Traditionalist and libertarian themes in science fiction and fantasy: Part Fifteen – Pop-culture, from aliens to vampires
By Mark Wegierski
Among various science fiction role-playing game settings or backgrounds, that of Traveller (spelled with the double "l") is one of the best rendered. It encompasses a complex "future-history" which charts the future of humanity for thousands of years. It is interesting that the posited collapse of the Third Imperium as a result of a massive nanotechnology "plague" was not too popular among the players of the setting. It probably had too many melodramatic, Grand Guignol aspects to it. In more recent renderings of the Traveller universe, that whole nanotechnology "plague" concept has been abandoned, in favor of adventure and intrigue on a less grandly apocalyptic level. The rejection of the "plague" concept can be seen as speaking to the greater commonsense and "realism" of the typical Traveller players, as Traveller has always made an effort to be a more realistic, science fiction, rather than "sci-fi" setting.
Brainstorm and Dreamescape
These two movies raised the theme of the possibility of entering into the dreams or into the mind of a person, through technological means. Dreamescape also portrayed the landscape after a nuclear war (in the nightmares of the President of the United States).
Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone
This very poor movie is perhaps a paradigmatic example of "sci-fi" i.e., silly, unserious science fiction. The movies' main attraction was probably the young Molly Ringwald.
This very light fantasy movie was notable for its rock soundtrack, notably Olivia Newton-John's Magic, and ELO's title-song. Xanadu is a reference to one of the best-known English Romantic poems.
Two Teenage Movies of Light Sci-Fi from the 1980s
A major characteristic of the films Back to the Future (with Michael J. Fox) and Peggy Sue Got Married (with Kathleen Turner) was the portrayal of the large degree of "innocence" of the 1950s period. This could indeed cause some reflection, whether in fact, a true improvement in the human condition, had occurred in the last thirty years of American society.
Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark; Indiana Jones: The Temple of Doom; Indiana Jones: The Last Crusade
These are among the most famous of the movies made by director Steven Spielberg. In them, of course, we can once again see the Nazis as the stereotypical "bad guys". What was somewhat unexpected, however, was that (Fascist-ruled) Italy in The Last Crusade was not presented as a nightmare society.
Films and Television Series for Children
Teen Age Mutant Ninja Turtles represented one moment in North American pop-culture for children, which of course has now departed from the scene, now replaced with numerous other, successive phenomena (such as, Power Rangers, and, afterwards, Pokemon). Indeed, pop-culture today often moves through such crazes, which after a year or two are usually forgotten. It could also be argued that these turtles in humanoid form (ironically given the names of great European artists), actually have quite a few traits stereotypically associated with very "cool", African-American males.
Some interesting television series oriented to children included: Ark II (a group of ecologically-oriented young people travelling in "super-bus" tries to reconstruct civilization after a nuclear holocaust); Captain Power (a small group of human super-fighters struggles against a world dominated by cruel machines); and Superhuman Samurai Cybersquad (mostly a comedy with a high school setting).
What could be considered television series for children also include the attempt to bring to the television screen (in a live action series) Dungeons & Dragons (with the wizard Lazarsa; a beautiful sorceress; and the "snake-men") – and the 1990s series -- Hercules, Xena, Sinbad, and Conan. There was also the film from the 1970s, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad.
This movie, with Rolling Stones superstar Mick Jagger portraying a bounty-hunter, could be seen as an example of cyberpunk. The main premise is that time travel technology is used to pick up people from the near past, who are known to be on the verge of dying in an accident, in order to provide bodies to house the minds of very wealthy old people of the future.
This film could be characterized as simply, "Mad Max on water."
Independence Day (1996)
This film was one of the big hits of 1996. It portrayed the invasion of current-day Earth by incredibly cruel and technologically advanced aliens, with their huge spaceships. The special effects were amazing. Nevertheless, the film could be criticized in certain aspects. It's possible that it represents the stubborn American search for the so-called "ideal enemy" which is to unite all Americans into a harmonious society. It could also be noted, that it appears from the movie, that 95% of the resistance to the invasion, is conducted by the Americans.
The three heroes leading the American effort are rather symbolic. This is the WASP President, the African-American pilot, and the Jewish scientist. This trio reflects entirely the current "politically-correct" regime – that is, WASP managers or administrators; Jewish thinkers or intellectuals; and African-American fighters or warriors. It could be noted that for so-called "white ethnics" there is no first-rank place in such an arrangement.
Two Films About "Ghosts"
Two very different, but both very popular movies, about ghosts, are the comedy, Ghostbusters, and the romance, Ghost.
Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman was a television series of the 1990s. One of the most absurd episodes of this series portrayed the attempt to seize the American government by a highly powerful neo-Nazi organization apparently consisting of millions of people. (The series purported to take place contemporaneously.) One of the least pleasant scenes of this episode was when the stereotypical, unfashionably dressed white geek proves to be a hardcore Nazi, trying to take over the offices of a mass-circulation newspaper at the time of the "putsch". He is opposed by, among others, a young, "super-cool" white guy, who clearly holds left-liberal views. The episode ends with the call of constant vigilance against "the Nazi threat" – which, it is said, can be lurking anywhere – even among one's closest friends.
This was one of the more interesting films of the 1990s. It portrayed the finding of a "stargate" by American "special services" underneath the pyramid of Cheops in Egypt, after which American soldiers and one scientist use the gate to travel to planets incredibly remote from Earth.
Films and Television Series with a Vampire Theme
One can notice the incredible popularity of the vampire subgenre. One of the earlier movies about vampires was The Hunger (with Catherine Deneuve as well as David Bowie playing the role of a vampire). Three films from the 1990s were Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula (with its motif, "Love Never Dies"), Interview with a Vampire (with Tom Cruise), and The Vampire Lestat. Two rather romantic and mystical series with vampires from the 1990s were Forever Knight and Vampire: The Masquerade. Now, of course, there is the Twilight film series. It could be argued that the current popularity of the vampire figure is probably connected with the problems of maintaining stable concepts of male and female gender roles today.
Two fairly interesting horror movies with somewhat different premises were The Keep (set in the period of the Second World War during the German occupation in Romania) and The Warlock (a film that portrayed a warlock as a serious figure of evil – something which is rather rare in American cinema today).
Somewhat similar to the vampire concept is "The Phantom of the Opera". Among several other renderings, there was an interesting, but rather horror-oriented movie version of the story (from 1989) available, before, eventually, Andrew Lloyd Webber's famous musical stage production was rendered into film, with its gorgeous music.
To be continued.
Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.