Simulacra, Simulation and Science Fiction
Warning: this article contains spoilers for The Matrix, Matrix Reloaded... and Tron.
Why film science fiction?
There are two reasons why science fiction gets filmed as much as it does. First, science fiction, like animations or dream fiction, is particularly effective in cinema because it has a particular logic that disconnects the real from the possible. In large part, cinema is the art of realizing the impossible, and science fiction is all about the not-yet-possible, or the possible but not-yet-realized.
Second, once the impossible can be made real, ideas, thoughts, concepts can be displayed - not merely communicated or understood. Science fiction is especially good at taking metaphors and making them real, so that it constantly functions on two levels, the narrative (the simulation in the story of the film) and the metaphorical (the concept from the 'real world' on display). In French the word for director is 'realisateur' ('realizer') and it is this very 'realization' or making real that in turn makes ideas more powerful, and easier to understand. For example, it is easier to understand how a republic becomes an empire through vast militarization and the invention of a 'mission' by watching Star Wars 2: Attack of the Clones than by reading current political theory (or the newspaper).
Science fiction films are not only ubiquitous, however; they are important, because they reflect the increasing technologization of our world. The speed with which technology is exponentially colonizing our daily world (including the production of film) has made the technological concerns of SF matters of primary interest. Once, only computer geeks and engineers were surrounded by technology. Now, we all are. We are affected by machines, both physically and psychologically - we conceptualise our world in terms of machines in a way mediaeval farmers did in terms of nature. The lifespan of a computer is a more valid reference for most of us (i.e. the target audience of Hollywood films) than is the lifespan of a plant. And so, engaging with the meaning of technology, and with the shifting effects it has on how we live, are challenges for the twenty-first century.
Zeek in Print
Spring 03 issue available here
Simulacra and Science Fiction
I Hear America
I wish I was...
Josh Gets Contacts
When I Met Humility, I saw Letters
Zeek @ Low
June 26, 2003
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