When you think of the pulp genre what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Is it the streetwise detective who always solves the murder? Is it the handsome world traveler who chases after rare artifacts? To me, the pulp genre brings images of Conan the Barbarian or the horrors of Cthulhu. But it goes much further than that. Other than its heroes being the fathers of the superhero genre, I think pulp fiction once saved America by leading its people through one of the darkest times in the country’s history – the Great Depression. And how did stories about spicy detectives and terrible beings from beyond the stars save one of the most powerful countries in the world? Easy, by strictly adhering to the number one rule of pulp fiction: Escapism.
The Great Depression was a Kafkaesque nightmare scenario for millions of Americans. The people were faced with constant hardship. And when one is weighed down with too much hardship, anyone can break. It’s no surprise, then, that during this dark time – people flocked to the soothing pages of pulp fiction.
Because when you read a pulp story, you stopped being the person on the brink of financial ruin and you stopped worrying about your job or where your next meal would come from. For a time, you were somewhere else, in another place, living another life. Even though the depression ended decades ago, I bet you can still relate. Bad news everywhere, every day. We learn about one major catastrophe after another. And worst of all, politics has so filled our daily lives that many of us need a place to go. Pulp fiction served that purpose once through escapism.
Sadly, in 2018, politics continues to saturate everything. It’s in our novels, our movies, or television shows, our news. Politics has even started to dominate our day to day conversations. Since the depression, I don’t think pulp fiction – true pulp fiction – has ever been so desperately needed in our country.
But what exactly does escapism mean?
Ideally? A complete lack of political and social commentary. Pick up an old pulp story today and you’ll see something almost alien to the society of 2018 America, an absence of politics. The old pulp writers knew that people were looking for thrills and chills. They wanted something that could ignite their baser interests. So, you had stories centering around sex, violence, mystery, and intrigue. You had good triumph over evil. That’s escapism.
Oh sure, you can have a story set in a fantasy land filled with dragons and elves, but if your story revolves around how elves are a stand-in for “evil” Republicans and the Black Dragon is a stand-in for President Trump – that’s not escapism. An escapist story should have no links to reality. No stand-ins. No commentary. The art of pulp fiction should be nothing less than an exercise in pure storytelling.
And if anyone is wanted to write something for the Pulp Revolution, I hope you will consider adherence to escapism as your golden rule.