Science Fiction: Seeing society afresh

Science fiction is the only genre that depicts how society could function differently. The science fiction film genre too has long served as a useful means of discussing sensitive issues without arousing controversy, and provided thoughtful social commentary on potential unforeseen issues. This genre dealt with various, topics like time travel, monsters, superheroes, intergalactic space travel, computers and robots, artificial intelligence and extraterrestrial.

Most issues in science fiction tend to fall into two general storylines, utopian or dystopian. That is, either a society will become better or worse in the future. To begin with, “A Trip to the Moon” (1902), directed by French filmmaker Georges Melies, was profoundly influential on later filmmaking. “2001 – A Space Odyssey” (1968), based on the work of Arthur C. Clarke rose above the offerings up to that time in scope and quality.

Perhaps the most famous example of the positive effect of science fiction on society comes from the inclusion of a multiracial cast on the original Star Trek television series. When Michelle Nichols, who played Lieutenant Uhura, was considering leaving the series, civil rights leader Martin Luther King had convinced her to stay. King argued that her inclusion on Star Trek was important because, as a black woman, she helped represent a future people could aspire to, one where people were judged solely on their character.

It’s interesting to note that many of the top grossing films made in the past ten years, were in the science fiction category. These include “Iron Man”, “Justice League”, “Transformers: Dark of the Moon”, “Star Wars” (series), “Avatar” (biggest gross sales worldwide), “The Avengers”, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” etc.

In many ways, society has changed dramatically since the 1950s. Things that were once fiction have already become reality: we have walked on the Moon, we have created clones, and synthetic life, and many people now have access to almost all human knowledge through a device that can fit in their pocket. Technology is progressing so fast that it is changing society, leading to unprecedented moral dilemmas and scientific challenges. This means that science fiction is more important now than ever.

In science fiction books and films we got to experience and explore the futures through the eyes of the characters in the films, books. We get to put ourselves in their place and live through them. Similarly, science fiction is useful as a tool, not for predicting the future, but for instead modeling a range of possible futures. As our society develops and changes, science fiction is there to show us what will happen if we continue along our current path.

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