Watch enough bad science fiction and you can tell that science fiction as a genre has often used specific plot devices to grapple with current fears of the public. Even the Department of Homeland Security realizes the worth of looking to Sci-Fi for glimpse into the future. From the first inter-racial kiss on Star Trek in 1965 to the incredible issues of fascism and radicalization on the Sci-Fi Channel series Battlestar Galactica science fiction as a genre grapples with the forgotten issues of society. Perhaps dramatic movies like those produced by Participant Productions allows for an outlet to identify issues. However, any motion picture is going to be more limited in audience then an hour long or half hour long show based in fantasy. There is a certain advancement and detachment from reality we accept in television that is never going to be accepted in a major motion picture. Have you ever watched South Park?
There are always specific characters that can be called upon and depending on the audience point of view they can mean many things. There is always Godzilla as a metaphor for indiscriminate warfare (thermo nuclear hell) waged by meandering imperialist nation states imperiling the vassal state. The lumbering behemoth in lizardly glory impervious to the conventional weapons of the dutiful state can only represent the grist of nature churning the attacked society into dust. But, the glory of Godzilla is that he is more than nature and worse Godzilla is a force that can not be held back. Godzilla is destruction incarnate.
If Godzilla is a metaphor for the terror of nuclear holocaust then what if anything can represent terrorism? We have seen “Them” and genres of aliens attacking middle America as metaphors for communist sympathizer fears in a cold war. What better way to show the evil red communist scourge than as a giant red army ant wandering the sewers of Los Angeles. If only the hordes of Al Queda could be destroyed by the crooning of Slim Whitman as they did in “Mars Attacks”. Much like ants were the metaphor for communism the same plot devices were used for terrorism. Unreasoning atavistic hatred for all America represented as swarming aliens, ants, and guys in hockey masks. The key ingredient of this being the terror and lack of reason in the ruthless destruction of the population. Even Godzilla had an agenda but what is the agenda of a giant ant?
Zombies are fun! Why consider the correlations between Zombie outbreaks and real world pandemics. If I was a public health official I would make my co-workers watch all the George Romero zombie movies and think about the reasoning done by the survivors. Where else can you get a (zombie) movie that includes violence, highly virulent, instantly fatal (sort of) disease, and involves lots of shambling corpses. Until you get to the argument over shambling zombies and fast zombies you have a slow moving self replicating evil created out of our own excesses. Once we enter the era of “Resident Evil” the dialog changes from a virulent outbreak of unknown origins to an anti-technology, anti-corporatism theme. It is interesting how often hyper-corporatism is linked to immoral science in the movie genre. Perhaps in the themes of anti-corporatism we can see from the Movie “Aliens” (all of them) a fear of the rise of the corporate state. Since the Pease of Westphalia to current day the nation state has been the arbiter. However, we see evil in the sci-fi genre deepening as a plot device rivaling the Gibson paradox of individual empowerment through technology and hegemony of the corporate state over the access to basic services by the individual.
With movies such as the soon to return “Andromeda Strain” and a easily forgotten favorite “Hot Zone” the virulent nature of the biological threat and the near instantaneous threat of death drives the plots. The fear of a nature driven backlash is scary enough but that fear can carry the stigma of terrorism and an anti science hysteria. The dehumanization of terrorists can take even a further turn in the unfortunately named “Crusade” from the Babylon 5 universe when the virus has a long incubation period and is done as an act of terrorism. In this case the result is expected to be a mass extinction event of the entire human population by aliens serving evil.
It was either caused by a nuclear bomb or can be fixed by a nuclear bomb is the basic plot twist for the specter of nuclear weapons as simple tools in the government arsenal. Likely twists include stopping the torrents of nature, the earthquakes of a failing earth, jump starting the sun, and heck wiping out the average marauding alien horde. The nuclear weapon in question will not work in the case of anti-science bias by the writers, but simple microbial parasites can get the job done. Earth takes care of her own children. Alien hordes should beware. The nuclear weapon has a relative limited impact when it is used for good purposes. Chunk an a-bomb into a volcano to stop it from wiping out New York City, you do not have to worry about radiation in the ground water. The brilliance of sci-fi sequels are somebody else’s problem.
The evolving dialog of nature good, and technology bad is an actual dialog toward fear of change. The anti-intellectual anti-elite bias is a form of censorship of debate. Even the egalitarian sci-fi writer community exhibit their own biases. Whether it is astronauts stuck on a space station as an ice-age rapidly encroaches all landing zone. Of course, due to the political nannyism of global warming zealots unaware that green house gasses were keeping the apocalypse at bay. Maybe it is “Water World” and the characters of a world drowned by global sea changes caused by melting glacial ice. These biases invade and inform the debate. Whether good or bad the reality is that they serve to illuminate in a world of self censoring and hyper-politics a debate that can only be honest in the realm of fiction.
Simple plot devices such as the scrawny, be-spectacled (sic), pale red-headed computer geek who is often sacrificed to the creature du jour early into the plot, versus the handsome, barrel chested, rugged, blonde, blue eyed, do as I say, baritone leader type, are ways of showing the virility of ignorance. Ignorance has strength and inherent beauty and we slowly become aware that intelligence is of limited utility in a fight. An interesting bit of triviality that tells us that technology and thinking are secondary to emotion and fisticuffs. In the operatic versions of these stylistic cues there is an interesting phenomenon and one we should take not of early when we see it played out in real life. Everybody in the opera dies before the curtain falls.