The History of Science Fiction — Part III
As the Cold War ends, science fiction celebrates America
This is Part III of the four-part series on the history of science fiction and how it has long served as a cultural mirror. Part I examines 19th and early 20th-century sci-fi, while Part II explores the Cold War era and the everyday fear of nuclear annihilation.
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Hey folks! Before we begin I wanted to let you know I’m taking next week off to go on vacation. It’s my first hiatus since I started a routine schedule with JoeWrote, so I think it’ll do me good to take a break. Fear not, as premium readers will receive Part IV of this series as scheduled.
Talk soon! — Joe
Following Watergate and the Vietnam era, many Americans distrusted their government on a level not seen since the start of the Cold War. With an honest view of the country’s foreign policy and a healthy distaste for the establishment, 1980s filmmakers made some of the most iconic films in science fiction history, often with their politics guiding the plot.
Backdropping Harrison Ford in Blade Runner (1982) is a world so ravaged by climate disaster that it rains nonstop in Los Angeles. With environmental damage run amok, man-made snakes are cheaper than real ones. RoboCop (1987) offers an over-the-top satirization of the relationships between corporations and militarized police, depicting a resource-scarce Detroit in which violent crime is a daily occurrence. But rather than combatting the corporations taking community resources under the guise of profit, the city hands the police force to the mega-corporation Omni Consumer Products, which immediately begins creating killer robots to impose mechanized law and order on a starving population.
That same year, Arnold Schwarzenegger came on screen to launch one of sci-fi’s most infamous villains in Predator. Underneath the surface of flashy alien tech, nuclear explosions, and homoerotic commandos, Predator is a mockery of American foreign policy, specifically the routine interventions in South America. Dropped into an unnamed South American country, the plot depicts a group of CIA-backed soldiers assassinating a group of unnamed “insurgents” and a Soviet officer. There’s never any justification for this attack, just the blanket mantra of “go anywhere, kill anyone who disagrees with us” that steered American foreign policy at the time. But, following the commandos’ raid on the Bad Guys, the tables turn. Once the Predator shows up, the once-elite soldiers are turned into hapless prey, shooting blindly into the South American jungle with absolutely no effect. (That my friends, is called an “allegory.”)
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