Saturday, July 4, 2009

It's Independence Day: Ladies, thank Science Fiction!

I know, I know. What?? What does the Fourth of July have to do with Science Fiction other than that dreadful movie with Will Smith? It depends on how you look at it.

If you are a citizen of the U.S. then Independence Day has a specific meaning, and a lot of people will lob talk of the Founding (and fallible) Fathers around. Maybe it's because my father was a historian, or my mother grew up in the U.K., I'm not sure, either way whenever July 4th rolls around, I can't help but think about how it would be almost 100 years before we outlawed owning other human beings, more than 140 years before women were able to vote and we're still trying to achieve equality for all. We're a work in progress, and that's okay. Independence is still a work in progress and some of that work is done in fiction.

Fiction gets a bad reputation, so does film and TV. We're told it is the mindless stuff of too much time on a couch and a lot of entertainment is pure escapism. We watch it with our minds in neutral, just trying to unwind, and again, there's nothing wrong with that. Fiction also makes us think about things we might never encounter in our daily lives, it can broaden our minds, reflect social ills, and even bring about changes in both perception and reality. Sometimes our fiction can be several steps ahead of our society.

It's always amused me that people are surprised that I like both science fiction and fantasy. Even my friends have a rather tolerant, head-patting response, as if it is a cute little eccentricity. That's fine by me, when science fiction is mentioned people conjure images of people showing up for jury duty in Federation Uniforms, going to conventions, or TV with bad lighting and a lot of green people with tentacles. Some science fiction is like that, and frankly, I don't watch much of that kind of sci-fi.

However, science fiction has taken on all manner of social ills, often during times when the government was attempting to control what was acceptable to discuss. When Rod Serling chain-smoked and asked for our consideration, or the Outer Limits pushed the edge of the envelope in what it was permissible to address, they did so through the use of metaphors and symbols. It's a very interesting genre and I'm not asking that everyone like it, but rather recognize that even if you don't, it has done some really interesting things.

Including push for, and in some ways help achieve in the real world, empowerment for women. In 1958 a truly dreadful film called Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman hit the screen. In it a wronged housewife grew to enormous heights and became incredibly powerful. It's still considered in film classes today for what it was saying about the plight of women in American Society. It's hardly a great film, but it was about more than giant aliens.

When I was a girl Wonder Woman was a TV series. A superhero(ine) made powerful, in part, by her accessories. Oy. In 1984, a year before I graduated from high school, James Cameron would cast the future governor of California as a Terminator bent on destroying a woman named Sarah Connor, a character who was, at the time, basically a magic womb. She was special because of who she would give birth to, not who she was. She needed Kyle Reese to convince her that she could be special, and she also needed him to save her from an annoying tendency to freeze in fear, and bleat like a terrified lamb, all while literally tearing at her hair. By the time 1991 rolled around that same character would become a formidable, powerful woman, who was as awesome as she was terrifying (and crazy, please don't forget she was mad as a hatter in that film).

The nineties would progress and a witty fellow named Joss Whedon would bring us a teeny, tiny blonde girl who was secretly the most powerful girl (or person, for that matter) in the world, capable of saving it over and over again. Stronger than any man and ironically named Buffy: The Vampire Slayer. If you think back over the depictions of vampires in books and films, their stealing of innocence, usually from helpless, screaming women, you'll get why she needed to be a Vampire Slayer.

In 1979 a character named Ripley bested an alien in a movie by the same name. Outliving every male authority figure, who had all perished partially because they wouldn't listen to her. She was strong, smart, resourceful and yes, she spent a large portion of the film in clad in her underwear but hey, she still saved her own hide from the monster.

Independence. Not being dependent. Needing only ones self. Many women over the course of several centuries fought to bring about equality. In some areas we are still trying to achieve it. It isn't what you do with your choices but the mere fact that we have a world of them available to us. It wasn't always the case, and it wasn't the case in 1776 by a long shot.

Long before straight drama began to bring us powerful women as the norm, science fiction and fantasy depicted women capable of anything. Representations in media matter, they always have. If you don't believe me, go and search out things like archived articles from Good Housekeeping, or the Ladies Home Journal. It's flabbergasting to see how so often print and film media put women in a box. Real women fought to get out of it and one area of film and TV took note, and changed depictions.

Thank you, science fiction. It wasn't the only genre to do so, and we all know from the Lycra-clad nymphets of several scifi staples that it wasn't perfect, but children learn to dream of what is possible through fiction. Adults learn to consider broadening their horizons through fiction. Fiction has a great deal of access to society as a whole because it so seldom tries to instruct overtly, but it does make us think on levels we aren't always aware of at the time.

If you are a U.S. citizen today is about the Independence of your country, and you'll likely engage in fireworks tonight. But if you are a woman, it's hard to pin a date on actual Independence. We don't have a specific date for a world of choices being available, just dates when our choices expanded. Our vision of who we can be keeps expanding, and part of that vision is brought to us through fiction. Science fiction has been telling us we are powerful with persuasive images, and characters for a long time. It didn't create that power, of course, it just recognized it.

Happy Independence Day, Ladies.


Karla said...

Heh. If I had just found this blog at random, I'd still know exactly who wrote it. Sounds exactly like you! Very well thought out (of course), and I happen to agree with everything you said. Well, except for the not-liking-the-movie thing. I actually like "Independence Day" -- in an it's-so-bad-it's-heavenly way. Now, a double feature of "Independence Day" and "The Day After Tomorrow" (accompanied by copius amounts of popcorn and Dr. Pepper) is my idea of a blissful Saturday.

Land of shimp said...

Ha! How true, you would know it was me. I'm always ready to defend my love of scifi with, "But it's the genre that has featured empowered women for the longest!"

Absolutely, Independence Day, if you are in the right mood, really fits into that "So bad, it's good" niche. I confess, we sat down and watched Demolition Man (does it get any worse??) for precisely the same reason. "This is awful!" "Terrible!" "It's like art!" "Wheeeee!"

A human kind of human said...

This reminded me of a friend who watches soapies and when I asked her what she enjoys in them she told me that she finds them funny (even when heavy drama is going on) and she can always predict what is going to happen. Also a case of it is so bad, it is good. Lol.