People That Whine About Science Fiction Being Too Political Are Media Puppets

Today I have decided to sidestep my narrow focus on British science fiction to discuss something that caught my attention relating to the genre of science fiction in general. My wife and I saw Neill Blomkamp‘s sophomore film, the visceral and gritty Elysium today. We both came away enjoying the film quite a bit; not in the Avengers sort of way where you want to high-five everyone after the movie and punch the air in happiness, but the more sombre “holy crap that was good, but also depressing” sort of way. This was what happened when we watched District 9 a few years ago, a film that lead to us discussing apartheid south Africa, something that really would not have happened had the film not taken our emotions hostage for two hours. When I got home, I decided to check the box office gross Elysium had, as well at critic reviews to gauge whether it is doing well or not. It did top the box office, and gained generally positive reviews, but the negative reviews the movie was getting are quite puzzling. People that don’t enjoy the film aren’t hating it because of the gore, the foul language, or the shaky-cam action scenes, but because it challenges their political beliefs in some way.

Take, for example a few of these little gems taken from a popular critic aggregation site, Rotten Tomatoes:

elysium-reviews

And here we have some choice quotes from some online reviews:

“Particularly towards the end, the political messages are just so overt, I don’t know how you can watch it without thinking of current events and connecting the dots that the director obviously intended to connect,” – Big Hollywood’s Christian Toto.

“It’s not just hypocritical to say this movie isn’t political, it’s hilarious,” – Dan Gainor, VP of Business and Culture at the Media Research Center.

 Elysium advances one of the more openly socialist political agendas of any Hollywood movie in memory.” – Variety Magazine review.

Those that have yet to see this film, might be wondering what all the hubub is about. Elysium tells the story of a future Earth that is so overpopulated and crime-ridden that the well-to-do upper class citizens have fled the planet Entirely. They all have decided to live in a space colony well away from the stench of the poor surface dwellers; the ultimate gated community, if you will. The citizens of Elysium have jumped so far technologically (in a sharp contrast to Earth’s urban decay) that they can afford to have no illnesses whatsoever due to the creation of a machine that can heal everything. This has caused black market operations to spring up promising illegal trips to Elysium, usually taken up by ill people trying to cure terminal illnesses. Since the majority of the plot has a vague notion of how everyone should have access to medical care, and that policies on illegal immigration are too tough, TV pundits and conservative bloggers alike have pulled out their pitchforks in protest. 

matt-damon-elysium

The thing that really bothers me about this mindset is that science fiction has ALWAYS been about taking social issues to their breaking point to illustrate the ills of our society as a cautionary tale. It’s not like Neill Blomkamp woke up a few years ago, and realized that nobody has ever talked about politics in film. These media-types have an ulterior motive here, as nobody can be so stupid than to think that science fiction has never been like this. One of the earliest modern science fiction epics, The Time Machine was essentially H.G. Wells‘ commentary on British social classes and social Darwinism. That was only the beginning, authors like Robert Heinlein promoted either fascism or communism depending on the story, George Orwell warned of the road to totalitarianism, and Ayn Rand promoted Objectivism. All very different political strains, all either championed or demonized depending on what the authors intent was.

To me, something like Elysium is only ruffling these conservative feathers because of the ridiculous political climate we live in and the 24 hour news cycle. When you have media stunts such as a left and right leaning media conglomerates claiming outrage at every turn, these people would love if we just watched paint dry all day, as to not put “bad ideas” in our heads or offend someone. I always find it ironic when commentators claim a subversive piece of literature or film is damaging society as is usually their viewpoint that the film is directly satirizing.

In Closing I leave you with a quote from Philip K. Dick on the media: 

“Because today we live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups… So I ask, in my writing, What is real? Because unceasingly we are bombarded with pseudo-realities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms. I do not distrust their motives; I distrust their power. They have a lot of it. And it is an astonishing power: that of creating whole universes, universes of the mind. I ought to know. I do the same thing.”

 

Advertisements

Is Doctor Who anti-Religious?

This message is a continuation of something that was posted on “Matthew C.’s” blog Tea With Morbius in which some guy yelled at him for being a conservative and liking science fiction. This stance has always confused me completely as many people I know have religious beliefs and watch tons of science fiction TV. I’m even a Gnostic-Christian that leans libertarian and have no problems at all with having my beliefs questioned.

