Is it just me, or is SF getting rather gay of late? Of course SF is naturally rather scattershot and leftist, so trying to nail known any specific agenda is always rather tough, but that just makes it all the more remarkable when science fiction suddenly gets in lockstep with itself and marches to the beat of the same drummer. This is, by its very nature, something the genre isn’t *supposed* to do. So the sudden and rather massive increase in ‘Gay SF’ in the media is probably all the more surprising because of that.
Science Fiction was briefly respectable in the late Victorian era, when Verne and Welles were doing their best work, and their novels had a deliberate ‘slice of life’ quality to them that solidly anchored them in the ‘present day’ rather than the distant future. Of course a frequent complaint was that these books took forever to get going, and people who were reading them only for a candy fix really didn’t care about the working class struggles in Victorian England that were rendered pointless by the Martian Invasion anyway. As demand increased, the sugar content of SF – by which I mean the gee, gosh, wow quality, the space ships and aliens and giant bug-monsters and pretty, pretty explosions – and the quality decreased, and SF became essentially a literary ghetto, shunned by all well-educated people, and clamored after by geeky preteen boys. The transition was remarkably quick.
In recent years, SF has regained some of its credibility as many of those mouthbreathing preteens grew up to be scientists, engineers, and, yes, SF writers. Even so, it took a lot of time: we’re now in the third or fourth generation of ‘modern’ Science Fiction, and the shine is only now beginning to return. One of the areas in which SF has generally excelled above other forms of entertainment – by it’s very nature – is in the concept of social engineering. SF allows people to play out variations on a theme, a sort of ‘this is the way things are now, and I’ll change one part of it and extrapolate what’ll happen from there’ kind of game. As a result, SF has explored pretty much every imaginable revision to society. Sometimes this is a legitimate attempt and prognostication, an attempt to guess where the zeitgeist will go next. Often, it’s simply a cautionary tale (1984 and Brave New World are fine examples, but there are literally thousands) More often, though, it’s a case of “I’m going to make my own personal vision of utopia, and justify it with dubious mentions of history.” (Heinlein was particularly guilty of this, particularly in his later years). More often still, it’s a case of “I’m just throwing crap I think is cool at the wall, and we’ll see what sticks!” (Main Sequence Philip K. Dick would fall in to this category). And sometimes it’s a boldfaced attempt to change the existing social order.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that, mind you.
Again, given its nature, SF presents a playground for mapping out various kinds of social change. And some times authors/producers/screenwriters attempt to *force* the social change by showing a world in which such things are taken for granted, and yet life as we know it has not fallen apart. For example, the original Star Trek was the first American TV program to show an interracial kiss. (That would be Uhura and Kirk.) Back during the civil rights movement of the ‘60s, that was a big deal. In fact, in many ways SF plays it’s ghetto-kid-stuff status to it’s own advantage. If McGarrett on Hawaii 5-0 had kissed a black chick, there would have been hell to pay. If a 23rd century astronaut kisses a black chick, though, who really cares? That’s all stupid kid stuff anyway, not like it matters.
Which brings us around to the increasing gay content in modern visual SF. (“Gayification?” “Homoization?” “Deviantion?” Pick one, or invent your own. It’s fun!)
It is currently trendy to support Gay Rights if you’re a leftist. By “Leftist” I mean a Democrat, a Green Party member, a person who lives in California, or virtually anyone who’s even remotely connected to the Entertainment industry. Leaving aside for the moment whether this is inherently right or wrong – we’ll doubtless come back to that another day – my point here is that the media *wants* you to accept it as right, irrespective of any objective merits or detriments it may pose. The fundamental question is: “Why?”
If it’s a civil rights question, certainly there are a lot more pressing issues that involve a lot more people. I mean, Black people are still almost at the bottom of the socioeconomic totem pole. That’s a serious problem that requires far more attention than it’s gotten in the last quarter century or so, and it involves about 35 million Americans. And American Indians have it even worse than them – the plight of Native Americans is utterly appalling, with the standard of living on many reservations being worse than in most third world countries. That directly affects the lives of 10 or 15 million Americans, who, to this day, aren’t even third-class citizens. As a conservative – and above all a humanitarian pragmatist – it would seem to me that the plight of these two huge segments of our civilization is far, far more important than whether or not nine million gay folks can marry. I mean, it’s a question of people starving in our country versus a minor legal issue, which should take precedence?
I’m not saying we should avoid it, I’m not saying it isn’t an issue that shouldn’t be resolved, I’m simply saying that we’ll get to it when the time comes because even though Hollywood is kind of sick of the plight of the black man in America, I think 400 years of slavery and 500 years of genocide are much more important sins to atone for than 25 years of Eddie Murphy making gay jokes.
Priorities, people! Priorities!
So: In the early 90s, in one of the most club-footed allegories of all time, Commander Riker became gay for a week (Actually, he dated an alien from a monosexual society); a few years later on, Commander Susan Ivonova had a homosexual affair with Talia Winters on B5, and though everyone knew about it, no one commented on it because in the future, no one gives a damn about sexual orientation. A few years ago, the newly-revived Doctor Who introduced an openly aggressively bisexual character as a companion for the 9th Doctor, and then quickly spun him off in to his own show, “Torchwood,” featuring a cast of characters who are all (with one exception) happily sexually deviant, and none of whom ever experience any kind of prejudice or cultural backlash simply because the writers and producers obvious agenda is to portray bisexuals as heroic, gallant, glamorous, exciting people, in the hopes that you, the viewer, will accept them as such. More recently, the new Battlestar Galactica has included two noteworthy gay characters, and no one seems to care about their orientation because (in the words of the producer), ‘that’s simply not something people in the Colonies cared about.’
