Science Fiction Cinema


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Understanding Social, Cultural & Political Anxieties through Science Fiction Cinema

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  • IntroductionIn considering the cultural instrumentality of science fiction film, it is essential to bear in mind that we are talking precisely about fiction - The cultural instrumentalities identified as the basis for understanding science fiction cinema are fivefold.Image:
  • First of all, there is a notion that the overt contents of science fiction films are reflections of social trends and attitudes of the time, mirroring the preoccupations of the historical moment in which the films were made. In this reflectionist model, films are treated as, in a sense, sociological evidence. The reflectionist model assumes that films are always precisely reflections of things going on outside them. The assumption is that social trends and attitudes in a sense produce films, which can then be read as evidence of these trends and attitudes.Image:
  • Secondly, there is the idea that science fiction e relate to the social order through the mediation of ideologies, society’s representations of itself in and for itself – that films speak, enact, even produce certain ideologies, which cannot always be read directly off films’ surface contents.Ideological readings of films – have tended to adopt strucuralist rather than empiricist approaches to method. Structuralism assumes both that texts are constructs – that textual meanings are made, not already there; and also that while signification processes may not be immediately be observable, they can be discovered through a process of deconstruction. The underlying ideological operations of a film text(s) are exposed by means of symptomatic readings, which the attend to what is not there – the gaps, the silences, be ‘structural absences’ – as much as to what is.
  • Third is the view that films voice cultural repressions in ‘unconscious’ textual processes which, like the dreams, associations, and bodily symptoms of psychoanalytic patients, require interpretation in order to reveal the meanings hidden in them.This notion of an ‘unconscious of the text’ derives from psychoanalytic theory, and has become associated with a particular strand of psychoanalytic film criticism. It implies that cultural productions, such as films, may be regarded as sites of unconscious meanings – unconscious because repressed, and therefore inexpressible indirect form. Such meanings are there in the text, but appear in disguise – betraying themselves only in certain cues or clues, which have to be interpreted. The contents of repressed meanings in films reflect the classic concerns of psychoanalysis.Image:
  • A fourth cultural instrumentality concerns what science fiction films do to and for their spectators – the sorts of pleasures they evoke and the fantasies they activate.Meanings in film texts are not already there, but are produced in a relationship between text and spectator.Films speak to, or address, spectators in particular ways; and therefore a text is not open to all possible readings, but may privilege some meanings over others.Image:
  • Finally, there is the view that science fiction films are actively involved in a whole network of intertexts, of cultural meanings and social discourses. Any consideration of science fiction cinema’s cultural instrumentality calls by definition for an awareness that films exist not in isolation, but in an active network of relations and practices. To understand what films do , culturally, the question of intertextuality must necessarily be addressed. Intertextuality works not just within and between cultural productions or texts, but also at the broader and perhaps more diffuse level of ‘discourses’.Science fiction films refer to other science fiction films simply by repeating and reworking the conventions of the genre. SF films also refer across to other film genres, either by deploying conventions commonly associated with these other genres; or by ‘knowing’ quotations from them. Intertextuality challenges the distinction between representation and the real which grounds certain strands of critical theory and informs a good deal of critical work on science fiction cinema.
  • The1950s Era - McCarthy Era1950s was a time of much social, political, and intellectual turmoil. It was the introduction of atomic warfare and the rise of communism The paranoia was fed by fear - both real and imagined and stoked by politicians like Senator Joseph McCarthy. The tension in the American populace was driven by the Cold War and the threat of a nuclear attack that was the political and military situation at the time―This helps to explain the paranoid visions of aliens, generally presented in 1950s science fiction films.These films reveal the social paranoia in the United States arising from a fear of - possible radiation contamination and by the mis-information structures that sought to conceal this danger.The Creature films of the 50s were less about horror and science than they are about the preservation of social orderPeople at the time saw the Universe as a dark and infinite space This could be connected to a looming alien invasion, that threaten the human society and order.most notably, among these types of films were The Day the Earth Stood Still and Invasion of the Body SnatchersAlthough they were publicly taken to be lightweight mass entertainment, they have often been studied as socio-logical symptoms of the repressive and conformist ideologies in Cold War America.McCarthy and Roy Cohn Conferring during the infamous Army-McCarthy Hearings
  • The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)The Day the Earth Stood Still – was released in 1951The film communicated many messages to the American audience of the 1950sThe dominant ideology of the time was antifascism and anti-Cold-War.The film was a warning about the societal costs of atomic technology,an early attempt at criticizing the mass media, a disturbingly ambiguous commentary on militarism and fascism, and a left-wing argument against the twin evils of McCarthyist paranoia and the developing Cold War–fueled national security state or President Dwight D. Eisenhower The film tries to make a case for the pursuit of peace and understanding,The awesome destructive and militaristic power that the alien character Klaatu wields over Earth could be a subconscious projection of humanity’s own fear―fed by the rampant paranoia of the 1950s―of the destructive power that it wielded over itself: the very real threat of atomic annihilation
  • Invasion of the Body SnatchersThe second film I wish to discuss is the science fiction film “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” which was released in 1956This film also has many political connotations and can be read as both an allegory for: the loss of personal freedoms in the Soviet Union, and as an allegory of Cold War paranoia. The film communicates the Cold War anxieties regarding: communist infiltration, atomic warfare, and hyper-conformity - By Reading the aliens as representatives of the communist threat It suggests that they seek to impose emotionless conformity upon conservative America, and is more a product of cold war mistrust This was an effective context from which 1950s audiences could be so chilled by the film.
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