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Critical Space Theory
The Expanse shows a universe free from trivial bigotries.
Today’s piece looks at the social dynamics portrayed in The Expanse.
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Apologies for two TV pieces in a row. I’ve got something real-life lined up next.
Bouncing across two different streaming services over the course of seven years, The Expanse has gathered a dedicated audience that approaches the fanatic fandom of Star Wars and Star Trek. As the series concludes its sixth (and possibly final) season, it’s worth examining the show’s unique portrayal of what we in the real world call “identity.”
If you haven’t seen it, The Expanse is the story of the not-so-near but not-so-distant future. There’s no intergalactic empire, nor are there any “aliens landed on the White House lawn” plot lines. Instead, The Expanse posits what happens between these extremes as humanity expands across the solar system in the 24th century. This creates a scenario where the issues at play are familiar to what we face today, such as resource distribution, militarism, and potentially extinction-level disasters, but with the welcome addition of bad-ass sci-fi.
However, one area where The Expanse departs from reality is how it depicts skin color, gender, and sexual orientation. (“Race” has taken on new meaning in this fictional universe. More on that later.)
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Across the three major factions battling for supremacy of the solar system (Earth, Mars, and The Belt), none seem to hold the trivial identity biases that plague us today. Skin color, gender, and sexual orientation are never noticed by the characters, and not for lack of diverse casting.
Earth, now ruled by the United Nations, is led by Chrisjen Avasarala, a woman of Iranian heritage. In Season 4, Avasarala faces another woman of color for the highest elected office, something contemporary society is far from experiencing. Mars, which has adopted a martial identity akin to futuristic Spartans, is often commanded by women, a considerable departure from our hyper-masculine military culture.
Homosexual relationships are commonplace and considered as unremarkable as heterosexual ones, and there’s even a rogue spaceship with a polyamorous crew-family. Bigotry over skin color appears to have been left in the dustbin of history, as “race” is used to distinguish between the “Inners” (people from Earth or Mars) and the “Belters” (those who live in the outreaches of the solar system). The distinction is physiologically rather than ethnic, as the evolutionary effects of living in zero gravity have caused the Belters to be taller and skinnier than their terrestrial and Martian counterparts.
It should be noted that this lack of bigotry isn’t for lack of hate. The Expanse is in no way a peaceful, utopic society. “Spacing” (the act of putting someone outside an airlock) is a daily occurrence, and the later seasons include mass murder on a scale that makes Nagasaki look like an afterthought.
Yet for all the reasons the characters torture and torment each other, what the 21st century calls “identity” isn’t one of them. Instead, the principal division is between Inners and Belters. Though the impacts of living off-planet have caused the Belters to become a different “race,” this distinction is most recognizable to us through the prism of class. It’s a schism between those who have resources and those who do not.
Perhaps our world, the one without moonbases and extraterrestrial portals, could learn a lesson from The Expanse. Instead of bullying trans kids and bitching about Critical Race Theory (whatever that is) we should focus on solving actual problems, such as disastrous climate change, falling life expectancy, and rampant labor exploitation.
A good place to start would be nationalizing Amazon. We’d simultaneously solve many of these problems while saving The Expanse from cancelation. Seems like a win-win.
What do you think The Expanse is saying about our society? Let me know in the comments below. Please share this piece on social media to help JoeWrote grow.
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