This column has an aeons-old tradition of mocking pundits who struggle to put clear black void beween themselves and the dread words "science fiction". The mockery becomes raucous when such distancing comes from those masters of tacky TV SF, the American Sci-Fi Channel.
They're rebranding as Syfy, a word whose main attraction seems to be that (unlike "sci-fi", long part of the language) it can be trademarked. There are no other attractions, though Channel executives desperately claim it's hip, laid-back and utterly unlike its target audience. Fans who sent up "sci-fi" by calling it skiffy are now saying – with some relish – "siffy". Meanwhile in Poland, where they also get the Channel, Syfy literally means zits, filth or disgustingly intimate bodily fluids....
The Washington Post made the point about branding with tactful newspaper spin: Syfy "is trademarkable, whereas the commonly used phrase for a genre of entertainment for lonely obsessives is not." Or as the io9 blog succinctly put it, "Sci-Fi Channel Changes Its Name To A Typo".
US TV historian Tim Brooks, who helped launch the Channel, told TV Week that Sci Fi had always been ever so different from SF. "We spent a lot of time in the '90s trying to distance the network from science fiction, which is largely why it's called Sci Fi ... It's somewhat cooler and better than the name 'Science Fiction.' But even the name Sci Fi is limiting." Why? (Not Wyfy, that's something else.) Brooks blunders on, showering familiar compliments on the viewers of this wretched channel: "The name Sci Fi has been associated with geeks and dysfunctional, antisocial boys in their basements with video games and stuff like that, as opposed to the general public and the female audience in particular."
Washington Post TV critic Lisa de Moraes – believed to be among the female audience – agrees, with eerily similar choice of words: Syfy "is less reminiscent of dysfunctional anti-social boys in their basements." Another Channel exec sums up the deep philosophy of this incredibly important rebranding: "So it's changing your name without changing your name." Expect the present magazine to follow suit any day. Don't you think there's a kind of terminal coolness in "SFux"?
Past Langford columns have mentioned – all right, banged on mercilessly about – this distancing tendency. Even Torchwood is doing it, with director Euros Lyn babbling that the third season "reaches out beyond the sci-fi genre. It's a human story of epic proportions." (Wired.)
Meanwhile, the Daily Mail summons up grudging praise for one SF programme, Doctor Who, which "made sci-fi – once the domain of pizza-faced speccy boys and middle-aged men named Timothy who iron their socks and still live with their mum – acceptable, if not downright glamorous." You mean ... normal people now watch it?
David Randall's Independent feature on "The 50 most ludicrous Britons" included middle-aged Doctor Who fans. Because – count the clichés as you read – "Harmless though such an enthusiasm may appear to be, a fondness for this festival of glitzy impossibilities is a warning sign that you could develop the kind of full-blown dementia so many psychiatrists have noted in science-fiction fans. Watch one too many episodes, and you are embarked on a slippery slope, at the bottom of which is collecting Star Wars memorabilia and building your holidays around attending SciFiComCons at provincial Holiday Inns."
Even Barbie Doll addicts look down on SF: "Barbara Karleskint, 48, [spent] nearly $700 so she and one of her dolls could wear matching red chiffon gowns and capes at an annual collectors gathering." She has a full explanation: "Look, we're not as bad as the Star Trek convention people." (CNN.)
A less expected view of SF emerged from an Independent article on young folk who choose a life of asexuality – which you have to admit sounds infinitely more cool than "not getting any". One interviewee explained: "I'm not afraid of sex, it's just not something I want to do. That's probably why I delve into the world of science fiction and Transformers, where sex isn't an issue at all." No sex please, we're fannish!
Some of my correspondents are wondering what radical surgery is needed to make Megan Fox in Transformers seem entirely remote from sexiness. Others are seeking a suitable term to describe this brave new arousal-free world of science fiction. How about Syfy?
David Langford is trying hard not to join the chorus of people making the obvious connection between Syfy and syphilis. Oops ...