Like Charlie Brooker, giving his Seven Ridiculous Film Plots, I get really irritated by lazy implausibility in movies. Of Star Trek, he writes:
Harder to swallow was the bit when Kirk was exiled to a barren, snowy planet, but luckily landed right outside the cave of Leonard Nimoy. Or the fact that Kirk and Spock could two-handedly overpower a 24th-century Romulan spaceship like it was a 60s Bond movie. Didn’t those guys invent security cameras yet?
CB finds something the baddies failed to do. But what irks me most is how writers use Sci Fi for imagining a world without constraints – and constraints are what makes economics interesting. In SciFi, anything whatsover can be done. Space ships the size of towns glide around effortlessly. Ever larger, more powerful and energetic things are produced, despite us now knowing that it takes the GDP sacrifice of a small, no make that large, African country just to put five bozos or so onto the Moon.
But not just economists should be bothered by this – any writer with integrity uses his creativity around the constraints. SciFi as we tend to get it in the cinema is like the outpouring of a 10 year hold boy obsessed with tanks and guns. It is not ‘imaginative’ to start with the premise ‘anything can happen’. Like with Harry Potter, there’s always a magic spell to get someone out of something.
The other failing is that SciFi often imagines that people will always be the same, following the same mushy mid-Atlantic ethics and patterns of behaviour, despite their worlds changing unimaginably. Whereas I think some of the most profound changes can happen in what people think is acceptable or ‘right’. Consider:
- 200 years ago slavery was widely accepted.
- 140 years ago Mill could be mocked for writing of the Subjection of Women
- 95 years ago Churchill might call himself a Liberal and yet have a huge retinue of servants;
- just 65 years ago an American army could try to liberate Europe while trying to retain segregation within its army.
- 40 years ago the Americans could conscript hundreds of thousands of young men to fight in Vietnam.
All of these boggle the mind now.
SciFi beggars belief in two ways: it assumes we will fall for any technical vision whatsoever, yet despite this that our world outlook will remain the same. Think of what higher life expectancy, easier travel and widespread literacy have done to our fundamental beliefs. I suspect that in 500 years, we will still inhabit planet Earth, but the standards will have changed so much that a time traveller would look upon us with frank disgust, and vice versa.
But that suburban American family is the target audience. Ho Hum
Which is just one of the reasons I loathe (what I see of) Doctor Who. It exemplifies these failings, and draws weekly attention to the British inability to do really imaginative drama of the quality of the Americans. It was dismaying to see Caitlin Moran put this in the top 10 TV shows of the Noughties. Her other picks were things like Big Brother, so perhaps it was no surprise.
At least the execrable Merlin was not there, which to a five-minute view looks like Hollyoaks with robes. Maybe it is unfair to blame people for not being able to imagine the year 2500 mindset; I doubt even Shakespeare could have contemplated the twentieth century. But for the past we have no such excuse.**
*I think this must come from the genre taking off around mid C20, when the past 150 years’ mechanical achievements must have seemed likely to head off exponentially
** this ability to present the interior thoughts of an eighteenth century opium addict is one of the many many reasons that Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey Maturin novels are the finest historical fiction ever.