This is in contrast to pretty much every aspect of Colonial Society that we’ve seen on the show, by the way: We’ve seen that the Colonials have cultural biases (Some Colonies were considered trash, others were considered acceptable) and religious biases (most of the characters don’t take their religion seriously, and can’t tolerate those who do, and when last we saw them we were on the verge of a jihad between monotheists and the more normative Colonial polytheism) and even political biases (President Roslin is a Federalist), and moral biases (Abortion becomes a major issue at one point in the series) that shape their lives, even though humanity is on the ragged cusp of extinction, and yet the one issue no one cares about is whether or not someone’s gay? So the writers have sort of violated their own mandate here simply to turn one (Admittedly small) aspect of the show in to a kind of bully pulpit for their social program: that gay people are just like you and me, and shouldn’t be singled out or pilloried because of it.
Please note that I’m not even saying that they have to be *wrong* about that stance – I’m sidestepping the moral issue and looking at the political aspects of it in this editorial, hell, they may be right for all I know – but what I’m pointing out is that the producers of the show feel strongly enough about the issue to raise flags over it on a show that is all about *not* idealizing anything. It comes across as disingenuous, and manipulative, and taking an incontrovertible moral stand on a hot-button present-day issue like that in a show where our species is an eyeblink away from nonexistence gives it far more importance than it’s due, and makes it seem like the human race isn’t worth saving *unless* we make sure to have a world where perverts are free to be perverts. (Or “Pre-verts” practicing their “Pre-version” as Keenan Wynn would say).
This bugs me, because the New Galactica is all about letting people make up their own minds, and suddenly I’m being rather ham-fistedly told how to think.
More recently, the folks over at Star Trek: Phase II have made an episode called “Blood and Fire” that involves a very openly gay romantic plot woven in to the adventure. Star Trek has mostly avoided this subject though it’s run – the one really serious exception being the Club-Footed Riker allegory I mentioned above – though it has more commonly put across sexual deviance as something to be afraid of (a bad guy leering at Data and telling him to get naked; Doctor Crusher being creeped out when her boyfriend has a Trill sex change; leatherdyke mirror universe Kira trying to kiss the merely-annoying Major Kira from the mainstream Trekiverse; and the unstated-but-definitely-there ookyness of “The Turnabout Intruder,” all put across as very bad things, very bad things indeed). I, personally, am very impressed by the Phase II crew: they’ve done astoundingly good work, and they’ve managed to recapture the lightining-in-a-bottle spirit of TOS in a way that none of the subsequent Trek series have. They deserve to be commended.
And yet, it’s hard not to be a little aesthetically jarred by two gay dudes making out in an episode of Star Trek. It feels out of place, like, once again, the well-known precepts of the Trekiverse have been put aside so the show can be used as a bully pulpit demanding that we think a certain way.
In fact, I don’t mind too much: Trek has always been about barely-disguised agenda thumping. (Racism is bad; war is bad; peace is good; intolerance is bad unless it’s the Borg; understanding is good; blind devotion to religion is bad; well duh.) Though jarring, it’s not like the Trek Train lost an axle the way it feels when Galactica did it, nor as rough a fit as trying to shoehorn smarmy Torchwood in to the Whoniverse. Trek has always been about evangelistically telling people how to think and feel.
Which brings me to the point of my essay:
SF fans are considered (Mostly by ourselves, in a sour-grapes kind of way) to be smarter and more open-minded than the hoi polloi. We’re just brighter than the folks who watch “According to Jim” and “America’s funniest groin injuries.” And even if we’re not, we generally think we are. And we’re overwhelmingly dudes, too. While women watch SF in ever-increasing numbers, it is still primarily a boy’s club. It won’t always be, but it is for now. And speaking as a red-blooded heterosexual American science fiction geek, I will admit it kind of curls my toes when this kind of stuff comes up on the shows I watch.
I expect it does the same thing to most of you reading this.
Were it not for the fact that I like to watch SF, I wouldn’t put up with it. If I were watching Psych or Burn Notice or some sitcom, and the issue popped up in the same agenda-driven fashion it’s handled on these SF shows, I’d turn off the TV. And if it were a regular thing, I’d find another show to watch. (And for the record, I thought “Love, Sydney” handled the whole gay issue great back in the 80s, I thought “Ellen” handled it terribly in the 90s). The only reason I put up with it on the shows I watch now is because I’m a big dumb geek who’d walk over his own mother’s corpse steaming in the snow to get to some pretty, pretty special effects of space ships blowing each other up, and cool aliens.
I expect it’s probably the same way for many of you reading this.
So here’s what’s going on: the producers of these shows have decided that the Gay Rights issue is important, it’s good for you, it’s medicine that you, the viewer, must take. All trappings of science fiction that we love – the heroism, adventure, thought-provoking question raising, and explosions and stuff – have been relegated to the position of sugar, to make us swallow the whole ‘gay rights’ thing: a spoonful of sugar makes the international homosexual agenda go down. And they hope, by repeated doses of this, to make us accept their agenda, their opinions, rather than making up our own minds. They hope that by repeated exposure, we’ll just take it for granted and sublimate it in to our own moral codes, rather than make our own value judgment on the issue.
It is, in short, propaganda.
Now, I’m not saying that we should boycott these shows, I’m not saying we should protest, I’m not saying that we should go out and fagbash people, or treat people like crap because of their sexual orientation. That’s wrong. What I *am* saying is that we should be *Aware* of the fact that the producers of these programs are doing it to us. Because Propaganda isn’t always exactly a lie, per se, but it *is* always a gross misrepresentation of the facts, and when you’re aware that something is propaganda, it looses a lot of it’s power over you.
So take it for what it is, but just be aware of it, and *why* they’re doing it, and then think for yourself. That’s what SF is all about: thinking for yourself.
Make up your own minds! About everything!