The Horror Honeys: HSM ~ The Sci-Fi of Sociology, the Sociology of Sci-Fi: Part 1!

HSM ~ The Sci-Fi of Sociology, the Sociology of Sci-Fi: Part 1!

A Honey Switch Month Essay from Sci-Fi Honey Linnie

One of the (many) reasons I have always loved science fiction is that it is more than just an entertaining genre of film and literature; it's a wonderful snapshot in the real fears and societal issues that have plagued human history. Sci-fi has the ability to act as both a satisfying spine-tingler and a reminder of the ways in which we have grown and changed as a species.

As well as the ways we haven't.

This month, I thought it would be fun to look back at all the sci-fi films that represent different societal issues and fears that have been on the minds of writers and directors at the times the films were made. Some are issues we still deal with today, while others may feel a little foreign. But they all lead to some brilliant piece of science fiction cinema!

Join me for Part One of this essay this week, and check back in for Part Two next week!

The Obsession With Youth/Beauty

Talk about an issue that never ceases to be relevant, especially in America. We are a culture that prizes youth and beauty above almost everything else, and science-fiction is a genre that has always been acutely aware of it. One of my favorite films that focuses on the uniquely American phenomenon is John Frankenheimer's Seconds (1966), a movie that bombed upon its release, but which has been elevated to cult status in the decades since. John Randolph stars as a banker who is disappointed with what he views as his middle-aged compromise of a life, so when he is offered the chance to undergo a procedure that will make him young again (and turns him into Rock Hudson), he can't say no. But as is always the case, the fine print is brutal and this movie will leave even the most confident among us utterly terrified. More than that, you may find yourself a little more grateful for the aging process, whatever it may be.

Another famous sci-fi film that focuses on the dangers of idolizing youthful perfect is of course, Bryan Forbes The Stepford Wives (1975), based on Ira Levin's exceptional novel of the same name. Here, we deal with not only the obsessive drive for a societal version of perfection, but also the very real fear that women have, in which their husbands/boyfriends would rather have a robot for a wife who submits to their every whim. Who needs personality when you have the perfect house, the perfect meal, and more importantly, the perfect wife?

The Stepford Wives came to us in an era when second-wave feminism was truly taking hold, and women were standing up for their right to not only be single for any length of their choosing, but also to work, to remain childless, and to no longer stand behind their man, but at his side. The robot wives of Stepford were the logical end-game for men who didn't trust feminism, and wanted a 50s wife in the 70s.

The Stepford Wives lead to a lot of conversations in 1975: namely, what kind of wife would YOU have, if you could choose?

More recently, Andrew Nicol's Gattaca imagined a future in which genetic superiority was the only true currency, and those with inferior genes can only work menial, blue-collar jobs. But Ethan Hawke's Vincent Freeman wants to fly in space, so he borrows the identity of a genetically perfect man and begins his training. However, after a freak accident, the police are now suspicious of Vincent, and as the film's tagline asks, how do you hide when you're running from yourself?

With every passing year, Gattaca becomes more and more relevant. As we face a future where genetic manipulation is the norm, and we seem to refuse to learn from a past in which genetics have lead to some of the worst atrocities in human history, the world of Gattaca isn't as far-fetched as it once seemed.

Reality TV

Science-fiction anticipated the advent of reality television culture long before it was the prevalent stain on society that it has become. Paul Bartel's Death Race 2000 (1975) seemed to anticipate that the day would come in which families would tune in to watch human beings doing despicable things to one another for fun. But Paul Michael Glaser's The Running Man (1987), based on a novel by Stephen King, was one of the first truly mainstream films to stick its neck out and say, "Hey! This is our future if we don't cool it!" Unfortunately, no one seemed all that interested in paying attention.

Which brings us to Peter Weir's The Truman Show. You may not think of Truman as a science-fiction film, but it most definitely has many of the elements. Truman (Jim Carrey) is raised from the womb to be the perfect television character, someone the whole human race can relate to throughout his entire life. He lives in a controlled environment, run by a shadowy supreme overlord/God known as Christof (Christof... Christ... nothing is accidental in this movie). What is Truman's life but a very specific experiment in humanity and what it means to be human?

The Truman Show is a direct reaction to the Real World-MTV culture that many of us grew up in, and yet for some reason, embraced instead of rebelled against. If people tune in for shows like Big Brother and The Real Housewives, is it such a stretch to believe that the whole world would rally around a man they have literally watched grow up from a fetus? The Truman Show is about the monetization of the human spirit. Truman isn't a person. He's a commercial. He's a brand. And thanks to the reality television culture we've cultivated, we're only a year away from the 2017 imagined by The Running Man, in which prisoners are forced to engage in death sport for a chance at freedom.

Government Control/Mind Control
As long as there has been government, people have been afraid of the possible abuse of power by those in charge. Science-fiction has always been the genre that expressed those fears, misplaced or not. While many believed that Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) was a reaction to the Red Scare and an indictment of Communism, those involved with the film claim the opposite, and that it was an indirect attack on McCarthyism and infamous Hollywood Black List. When the 1978 remake was released (still easily one of the best remakes ever made) the concept of emotionless pod people resonated with a new generation of young people who felt out of place among a government that didn't accept them for who they were. However, the 2007 remake of the remake, The Invasion didn't seem to understand the subtext of the first two films, and just became a run-of-the-mill "thriller."

John Frankenheimer, who we've already seen on this list with Seconds, also dove in to the realm of political mind control with 1962's The Manchurian Candidate, based on a novel by Richard Condon. Manchurian focused again on the "Red Scare," in which a political candidate was an actual a tool of mind control for the Soviets. The 2004 remake, which wasn't awful, turns the tables and puts a corporation in control of our political candidate's subconscious, something that seems more and more plausible with each passing year.

Both films tapped in to a very real fear that every right-thinking citizen has had a few times in their life: do we ever really know who we're voting for? And more importantly, do the politicians ever have our best interests at heart? The answer to that question is probably no, and films like The Manchurian Candidate truly plant the seed that questioning authority is probably a grand idea.

Few films, however, have questioned authority as boldly as John Carpenter's indictment of totalitarian government, They Live (1988). Wrapped up in a goofy, bubblegum chewing, ass-kicking package is a film that so actively questions authority, it has inspired generation's worth of dorm room posters encouraging people to do just that. Carpenter may have given us body-invading aliens, but messages like, "STAY ASLEEP," "CONSUME," "MARRY AND REPRODUCE," and "NO INDEPENDENT THOUGHT," aren't that far off the messages we receive every day via advertising.

Of course, if any film rivals Carpenter's in terms of an anti-authoritarian message, it would have to be Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, based on Anthony Burgess' novel of the same name. Clockwork is the ultimate exploration of morality versus inherent humanity, and whether or not the government has any right to make determinations on what is right or wrong. Malcolm McDowell's Alex DeLarge has become a sort of rebel icon for a generation looking for guidance when doing the right thing isn't black and white. A rapist and thief committed to the ways of ultra-violence may seem like a strange role model, but the real question you're meant to ask by the end of the film is, who is less trustworthy: a criminal following his true impulses, or a government stifling their own, and forcing you to conform to their own version of morality?

Which of these films is YOUR favorite?
Tell Linnie on Twitter: @linnieloowho

and don't forget...