suppress it. I don’t think science fiction romance is suppressed in exactly the same way, but low print runs, lack of marketing direction/support, and few releases has a flavor of that. Either SFR is a genre some publishers don't care to nurture, or they don't understand it. Hence, they generalize from their mindsets to readers'.
SFR is an extremely optimistic genre overall, so why would publishers have such an aversion? Well, we know the reasons, but the end result means good stories don’t get the exposure necessary for success. Therefore, publishers can point to the results and use them as an excuse to produce even fewer books. As a result, readers and authors alike have unique challenges in not only keeping SFR alive, but also raising its visibility.
In RT Book Review’s October 2009 feature on science fiction romance, author Linnea Sinclair (REBELS AND LOVERS) states, “We somehow have to build a fire. The publishing houses aren’t going to do it, so it has to be the readers.”
President Camacho, in his State of the Union address depicted in IDIOCRACY, announces he has a “three-point plan to fix everything.”
Coincidence? I think not.