The Sharon Springs Thanatopsis Pleasure and Literary Club met recently, and the topic of discussion was science fiction in general, and summer blockbusters in particular.
No, not the movies that opened so inconspicuously that they went directly to Blockbuster Video when it was still alive, but the big movies that are designed to fill theaters on hot summer afternoons.
These get more eye-popping every year with 3-D, CG images and ear-busting sound tracks that outdo political conventions and debates with unreality, noise, mind-numbing sound bites and outright disbelief.
The term “science fiction” is an oxymoron already, combining as it does the supposed basic facts of nature in science and the concept of make-believe we call fiction.
But the members of the SSTP&L Club are of an age that they remember well the scary fun sci-fi of the 1950s and their thinly disguised fables about communism and the Cold War.
That seems to be coming back, as all things do, and aliens now can stand for Russians/Chinese, immigrants, terrorists, and all those Others That are Not Us.
Sci-fi movies (and television) are metaphors for our time, giving us myths to explain our fears and those basic questions of, “Who are we?” “Where did we come from?” and “What the heck is going on?”
We did discuss the old question “Are we alone in the universe?” and decided that kind of arrogance made little sense these days.
Every culture has a story about creation, paradise, an intervention, a return and the end of the world. If you think sci-fi and religion are far apart, consider L. Ron Hubbard.
In the 21st century, technology has turbocharged movies about global disaster (natural or man-made), time travel, alien invasions, monsters and alternative fantasy. All capture our imaginations and let us think about just what reality is.
Recently, scientists have offered the theory that the universe is a hologram and not real at all. Sorry, already a movie series.
Computers now figure heavily as both problem and solution. Sci-fi movies and TV shows almost always have a happy ending, of course.
Humans band together and defeat the aliens/monsters/natural or man-made disasters/world destruction. Sometimes we win with good ol’ common sense, sometimes with superior firepower, but we win, nonetheless.
Life then goes on, and the world is a better place, only with a big mess to clean up.
Maybe the question isn’t, “Is there intelligent life in the universe?” but, “Is there intelligent life on Earth?” Not if we destroy it all by ourselves, no alien assistance required.
Maybe sci-fi is a good balance for the reality shows that TV offers, which of course are not anywhere near reality and are more like the upcoming election theatrics — all smoke and mirrors, with lots of commercials, ending badly. Or ending well, depending on your point of view.
This could also explain why time travel movies are a favorite of the club members. An escape to another time, or a chance to change “now” by going back for a do-over, is irresistible. If humans have solved time travel, then time travelers are here now.
We wondered what they think of our time.
Being tourists, they can’t intervene. But what if they did? We decided that’s another movie that has probably already been made.
But we’re all going to watch “Ancient Aliens” and see the new “Independence Day.”
This will be an interesting summer.
Karen Cookson, a resident of Sharon Springs, is a regular contributor to the Sunday Opinion page.