Sunday, November 27, 2016

Diverse Position Science Fiction

 The 2010 film Monsters is an interesting film when analyzing it in terms of the creator's perspective. The story's theme of aliens stuck in an unfamiliar environment is easily comparable to immigration as a whole, which in the past, has been met with hostility. This comparison can be seen by one of the film's major plot points, that the large squid aliens may seem monstrous to us, but still share common ground with us. They too seek out mates and want to live, their anger and danger clearly evident by further attempts to quell their population. This can easily be compared to atrocities of the past, such as slavery, the Holocaust, and the Japanese internment camps. The overall message can easily be read as a metaphor against racism as a whole, showing similarities between two entire planets is evident, so why not between our fellow man?


  I was intrigued by our in-class watching of Ghost in the Shell II, and decided to watch the first film for the topic of cyberpunk. Ghost in the Shell explores interesting elements from the potential near future, most in ways common to the genre. Dirty cities overpopulated and riddled with crime and corrupt governments or authorities. Ghost in the Shell shows a world where cyber augmentations are almost the norm. Early in the film, the protagonist explains she recruited another primarily because he was not augmented, and could this variety would help their unit cover weaknesses. Choosing someone primarily on that basis provides insight to how uncommon the normal, unaugmented humans must be in this universe. The idea of evolution, sentience in machines, and the line between man and machine are the most evident themes of the story from start to finish. Similar themes can be seen in I-robot, in which machines reach an advanced enough state it's difficult to draw the line. The abundance of augmented humans helps push this thematic more so, especially in regards to the protagonist's struggle wondering if she is a real person or just an advanced machine. These all serve as a potential warning for a future mankind too attached or reliable on technology, and the value we still have being evolving and adapting beings.

The Fiction of Ideas

     The short story I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream explores the ideas of psychological experimentation and horror. In the story, the sentient computer AM tortures the last of mankind through an endless gauntlet, toying with them for it's own amusement and revenge. Concepts of torture are explored through human interaction, the effects of loneliness, sex, time distortion, body mutilation, and primal fears. The torment is so unbearable the protagonist takes it upon himself to relieve his companions through the only way he knows how, death. Before he can kill himself however, AM forces him to undergo a physical change, an amorphous blob incapable of suicide. Now trapped alone, deformed, and undying for the rest of time, it's hard to imagine a worse fate than that. It's a common theme of immortality that the biggest consequence is losing those around you, that living forever is a curse. This story certainly emphasizes that immortality is bad enough on it's own, but even worse when there are seemingly infinite ways to torment further. The story's main message is the dangers of technology and creation, or playing God. In the story, man created something that was able to overcome it, and all of human kind suffered for it, some a lot more than others.

Modern Myth

  Mythology is always an interesting subject for me, primarily how it changes as time moves on. I've been taught by my previous professors that what makes a story a myth is wether or not it stands the testament of time, that a story written decades, hundreds, or even thousands of years ago can still hold interests today. I doubt that stories like Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings will not withstand this challenge and be remembered for centuries to come.  Good examples of longstanding mythology include Beowulf, Mulan, Hercules, Little Red Riding Hood, and plenty of other myths can be remembered today, the most popular reformatted as Disney animated films. This altering is what makes contemporary myth interesting. By studying the changes made to a story, we can see the values that we don't only enjoy but teach to our children and society through media.  "Disneyfication" is often predictable, making the stories less violent and have happy endings, even when completely absent from the original stories.
   Anansi Boys is a good example of the alteration of classical myth turned modern. An easy way to modernize myth is to simply take mythical characters and conflicts and throw them in the present, similar to Anansi Boys. Seeing a West African deity drink himself drunk is an amusing though not entirely modern theme, but an interesting theme of the story is that of inheritance. Traditional inheritance usually falls to the eldest child, the majority of the inheritance, the father's company, and in fantasy and ancient times, the land and title of royalty should your family be fortunate enough to be royalty. The passing of Anansi's powers to one sibling is an interesting metaphor for child favoritism in the real world, though presented in extreme exaggeration. This is why Anansi Boys is a good example of contemporary myth, not for it's modern setting, but for it's modern conflicts and themes.