For me, religion and science fiction go hand-in-hand for many reasons, most notably for the concepts in many of the actual stories. We can’t have things like The Matrix, Philip K. Dick Stories such as Blade Runner, or even Star Wars without some bit of respect for religion. I know that this will make a few people angry that hold the “the religion is stooped!!11one LOL” mindset, but that’s how it has always been. Lately there has been a big smugness cloud hanging over fans of science fiction, one in which many that do not believe in any sort of deity take everything as a symbol of atheist pride. Let’s say that we find ourselves watching and episode of Doctor Who, and The Doctor finds out that a civilization’s “god” is actually a guy in a suit…BOOM TAKE THAT RELIGION! I guess it all boils down to a side-effect of the somewhat recent trend of both sides of the utterly stupid “religion vs. science” geek war that has been raging for a while. Don’t even get me started on the fact that the two institutions co-existed fairly well for nearly a millennium with only the occasional blemish such as throwing scientists in prison for heresy. Not everything is Galileo vs. The Church for Christsakes!

There are many instances of a somewhat anti-religious stance in Doctor Who, but I honestly chalk most of it up to lazy writing. Akin to my much beguiled “space Nazis” trope (I need to write something on here about that), the lazy religion bashing episode sometimes comes off as just as lame. In Doctor Who, one such episode sticks out like a sore thumb to me as the literal archetype for this type of story: Meglos. While not a particularly bad episode, Meglos excels is painting a world in a somewhat one dimensional manner in which religious folks are raving lunatics, and scientists are the best at everything. On one hand we have the citizens of the main planet split into two philosophical groups: “savants”, a group with an utterly patronizing name right from the beginning, which worship science fighting it out with the deions, a group that follows religion. This episode also features an evil cactus monster just to show how serious we can take the eye rolling religious debates.

Another motif that has clumsily popped up in Doctor Who a few times, and about 70 billion times in the original Star Trek, is the “people worship what they don’t understand” trope. In Star Trek we had the episode where the civilization worshipped the U.S. Constitution, The episode where the kids worshipped some guy in a mumu, the one where people worshipped a computer…and so on…Planet of Fire showed this when we find out that people are worshipping an empty spacesuit and the Face Of Evil did the same thing with an evil computer, there must have been a run on god-like evil computers somewhere.

These more-clumsy episodes paint religion as the total antithesis to science, something that uncivilized morons take part in. This is not the norm for the show however, as much of Doctor Who is a lot more “nice” with religious imagery and concepts, even bordering on painting the Doctor himself as a “space Jesus” of some sort. For me Meglos was simply a fluke, if anything Doctor Who teaches us that we should question authority when reasonable, something that actually chimes with my Gnostic worldview, does this mean that I feel that the show is made in that regard, NO, but just like many atheists I can see what I want as well.

As In posted in the original comments section of the thread that kicked my stream of mind ranting, I feel that more recent Doctor Who episodes are far more forgiving of religion, something that may confuse people as both show runners have been uber-super-duper atheists. One episode in particular stands out to me as the showpiece for my viewpoint, a Russel T. Davies penned episode called “Gridlock”. The plot centers around a trip to New New Earth, a planet plagued with terrible traffic. Every day the masses that live and die in the traffic jam hear weather reports such as the following:

“The sun is blazing high in the sky over the New Atlantic—the perfect setting for the daily contemplation… This is for all of you out there on the roads. We’re so sorry. Drive safe.”

For me this was obviously a reference to what these people see as heaven, something attainable if everyone has faith that the traffic will ease up. Suddenly everyone breaks out into an old hymn called “The Old Rugged Cross”:

On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,
The emblem of suffering and shame;
And I love that old cross where the dearest and best
For a world of lost sinners was slain.

Refrain

So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
Till my trophies at last I lay down;
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
And exchange it some day for a crown.

O that old rugged cross, so despised by the world,
Has a wondrous attraction for me;
For the dear Lamb of God left His glory above
To bear it to dark Calvary.

Refrain

In that old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine,
A wondrous beauty I see,
For ’twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died,
To pardon and sanctify me.

Refrain

To the old rugged cross I will ever be true;
Its shame and reproach gladly bear;
Then He’ll call me some day to my home far away,
Where His glory forever I’ll share.

Refrain

As we can see Martha breaks out into tears as we see these people hopelessly clinging to the faith that they will emerge from this ordeal and go to where they plan to go. The Doctor takes it upon himself to save them, and literally leads them out of the traffic in an almost biblical way. If Doctor Who was so unanimously anti-religion, why would there be an obvious allusion to The Doctor being Christ-like in this episode. It doesn’t end there either; season 3 seems to me to be the most religious of all the seasons considering the ending. At one point, the world is in ruins and everyone has lost hope that they will survive as the Doctor is incapacitated and The Master has seemingly won. Martha literally travels the world spreading the gospel of The Doctor’s name until everyone thinks of him. This somehow gives him all the power of the world, and he flies around and kicks ass. To be honest I wasn’t a fan of this Doctor as a Space messiah revelation, but it still stands.

In closing, Doctor Who isn’t anti-religion, but some writers may write it that way, as you have seen I can find examples of the exact opposite as well.