Hollywood is catching up with the ”cli-fi” buzzword these days, if the popular TV show “Jeopardy” is any indication.
Let me explain: On my cable TV set in Taiwan, where I can watch over 100 channels from around the world in over a dozen languages, I cannot get “Jeopardy” and to be honest I’ve never watched the program in my entire life. But I know what it is, of course, and how it is set up and who the host is: the one and only Alex Trebek, a Canadian native of Ukrainian heritage who now works in Hollywood and has been a naturalized American citizen since 1998.
So imagine my surprise last week when a friendly college English professor in New Jersey named Juda Bennett notified me by email that episode 57 on March 20 aired nationwide featuring a ”Jeopardy” ”cli-fi” clue and its correct answer of ”climate fiction.” Contestant Lindsey Shultz got it right and earned some money in the process.
All this was told to me by Juda in a brief email message that arrived out of the blue. Surprised and delighted, I Googled to a video and the transcript of the show.
Juda wrote: “Hi Dan, you contacted me about my “Walking in the Anthropocene” class a while back and so now I am contacting you to make sure you know that your term, cli-fi, was a ‘Jeopardy’ question yesterday. Actually, they gave the question away when they asked what does cli-fi refer to, and I believe they referenced Kim Stanley Robinson’s work.”
Juda, an author, literary theorist and professor at The College of New Jersey, added: “Yes, it was the March 20 show where Jonathan Lindeen won. I looked for the episode but I don’t know when they post these things. The clue — if I remember correctly — comes on the program about 3/4 of the way in.”
My Google searches led to me to an online transcript of episode 57 with this initial clue: ”The planet’s in trouble in the novel ‘New York 2140’ by Kim Stanley Robinson, part of the ”cli-fi” subgenre, short for this.”
Lindsey clicked her stage buzzer before the other two contestants and got the answer right: “climate fiction.”
“Yes, they did give it away, but ‘Jeopardy’ increasingly gives away the answers,” Professor Bennett told me. “It is difficult to assess because the rest of the world is just catching up to you (and the term you coined) my friend. There are even people who do not believe in anthropogenic climate change. This reminds me of a 1980s Jeopardy questions about AIDS, which was also a question that they gave away, but when I saw it during the early 1980s our American president at that time had still never said the AIDS word in public. Words are power.”
This month of March 2019 has been a busy month for the cli-fi genre in literary circles, and the “Jeopardy” mention was just icing on the global warming cake, so to speak.
On March 13, New York literary critic Amy Brady, a friend of mine that I met online in 2016 and who has been writing a monthly ”cli-fi trends” column for the Chicago Review of Books for the past two years, wrote an article for the Oprah Winfrey branded magazine “O” that was headlined “7 Books That Provocatively Tackle Climate Change: They Each Fit Into a New Genre: Cli-Fi.”
Oprah! Who knew?
“O” introduced Dr Brady this way: ”Environmental writer Amy Brady identifies an intriguing epidemic: the proliferation of provocative novels in which the enemy is climate change.”
“As news of the oceans warming and icebergs melting grows ever more urgent, the light drizzle of fiction about eco-disaster spawned by J.G. Ballard’s ahead-of-its-time sci-fi thriller ‘The Drowned World’ (1962) has gone full-on flood, with apocalyptic visions from a diverse array of authors hitting the mainstream,” Brady told “O” readers online.
“In Barbara Kingsolver’s ‘Flight Behavior,’ pollution and other biospheric disruptions throw a colony of butterflies off their migration course to disastrous effect, while in Claire Vaye Watkins’s ‘Gold Fame Citrus,’ a California besieged by sandstorms illuminates social inequities and the excesses of Hollywood. So robust is the growing genre that it’s earned its own name: cli-fi (short for climate fiction),” Brady noted.
And then she introduced the following cli-fi novels: “Clade” by James Bradley; ”The Water Knife” by Paolo Bacigalupi; ”The Year of the Flood” by Margaret Atwood; ”American War” by Omar El Akkad; “Blackfish City” by Sam J. Miller; ”New York 2140” by Kim Stanley Robinson; ”Salvage the Bones” by Jesmyn Ward.
From ”Jeopardy” to ”O,” the global PR doesn’t get much better than this.