Science Fiction and Contemporary Life

April 16, 2011
Daniel R. Hopkins '14

MuirImagine for a moment that you could traverse the stars in a space ship with President John F. Kennedy.  Imagine for another moment that you could defend humanity from the threat of communist robots.  I'm sure every one of us finds such fantasies amusing.  But is it possible that these airy amusements have a dark inspiration?  This question is the subject addressed by John Kenneth Muir on in his talk given at Hampden-Sydney in late March.

Muir is both a critic and an author of many books analyzing the relation of various famous science fiction series and the political climate in which they are produced.  Star Trek, one of Muir's favorite series, begins in an era brought about by John F. Kennedy and the "space race" of the 60's.  Muir traces many elements of Star Trek back to the real world such as drawing a similarity between Kirk, the young and daring Space Captain of Starfleet Command, and John F. Kennedy, the young and daring president of the sixties and premier initiator of the American journey into space.  Star Trek approached and offered a positive opinion on how to deal with issues ranging from war to racism, and even to excessive political division.  Muir emphasized that the hope which Star Trek embodied was fueled by the same hope which the 60's expressed. 

However, the sensation of hope that the 60's promoted was soon cut short as the cold war reached its peak.  More and more shows such as Battlestar Gallactica, V, and Space 1999 all dwelt on darker and darker subjects, each concerned with human nature, the constant threat of the worldwide Communism, and the rise of socialism in America. 

Televised science fiction has been around since the sixties, and, as Muir points out, science fiction has always reflected the circumstances surrounding the production of each science fiction series.  Even today, Muir argues, science fiction continues to provide images and analysis of issues that challenge us as Americans.  Recently, remakes of some of the older television series touch on contemporary issues.  V, for example, which presented a sort of Nazi party analogue with "the Visitors," was reimagined in 2009, according to Muir, to relate fears about the presidency of Barack Obama.  "The Visitors" of the 2009 remake seem to be analogous, at least in Muir's opinion, of Obama.  Both "the Visitors" and Obama promised some sort of universal health care and received resounding support from a majority of the population as they came to power.  V was not the only series remade to reflect modern circumstances.  Battlestar Galctica was remade in 2004, changing the premise of the original series so that the "Cylons," a race of intelligent robots, who launched a religiously driven surprise attack against the human race, thus relating to the Islamic terrorist threat that was dramatically demonstrated three years before the production of the series.

Judging by our past we can know for certain that there are many challenges that the futures holds in store for us.  What is just as certain is that for as long as there is an issue or a tragedy effecting America there will always be a science-fiction story to reflect it.