Why Science Fiction Matters

By Chantel Delulio
Layout Editor

The genre of science fiction is, all in all, delegated to the dark recesses of the world so that the more respectable members of society don’t have to be sullied with its silver jetpacks and fire-breathing lizards. There are instances where it does break into the mainstream, but for the most part, people won’t go near it lest they be identified as a nerd, forced to live out the rest of their existence in a basement wallpapered in the numbers of Pi.

Even when people can get past the stigma there’s still a feeling of, “Oh, it’s just science fiction. It’s silly.”

This doesn’t’ go for the likes of George Orwell or “2001: A Space Odyssey.” These works don’t need defenders because people don’t perceive it as the “silly” kind of science fiction. And, to its credit, these types of works are not silly. It’s serious business and it presents itself as such.

But the middle-brow stuff– the kinds of things that feature slapsticky robots and green women (or, as is currently trendy, blue women)–carries just as much weight as their more cerebral and/or dystopian brethren.

One needn’t look any further than the Star Trek franchise in order to see this. The world of Star Trek is probably first and foremost associated with its copious amounts of camp. Indeed, a lot of its charm came from the fact that, yes, that’s a foam rock painted gray and, yes, that is a lizard suit we rented from the local community theater.

But beyond the fun, campy aspects of Star Trek, it also blazed a lot of trails. Gene Roddenberry, the show’s creator, made the conscious decision that in the 23rd century, racism and sexism would simply not exist. So the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise became diverse without resorting to mere tokenism. The original run even featured William Shatner and Nichelle Norris in the first interracial kiss to appear on broadcast television. Nowadays that’s not really a big deal, but for a time that was still amid the Civil Rights movement, Star Trek was uniquely forward thinking.

And though last summer’s reboot cast the franchise in a thick sheen of sleek, big-time Hollywood effects, the core of the series remained unchanged. With it’s refreshing brand of unbridled optimism, critics were quick to identify it as the first blockbuster of the post-Bush era.

Not to mention that the original inspired a lot of modern technology from the development of sliding doors and cell phones to real life tractor beams, universal translators, and cloaking devices–all of these advances have their roots right alongside the plywood sets.

Just because something isn’t as intellectual as the new “Battlestar Galactica” doesn’t mean they don’t have merit or have something to say. They embrace and own up to the fact that as middle brow entertainment they have a pretty primary objective: to entertain.

Star Trek accepted that. “Doctor Who,” another long-running franchise, is similarly cheesy but with a good deal of satire and commentary. Even “True Blood,” which initially draws viewers in with its delightfully unabashed trashiness, has an underlying current of social commentary using its vampires-as-outcasts premise as a metaphor for the treatment of homosexuals.

If anything, it’s films and TV series like “Avatar” and “V” that are so preoccupied with jamming their thinly-veiled messages down audience’s throats that they forget that their foremost purpose is to entertain and not to merely pontificate.

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