Pivotal moments transpired in 1954. The U.S. Supreme Court, via Brown v. Board of Education, declared the unconstitutionality of segregation in public schools. The first Indo-China War ended: the French lost and give up North Vietnam to the Communists. Marlon Brando, during the same twelve-month period, starred in a movie titled On The Waterfront. Bill Haley & His Comets released their successful rendition of the song “Rock Around the Clock.” Based on all these instances, 1954 had memorable episodes from a political, legal, film, and music perspective.
But, while historical tectonic plates shifted, another event transpired in the same year. And while it wasn’t as momentous as those enumerated above, this occurrence nonetheless paved the way for the creation of a lasting theme, one that TV, film, and literature still uses to this day. In 1954, magazine editor Forrest J. Ackerman coined the term science fiction. The rest, as they say, is pop culture history.
Sci-fi, as the term suggests, is a genre of “fiction dealing principally with the impact of actual or imagined science on society or individuals or having a scientific factor as an essential orienting component.” It has over the years evolved to include stories about alternate timelines, time travel, parallel universes, aliens, enhanced human beings, artificial intelligence, super intelligent computers, utopian or dystopian futures, and evolution of mankind. Some even consider tales about paranormal abilities as part of sci-fi.
Now, due to sci-fi’s lasting appeal, it is interesting to know how the genre made its mark in various forms. Provided below are instances that show sci-fi’s pervasiveness in recent popular culture.
Hollywood capitalizes. Over the years, sci-fi movies have impressed both audiences and the critics. There is Natalie Portman’s Annihilation (2018) that tells the story of a biologist taking on a mission to enter a zone called the Shimmer. The laws of nature do not apply there.
Another female-led film is Amy Adam’s Arrival (2016), which tells the narrative of how a linguist figures out the language of an alien race and in the process stops an inter-stellar war between the visiting foreign life forms and the rest of mankind.
Matt Damon’s The Martian (2015) deserves consideration, too. This one gives the audience a bird’s eye view on how to survive in alien planet with only a few supplies and one’s wits as primary weapons.
Rian Johnson’s Looper (2012) should be included in the list, too. This movie involves time travel and pits two people on a collision course with each other. The kicker is that these two individuals occupy the same timeline and therefore are one and the same person: past and future self.
And finally, there is Ex Machina (2014). This one is dark and is a thriller of sorts. It tells the narrative of a programmer selected to participate in a revolutionary experiment in synthetic intelligence at an Alaskan hideaway.
For other titles, please take note of these too: Inception (2010), Her (2013), Snowpiercer (2013), Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014), and Gravity (2013)
TV joins the fun. With the success of sci-fi on the silver screen, television, as expected, follows suit. This is fitting since Sociology professor Tim Delaney, in Philosophynow.org, said that sports and television are arguably two of the most widely consumed examples of popular culture. They have great staying power.
Doctor Who (1963 – 1989; 2005 – present) occupies the top spot. The series considered as a classic tells the story of a time lord called “The Doctor.” He travels both time and space to save various civilizations. This series is a must-see. It has in fact developed a cult following already, and even ingrained itself in British popular culture.
Another timeless series is Star Trek (1966 – present). The original has spawned a lot of shows already, i.e., The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Enterprise, and etc. Today’s current iteration is Star Trek: Discovery. Its narrative takes place 10 years before the events of the original series. One gets to see the Star Trek Universe immediately prior to Kirk’s arrival.
Westworld (2016 – present) comes next. This series tells the tale of a fictional world set in the Wild West. This world or park, as others call it, allows high paying guests to indulge in their wildest fantasies. Androids play the role of patsies.
Orphan Black (2013 – 2017), on the other hand, is for those interested with cloning and its ethical implications. This show tells the story of Sarah Manning who takes the identity of Elizabeth Childs. Sounds typical, right? The story would have been straightforward except that Childs is one of Manning’s seven facsimiles. Manning took Childs’ identity after witnessing the latter’s suicide. This one is worth a look-see.
Next is Black Mirror (2011 – to the present). Unlike the others that have continuing stories, Black Mirror features standalone episodes that revolve around technology’s unanticipated consequences. This one is similar to The Twilight Zone.
There are others that should make the cut, but for lack of space, please do take note of them: Humans (2015 – to the present), Fringe (2008 – 2013), Lost (2004 – 2010), and Continuum (2012 – 2015)
The books want in as well. Sci-fi fun isn’t only movie and TV aficionados. The bookworms can have their fun, too. Who knows some of those enumerated below may find their way to the TV and celluloid screens.
Sabrina Vourvoulias’ Ink (2012) provides the narrative of a future wherein all immigrants are tagged with color-coded biometric tattoos. These marks convey to everyone in the planet about their status.
Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven (2014), on the other hand, offers a peculiar perspective–especially for those who know how to write, but do not know how to survive in the wilderness. To make things more interesting, the story makes use of a post-apocalyptic setting.
Both novels above tackle heavy and serious themes. Let’s switch gears a bit.
Imagine you’re in 2010; Tinder is non-existent. But, there are dating collecting devices that allow their users to judge other people on the basis of hotness, personality, and other variables. If you’re interested, then read Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story (2010). In a way, the book was foretelling of things to come.
Like with the movies and TV shows above, there are other books worth mentioning. If you have time, then please check out these ones too: Charlie Jane Anders’ All the Birds in The Sky (2016), Basma Abdel Aziz’s The Queue (2016), and Hannu Rajaniemi’s The Quantum Thief (2011).
Sci-fi becomes real. Sci-fi also isn’t just fodder for literature and the movies; sometimes, they provide inspiration to the creation of similar gadgets and products. Provided below are specific instances when life imitated sci-fi.
The iPad (launched in 2010) is similar to its 30-year-old precursor: Star Trek’s digital notepad. Captain James T. Kirk was already using a digital pad even before Steve Jobs did.
Another gadget that some say owe its genesis to Star Trek is the mobile phone. Before the time of Nokia, Samsung, Huawei, Apple, and etc., Kirk and his crew were already using a flip type communicator.
The Jetsons, in 1962, already showed that it was possible to automate house cleaning. The series exhibited an automatic vacuum cleaner doing the deed. The technology only became available in the 1990s.
The last one holds a special place in my heart. I grew up watching David Hasselhoff fight crime with his trusty sidekick: a self-driving car named K.I.T.T. The acronym, by the way, stands for Knight Industries Two Thousand.
While there is no self-driving car in the market yet, some are saying that a car like K.I.T.T. will soon become a reality. Look for Alphabet’s Waymo and General Motors, as Bloomberg reported in May 2018, to lead the charge.
Sci-fi, as this article shows, has made its way into many forms. Both the movies and TV have utilized the genre. The same goes with literature. Big businesses have even used Star Trek or Knight Rider as models for their own products. But, the best value that sci-fi provides is that it can provide a portent or promise of things to come. It is up to us if we want to have a Blade Runner like dystopian reality or a utopia akin to that in Tomorrowland. The choice is ours.