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Science Fiction is as American as Apple Pie.

September 15, 2011

This is something that’s been bothering me since the disastrous Green Lantern movie. It has come up once more, as we look at the first season of television since the mid-80s where there’s not a television show set in space. When the Green Lantern movie came out people were talking about how it was “too sci-fi,” for the average movie goer to enjoy. Now this fall, there’s a very limited amount of science fiction series on television. In fact, Fringe is to my knowledge, the only one on network television.

I feel like this is based in some sort of misconception that the average American viewer doesn’t like science fiction. The idea that science fiction and fantasy are the sole purview of nerds and geeks, and other names for socially awkward fanboys.

When in reality, I feel like this is simply not true.

The simple bare bones of it is this: two of the most successful franchises in America are Star Trek and Star Wars. Granted, both of these franchises also have massive nerdy connotations associated with them, but there are also few people that grow up in America without knowing phrases like “May the Force Be With You,” or “Beam Me Up, Scottie.” Science fiction has wiggled its way into American culture whether you want to admit or not, and furthermore it’s even sillier to pretend that Americans don’t like science fiction.

Science Fiction is one of those genres that is extremely American. Sci-Fi is borne out of looking to the future, which has always been a facet of American life, since for a long time we had no past to yearn for. While Europe broods over its long and complicated history, America looks forward; to space, to the future, to the next big thing.

It is no coincidence that the opening line to Star Trek’s credits is, “Space: The Final Frontier.” Gene Rodenberry pitched the show as a “wagon train to the stars,” with the idea that America needed a new frontier to conquer. This was because at the time, America was embroiled in the space race with the Soviet Union, and space really did seem to be the next logical step. It’s quite brilliant to think that a little over a month after Star Trek’s original run ended, America landed on the moon. Years later as space became a more and more tangible thing, Star Trek grew in popularity.

America loves science fiction, and in many ways we need science fiction. Science fiction is very much a chicken or the egg thing when it comes to inspiring scientists. What comes first? The author that dreams of rockets that can propel man to the moon, or the scientist who theorizes that the moon is a place man can go?

There is truly no question on whether or not America loves science fiction. If it weren’t a viable genre, would we really still be adapting Richard Matheson stories? Sometimes over and over again? Is there a question that some of the best science fiction authors of the past century were Americans?

We all need to wake up to this realization. People love science fiction, they might not all geek out about it, but they do love it. Science fiction can provide hope for the future, a meditation on current social issues, and tries to answer questions about what it really means to be human and in many cases just what it means to be alive.

The lens that science fiction provides is unquestionably useful and beautiful. All of us: writers, studios, and audience members. We just need to remember that again.


From → Opinions

  1. Just look at the NYT best sellers list. It’s full of SF/FA books like Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire Series and the Hunger Games. Every Ender’s Game book was on there, and I imagine Neal Stephanson’s tome, Reamde, will be on there, along with The Magician King.

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