Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Genre Analysis: Utopian/Distopian-Science Fiction

I will be analyzing one of my favorite genres: Science Fiction, but more specifically- Utopia/Distopia. These media texts look at the near future and discuss its society in terms of its perfection or lack thereof.
I love this genre mostly for its escapist qualities. It always fascinates me to ponder the future and the impact of developing aspects of current society on those future depictions of society. In other words, most of these narratives discuss the role of technology as both benefiting and harming society (creating either a utopia or distopia).
Some of these films include: I Robot, Surrogates, Minority Report, Blade Runner, (The Matrix), (12 Monkeys), etc.

Here's the Trailer for I, Robot:

Prototypical features:

The technology (Usually robots, machines, technologically altered humans, etc.)
Cop/Detective/Some type of Investigative Agent (Or uniquely intelligent human)
Police Chief (or other Judicial type boss) to give assignment to main character
Female love interest (usually an ex-wife, or troubled relationship with female)
Creator/Owner of the technology (usually antagonist in some way)
Innocent bystanders (the world at large)

The birthplace of the technology (The Robotics Corporation for example)
Extremely urbanized Down Town areas, saturated with advertisements
A rural or non-urbanized area free of mainstream technologies.
Futuristic, Post-Modern architecture and lighting.

Here's an example of futuristic transportation (and a special effects fight scene) from I, Robot:

Here's an example from the film Minority Report of a mall saturated with advertisements:

Robots/Robotics (Or derivative- Replicant for example)
"The Three Laws of Robotics"

Storyline Features:
Typical Problem: Usually a murder involved with the technology; the technology becomes unruly; protagonist uncovers negative secret of the technological system; protagonist attempts to stop the technology from further harming humanity or invading humanity, and topples the whole societal system involved with the technology.
Who solves the problem: some sort of investigative agent or uniquely intelligent individual.
With what means: using their investigative skills, physical and intellectual intelligence and usually lots of guns.
Towards what end: To prove the ineffectiveness of the current societal system using advanced technology.
Reflected assumptions: "We live in a technology saturated world".
Who solves the problem: Always be questioning society and technology.
What means/tools: Always challenge authority and if you are not satisfied with an answer- investigate deeper.
Themes: "If we continue to be too reliant on technology, we will turn into a humanless-society."
"Advanced technology in general is harmful to society."

Here's the link to my powerpoint on googledocs!

Critical Analysis:
This genre of narrative communicates an ironic and confusing discussion of technology. The main theme of this genre is that our continued reliance on technology will force us into a human-less world is negated during the course of most of these films or other media texts. In order to put an end to the harmful technology, the protagonist ironically needs to use technology. For example, in most of these films, the main characters use guns or other military technologies, transportation technologies, computer technologies, etc. to destroy the advanced technology that is threatening society. Therefore, the theme of these narratives are thus confusing. If we are supposed to not be saturated with technology, then why do we have to use it, just in case? In this way, these narratives support a reliance on technology, as well as negate that.

Lesson plan: Discussion of Science Fiction vs. Fantasy:
Begin by having the class brainstorm classic films from the Science Fiction and Fantasy genres. They will most likely list Star Wars as a Science Fiction and Lord of the Rings as a Fantasy.
Then, show the class short clips from Star Wars and Lord of The Rings.
Then ask them, "What genre is Star Wars?"
The students will most likely respond: "Science Fiction, of course!"
Then respond: "Nope, contrary to popular belief, based on the traditional characteristics of genres, Star Wars is actually a fantasy, set in a futuristic world. 'Wait, that doesn't make sense! I thought science fiction was anything set in the future!'"
Then explain the differences between Science Fiction and Fantasy:
Science Fiction: Emphasis on imagined science and technology- issues with, future of , inventive technologies and science, etc. The key aspect of science fiction is that the narratives COULD happen based on our current technology and laws of nature. Therefore, much of science fiction does take place in futuristic settings, but definitely does not need to.
Fantasy: Imagined worlds using magic and other supernatural powers and phenomena. Often involves the hero journey coming into their own person through depredations and initiations. Often involves binary communities of good versus evil.
The main difference between Science Fiction and Fantasy is the issue of realism. Science Fiction is POSSIBLE, while fantasy is totally imagined and IMPOSSIBLE to actually occur in our universe.
THEREFORE: Star Wars is actually fantasy: It is an imagined universe with a supernatural phenomena of "The Force" and the Jedi's versus the Dark Side (good versus evil binary). Finally, Luke Skywalker is the typical hero/journey character.

1 comment:

  1. I love how, in your critical analysis section, that you point out that the distopian genre is "an ironic and confusing discussion of technology." I've actually noticed this in distopian films as well.

    I have rationalized this with the argument that guns and war are archaic types of technology. They've existed for far more years than computers and biological warfare have. To retaliate against the human race coming to an end because of some modern technology (like gene manipulation), the characters in distopian novels have turned to a more primitive and cheaper weapon that the common man can still get a hold of.