Sunday, August 3, 2014

Science fiction speaks to our current anxieties


I began Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Ebola outbreak) on Daily Kos with the stories that I used in Ebola outbreak now a top story.  Now to present the link and excerpt from a New York Times essay I used to end the diary, which does as good a job as any of explaining the serious purpose behind my Sunday collapse-and-decline entertainment entries:* Science Fiction Reflects Our Anxieties.
J. P. Telotte is a professor of film and media studies at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the author, most recently, of "Science Fiction TV."

The 1930s saw numerous science fiction films centered around apocalyptic, sometimes climatic, destruction: “La Fin du Monde” (France, 1931) predicted a comet’s collision with the Earth; “Deluge” (United States, 1933) was the story of a giant tsunami resulting in a worldwide flood; “Things to Come” (England, 1936) predicted world war and a civilization-destroying plague; “S.O.S. Tidal Wave” (United States, 1939) showed the destruction of America’s East Coast by massive tidal wave.

All these films were not as much forward-looking predictions of real apocalypse as they were metaphorical responses to the widespread economic and political crises of the day. Floods and plagues became stand-ins for contemporary upheaval, in this case a way to address the anxieties that attended the Great Depression and post-World War I shock.

This is what our genre films tend to do best — not detail the realities of specific problems so that we might avoid them, but rather represent our most pressing cultural anxieties.
Follow over the jump for another quote from the essay and examples of how I've explored the same themes.

Telotte could be paraphrasing what I wrote about the James Bond movies as science fiction.
As for why James Bond would be on topic for this blog, consider the following two ideas.

First, this blog is about science fiction as much as it is about collapse.  In that vein, the James Bond movies, even more so than the books, qualify, as they are really science fiction films set 20 minutes into the future.  As science fiction, the films both celebrate the latest technology and explore in a very escapist fashion a current technological, scientific, or even environmental issue that is a source of societal anxiety.  Keeping that ambivalence in mind while watching a Bond film makes it a more intellectually interesting experience, at least for me.  See if it works for you, too.

Second, Bond has averted the near total extinction of humanity at least twice, as well as defused other situations that could have resulted in World War III several other times.  Because of these 'good deeds,' he qualifies as an honorary Crazy Eddie.  That alone makes the films worthy of discussion.
Telotte hits my second point, too.
While science fiction films and novels often, and quite naturally, raise awareness of — or stimulate discussion about — scientific and technological issues including climate change, they seldom function as primers for the solutions we need for these very knotty problems. More often, they make us feel better about our ability to survive them.
007 saves the day, so there is hope!

Telotte focused on climate change in his essay, even mentioning "Snowpiercer," the subject of last Sunday's entertainment-themed entry. I wonder what he'd have to say about our fascination with zombies?  It would be interesting, but I would be pleasantly surprised if it extended much beyond the themes explored by The Archdruid and his readers in The Archdruid and his readers on zombies and More from the Archdruid and his readers on zombies, part 1 or even Discovery News on World War Z--fears of civil disorder and pandemic.  With that, I've come full circle to where I began this entry, talking about a potential pandemic.

*The not-so-serious reason is that they're fun to write and it's a way of staying on-topic when I'm in an "I can't be all DOOM all the time" mood.  I hope they're fun to read, too.

68 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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    1. Those links have nothing to do with science fiction, spammer.

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    1. You may be persistent, but you have no style or creativity. That written, thank you for increasing my page views and for making this the most commented on entry in the history of the blog.

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    1. This is an English-language blog. Comments in languages other than English will be deleted.

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