Saturday, January 28, 2012

Pulp Fiction Unpacked! Part 1

And I don’t mean the movie Pulp Fiction. If you need someone to explain that to you, then you may be of too sensitive a constitution to get into the deep end of the pulp pool!

I mean the genre that created genres, defined men, and gave evil a face.

Emerging from the frivolous dime novels of the last half of the 18th century, pulp magazines opened the wide world to the average Joe.

There assuredly are factors that contribute to the popularity of the pulp magazines in their hay day that go beyond the inexpensive cover price. For one thing, in the years following the civil war, elementary and secondary school enrollment for African Americans increased dramatically. By 1880, around 35% of black youth were registered in school, compared with 10% in 1870. Even into the 1920s the school enrollment rate was at its highest for all races of children in America. Government attention was also focused on education, with the first annual report of the Office of Education in 1869. The report focused on informing congress yearly the condition and progress of American education. During the 1940s, an increase in higher education began to push others to continue at least through high school when the trend had been a completion of education in the 8th grade.

So it’s easy to see that the whole attitude of the country toward literacy and education of all people had taken a swift kick in the pants.

In 1870, 20% of Americans age 14 and over were illiterate. By 1920, the number had dropped to 6%. And with this new voracious appetite for knowledge came what I’d like to think was dissatisfaction with their mundane existence. After all, dissatisfaction is from whence comes the best invention.

The pulp business

The new educated masses had jobs which meant they wanted things. They were tied down to what they now realized were boring existences. Enter the story writer. Of course, no one could afford a $12 paperback in those times, so crafty publishers took the cheapest bits of paper leftovers, paid writers barely enough to keep themselves in typewriter ink, and the pulp magazine was born.

The new bourgeois of literacy, with ten cents to spare, converged on the magazine racks with a vengeance. Big bosomed damsels, square-jawed gangsters, grinning heroes, mammoth-sized tigers, and haberdashered aliens. Inside those colorful covers were three or four tickets to other worlds.

Whatever your taste, the pulp publishers would pay someone peanuts to write to you. There were military adventures, sexy trysts, mysticism from the dark continent. And thanks to the pulp era, the science fiction and hard-boiled detective genres facilitated the births of generations of geeks!

H. P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard and the Weird Tales magazine brought unknowable creatures to life. Robert Heinlein, Issac Asimov, and L. Ron Hubbard ushered in an era of exploration beyond our Earthly shores. While back in deepest Africa, Tarzan was being adopted by apes.

And if you think that Trekkies invented the fan convention, think again! Long before mere humans were learning proper Klingon, pulp fans in the 1960s were organizing conventions.

The end?

World War II brought not only fear of real world terrors, but rationings of everything, including paper. Thus began the demise of the pulp genre. But was it the end?

From the murky depths of the Internet, a rise in the popularity of pulp has been seen. Despite the encroaching terror of the viral video, the Kryptonite of Tila Tequila, and the staggering atrocities of bulletin boards, real heroes reemerge in the form of Dashiell Hammett on ebook, and reprinting of 1930s magazines so that all may acquire the knowledge that Doc Savage was the first man to have a Fortress of Solitude!

Has pulp fiction seen it’s end?

I think not, Drummond. I believe that we shall meet again!

...end of part one.  Tune in next time for Pulp Heroes...EXPLAINED!

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