Science Fiction and Civil Rights

I’m embarking on a very interesting journey in my Science Fiction class. This may prove more work for me than my students, but the idea of it is piquing my interest…

We just read “The Crystal Crypt” by Philip K Dick. It’s a really great story about prejudice and a Catch-22 of sorts. I found it on a whim and we just finished it today. The next two days we will be focusing on a project where we will attempt to address issues of Civil Rights via a science fiction short story.

I started to research race and ethnicity and civil rights connections in science fiction and while I got some google hits, my academic researcher either isn’t up to snuff or there’s nothing out there. This has happened to me before when cross analyzing David Malouf’s An Imaginary Life with TS Eliot’s “The Wasteland” and its section “V. What the Thunder Said,” as well as Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale.” All of them have to do with the transience of life, inability to affect change, and the general melancholy of the modern man. I poured my heart and soul into that 20 page paper (only had to be 12!). And when I presented it to Dr. Hagans, he looked legitimately surprised that that kind of cross analysis and information had come from my brain, mouth, and fingertips. To be honest, I was a bit surprised myself. But what I learned is that though each author has his own statement, they’re all basically talking about the same things. My hope, and encouragement from Dr. Hagans, was to pursue some more lit theory and add it to my paper. I never had time to, and I hope that when I further my eduction (sometime ages and ages hence) that I can revisit it. I’d like to devote some time now to this new venture, but it seem as though my research is leading me to more research, and so on… What started out as a simple compare-and-contrast with high school students is quickly becoming a full-time project. Not that I’m complaining…

I think the subject is very interesting for a number of reasons. 1) humanity expresses itself through literature, it stands the test of time, 2) humanity instructs itself through literature, 3) science fiction is not a mere “what if” but it is also a “watch out” and a “pay attention” and a “caution!” to all that read it.

In every Doctor Who episode and every Science Fiction journal article and story there is that underlying theme of accepting The Other. I want to know why we use Science Fiction to get that point across. I also want to see if some of the mid 20th century writers were using their works to promote/defame the civil rights movement. A lot of science fiction stories look at the struggle, prejudice, and eventual destruction or resolution amongst warring parties or different races/species. Star Trek is riddled with the idea of accepting The Other. This isn’t anything new, I know. I’m not coming up with anything new, and I know some of my academic friends may read this and scoff. And that’s fine. I’ll write you into my next science fiction story as another world that denies the existence of a different world — or something like that.

It is my belief that all literature is hiding something. And you can blame Marxist-moral-neohistorical reader within… but if you think about literature for very long, you’ll begin to see it to. That’s why I teach: because who were are a human race (our struggles and differences and fall-outs and future outcomes) it’s all in the literature. Whether I agree with it all or not, I see the situations amoral literature as inevitable and the science fiction as a warning to mankind.

Do not tell me that Art is For Art’s Sake. It may well have intended to be just that, but it’s not. It was created with a purpose. And when we understand that: I think we become more fully human.

Civ haunts me. In the best way possible.



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