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Can Faction: Can Sci-fi fans stop waiting for Obama and start writing their own future?
11 November, 2009, 11:16 pm
Filed under: 1

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Last Thursday, Bill Maher offered up another of his “New Rules,” New Rule: If America Can’t Get it Together, We Lose the Bald Eagle. It’s a surprisingly powerful commentary on the ever-growing inertia of America. For a science fiction fan like me, the biggest slap in the face came in Maher’s juxtaposing of the Apollo program with the World Trade Center reconstruction. In one eight year period, America pierced the heavens, but in another, we are left staring down the abyss. In this first decade of a new millennium, what was supposed to be the birth of the future, it seems that every proposal for something new, or something better, is met with terminal hesitation or loud reactionary opposition. The age of “Yes We Can,” is starting to feel a bit more like the age of “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a Hamburger today.” How did the world of tomorrow become so wimpy?


By electing President Obama, America theoretically changed the channel from 24, to Futurama, and the genre of the United States went from a romanticized spaghetti western, into a space opera. Unfortunately while the set may have changed, the narrative didn’t. It is no accident that as George W. Bush was positioned as a cowboy, Barak Obama has become Superman. Regardless of connotation, both are embodiments of the unitary executive. Where his predecessor was a maverick gun slinging defending the ordinary folk, the costume of Superman places Obama in a similar authoritative state. By embracing either iconography, citizens turn themselves into the McGuffins of their own story.

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In Mary Shelley’s, Frankenstein, one of the first sci-fi novels, the Monster is not inherently monstrous; Victor deems it so despite his own hand at its creation, to his ultimate destruction. The public needs to take responsibility for it’s own condition, and not blame Obama for embracing the role that it chose for him. Obama’s origin story was one of inclusion. The vernacular of his campaign was based on togetherness; “Yes We Can,” & “Change We Can Believe in.” Obama offered change, and that change quickly got lost between the cushions as we cheered from the couches.

Fans of Barak forgot that his promised power was in the “we,” not the Wii; so we gave up our hero to villain we thought was defeated. We abandoned our savior to the forces that would turn a hero into a monster. That is the problem with fandom; too often it condescends without contributing. But that doesn’t have to be the case. When passionate and energized fans come together, they can be a powerful force. The power of the mob can bring down the moster, or possibly redeem it.  If we can bring Futurama back to television why can’t we make it into reality?

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In that spirit I appeal to Science fiction fans to stop simply imagining start building. Sci-Fi fans are supposed to be vanguard of the future. It is a genre it is innately revolutionary and it offers a vision that is necessary to counter the reactionary one that is so desperately trying to capture the American mind. Our dilemma is not a lack of vision, it is that we have become mired in yesterday’s idea of tomorrow, and in some cases yesterday’s idea of yesterday.

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We can’t seem to break out of our own “too big to fail” systems. But, the notion of TBTF is a myth, everything fails at some point or another, history has proven that time and time again, and if it is big enough, it takes a lot of other things down with it. Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series is based on this notion, that of a mighty galactic empire unable to halt its own decay and degradation. In his books it is only by planting the seeds of a new type of society that a total breakdown can be prevented.

The time is upon our nation to build its own Asimovian “foundation.” America still is rife with imagination and ideas to shape a better tomorrow, but it is the public that should operate on speculation, not the banks. Sci-Fi fans need to become more than visionaries, we must be early adaptors and concrete examples of what the future can be. Whether its by driving electric cars, using waterless toilets, changing our diet, installing solar panels, or participating in science and the arts we need to be creative in designing the shape the world of tomorrow takes.

Now, Maher can be sensationalist and perhaps a bit incendiary at times. But one can’t really accuse him of being a hypocrite, a hedonist perhaps, but unashamedly so. And while he is indeed a fan of President Obama, he doesn’t look to him as a savior. Like a much sleazier version of Gandhi, Maher is “the change [he wants] to see in the world.” He understood that, really, there is no such thing as the future, only the present. If change is to happen, we must make it so. Can the same be said of Sci-Fi fans? If not, Bill’s right, we need to lose the eagle.

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