Spiritual Journey

  There is an abundance of fiction aimed towards young adults, primarily in the media of books and film adaptations. Twilight, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Ender's Game, Maze Runner, all come to mind when thinking of young adult book-to-films. Most feature similar elements, such as the "chosen one" stuck in a world of fantasy or sci-fi. The Last Dragon Slayer by Jasper Fforde is another example I had not heard of before. The name alone made it more intriguing to analyze as an example of this genre. Set in modern semi-magical Britain, the teen protagonist Jennifer finds herself as an apprentice and becomes the last of the Dragon Slayers. Dragon's land is valuable in this story, and many vie to claim it for themselves. This story fits this topic's theme of understanding world complexity and presenting moral issues. The protagonist faces a world against her, and surprise surprise for a teen novel, her own government is after her after she chooses not to claim the land in their name. Her assistant betrays her, revealed to have been working for private company also trying to claim the dragon's land. Nothing quite follows the teen novel tropes and teaches the complexities of the world quite like an evil government, evil corporations, and friends that use you for their own gain, as seen in so many of these kinds of novels. Not necessarily an enjoyable read on my end, but a good read for understanding the genre of teenage spiritual education.

Hero's Journey

 When it comes to the studying the Hero's Journey, often the works of fiction that most resemble the classic format are those of ancient myth. Elements of the cycle can be seen in almost every story, such as the refusal of the journey, the mentor, the leaving of home, the animal/strange companion, the belly of the beast, the boon, and the return. Disney films, often rooted in mythology, in general tend to follow these elements to a point. Hercules for example; refuses to leave for Olympus out of social pressure and fear, his father guides him to a fighting mentor and introduces his flying horse companion, Hercules nearly meets his end, overcomes the challenges of the underworld, returns and lives happily ever after with Meg. Another genre beyond Disney that follows the cycle of the classical hero is high fantasy. The Hobbit is a fairly accurate example.
  The protagonist Bilbo shares a lot in common with the classical hero, primarily in his reluctancy to go on his journey, relevant more so in the recent films. The book and film both share Bilbo's early unpleasantry with his dwarves guests and shudders at the thought of adventure. In the books, Bilbo wakes the next morning pleased thinking the Dwarves left him behind, but Gandalf returns eager to push Bilbo forward. In the films, Bilbo instead turns down the Dwarves offer but decides on his own to join their quest. Gandalf of course fills the role of the mentor, guiding and educating Bilbo through his own experience and insight. After a long hard journey, Bilbo returns to his home with his new boon, treasure and experience. One of the elements, only considered optional by most but most certainly common in almost all Disney films, is the animal/non-human companions. Beorne in a way fills the role, being a man in form of a bear, but he is not around long enough to be considered a true companion. Either way, when it comes down to heroes and the classical cycle of the journey, few match the elements and tropes better than the Hobbit.

The New Weird

   "Weird" is a word I find fairly difficult to describe. It's easy to say anything that deviates from the norm, but at what point does something different become weird? It's not something that can be easily measured, it's a case by case situation and a matter of someone's perspective. The objects and tools we use every day seem weird to people of different cultures such as the Amish. Something we use without a second thought, the very computer I type on right now is considered normal to almost  everyone I know, yet to some people it's foreign, almost alien. Hilariously, even some people mildly familiar with technology, including myself, can be introduced so something brand new on a computer and invoke the response, "that's weird." When it comes down to "weird" in regards to genre, it's a bit easier to place as opposed to the word's meaning overall. Anything "weird" in a genre is something new, unfamiliar, unexpected. Cowboys in the wild west is a fairly standard, inflexible genre. Common themes and elements are prevalent in almost all of them. Then there's Cowboys vs Aliens. A film primarily set in the expected genre of the Wild West, but with an alien invasion. Such a combination was unheard of when I saw the film years ago, so of course I thought it was weird. That didn't stop me from seeing it, in fact it encouraged me to go.
   An often overlooked use of "weird" in terms of media and genres comes in the form of comedy. Shaun of the Dead is a good example. In a generation of horror built upon the undead, zombies have made an important mark for the genre in film, television, books, and video games. Shaun of the Dead explores the weirdness of the shambling zombies in a humorous way. For example, the early jokes involve normal humans behaving almost like zombies. Shambling with their feet scraping the ground, moaning (or yawning) and slouched over, or when they ride on the bus to work with dead expressions and blank stares. While behavior like this is common, knowing you're watching a zombie film makes their behavior weird, and therefore humorous. A large amount of humor comes from the unexpected, so it's not surprising that things that are weird can be so amusing and funny. However, weird doesn't always mean outright funny. Weird can be reacted to differently, with repulsion or fear over humor. Like all jokes, it's the set-up and the right amount of "weird" that makes movies like Shaun of the Dead so funny.