Saturday, January 13, 2007
This will be the first of a series on this topic. Warning, some political discussion follows in this atypical lengthy posting. So, dear reader, be warned.
In a writers group to which I once belonged, whenever I mentioned politics and fantasy, or politics and science fiction, I was quickly chastised and to some degree censored. "We don't talk about politics here," someone said. What the hell???
Science fiction and fantasy grew up in a nursery where politics replaced rattles and hobby horses.
Jonathan Swift's "Gulliver's Travels" , while wonderful fantasy, was also merciless satire attacking aspects of British culture and political thought. "Alice In Wonderland", also had deeper meanings. Dodgson, the author, on the Governing Board of Christ Church, involved himself deeply in such matters as the extension of the voting franchise and the redistribution of seats in the House of Commons. Naturally his politics inevitably found their way into the subtext of the work.
That political and social commentary has continued to play an important role in modern literature, and by modern, let's qualify that as post WWII, is an indisputable fact. Some of today's best work, from "Lord of The Rings" by Tolkein to "Ender's Game" by Scott Orson Card, are either highly influenced by political and social elements, or outrightly advocate a specific point of view. Likewise some classic examples of the cinema fantastic were also deeply political: "Planet of the Apes", "Logan's Run", "Farenheit 451", "Clockwork Orange", "The Matrix", "Blade Runner", "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home" were all ensured a higher degree of relevance through passing years due their political themes or subtexts.
The most brilliant work is work which thematically addresses controversial issues, either directly or through deliberate subtext.
Let's highlight an example: "Invasion of the Body Snatchers".
Written by Jack Finney during the late fifties, the novel is a study in paranoia. The plot involves an alien invasion by a life form that mimics the appearance of a human before replacing the individual altogether. Once the replacement is complete, the alien assumes the life of that human, without major outward change in function and behavior other than a subtle shift to conformity.
Finney's novel and the motion picture which was based on his work were a statement on McCarthyism.
For those few people who may not understand this reference, Senator Joe McCarthy, during the fifties, made numerous specious statements and outright lies about Communist infiltration in different United States institutions such as the State Department. His accusations created a wildfire of paranoia and led to massive investigations. To be accused of Communism was a kiss of death for many, and they found themselves jobless and isolated, without real recourse or the ability to defend themselves. Amazing, considering that the claim and practice of Communism should be considered protected under the Bill of Rights, but still.
Removed from the era, it is difficult to understand how such paranoia could be spread (wink wink...Patriot Act..9/11...wink wink...Bill O Reilly...nudge nudge...Cheney), but a people who worried about immediate nuclear war and the spread of Communism through Asia and eastern Europe were easily manipulated. It's astonishing to think someone has written a book defending McCarthy, and that that book has been published in the last ten years. Who could have written such an absurd text??? Hmmm..Ann Coulter.
Now, patient reader, all this being said, here is the crux of this posting..the first cinematic version of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" was an amazing work. Filmed in black and white, starring deslily's Kevin McCarthy, it was smothering, claustrophobic, and paced so that the audience felt each tightening of the wrench. Brilliant. The pod people were the McCarthyites, advancing mindless conformity, ferreting out and destroying those who dared to be individuals. Or, some people would argue that the film was about the spread of Communism and the pod people were mindlessly following that leftist ideology. The fact that both interpretations can be argued is a testament to the depth of the film.
However, the second cinmeatic version, made in the 1978, and starring Jeff Goldblum and Donald Sutherland, filmed without the political overtones, received in the context of that time, was a meaningless thriller that received the lackluster reviews it received. Without the political teeth, "Invason of the Body Snatchers" had become a pod.
Looking at such contemporary fare as "Eragon", "Independence Day", and "War of the Worlds" one wonders how much those films might have been elevated had they had within them something more than the disposable mindset given to Saturday afternoon movie fare aimed at adolescent males. I adored "Batman Begins", but what made it rise wasn't the action, but the character development and the subtext of the individual fighting against the corporate state.