From the desk of Cathy Elliott
Escape From an Inhospitable Planet
As a kid in highschool, I was the one who was called out by other girls and beaten up by the boys in the school yard. Being the new kid in the hall, year after year presented survival challenges. Music saved me from finding destructive means of finding peer acceptance. But before I found music, I found science fiction. I had a book with me all the time. I hid myself in the library, in one of those cubicles at the back of the room. In that cubicle, there was a little light and a science fiction novel.
The future that was predicted when I was a kid is emerging right now. I think we adults have been prepared for the changes we’re seeing in technologies, social interfacing, community building, warfare, space travel, biology and the determination of what’s acceptable in our behaviours as a species.
We’re engineering cells to fulfil our own idea of what life should be.
We’re cleaning our houses with robots.
We’re spying on each other with hidden cameras.
We’re dodging space junk.
We’re planning on catching an asteroid in a space bag, for heaven’s sake. Yes, they’re calling it a Space Bag.
See, as a kid, I would have thought of those predictions – these outcomes – as hooey. But the more Science Fiction Golden Age masters I ingested, like Poul Anderson, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Lester del Rey, Hubbard, Sturgeon, Vogt and Wyndham, the more I was exposed to alternate ideas about societies, religion, philosophy, world views. I was instilled with hope for the future. It wasn’t cats in shark outfits riding vacuum cleaners, but it was fun.
Lisa Norton, program coordinator for DAREarts, a Canadian charity arts organisation, puts it this way. “With sci-fi as part of our DAREarts grade 7 curriculum, the kids are encouraged to think beyond current possibilities and into the world of making the probable possible. Sci-Fi allows for youth to dream big, unhindered by current limitations. The ‘sandbox’ that sci-fi allows the mind to play in is enormous, and many sci-fi authors have both accurately predicted and inspired technology that we have today.”
To kids today, the idea of bagging a giant space rock makes perfect sense.
Future Girl Saves the World?
As a teenaged girl, I absorbed all manner of relationships between future men and women. I read about the last two surviving people on the planet that had to be the next Adam and Eve, and guess which physicist got to clean up the nuclear holocaust mess?
My memory of brutality in most of those books is tame compared to what I see for real today. Yes, your head implodes for REAL in space, but there wasn’t a lot of woman bashing or people slicing unless they were really BAD people who looked like insects. And in an Iron Curtain setting, as writers and readers, we dreamers were all exploring the idea that maybe those Aliens weren’t all that bad, just misunderstood sentient beings.
When Star Trek first appeared on our TV screens, Gene Roddenberry took that Golden Age and pushed it further; “To go where no man has gone before.” with the mandate of no interference, just a ship full of diplomats looking for fellowship and trade. But alas, war still existed, and these good people from a small group of planets tried their best to prevail through peaceful means. But the series conveyed humans as fallible, jealous, fragile, and able to overcome their animal instincts. This was the series that had the first ever scripted interracial kiss, explored alternatives to war, placed women in commanding roles like Starship Communications Officer Nyota Uhura…a place where, in my current job, I’d be in space rocking a jumpsuit and a killer earpiece.
We watched the Robinson family, lost in space, always trying to find the way home, navigating through domestic and perilous challenges, with a robot who was always shouting “Danger! Danger! Encroachers!” and in a malfunctioning fit yelling, “Crush! Kill! Destroy!”
A great escape with a few cautionary teachings snuck in.
So what happened once those fantasies, visions and future worlds hit our futuristic computers, modules, hand-helds and Dick Tracy watch-phones? In real time, we are witnessing huge pieces of our planet being literally torn apart through war and pollution. We are blowing up mountains, cutting down our forests, diluting our oceans with our melting air conditioners – the polar caps and changing weather patterns. We’re causing our own planet to shake us off in order to preserve itself.
What do we do to escape now? We get lost in cyber-space. We fiddle while half the world burns.
Lost in Space, Star Trek, the Jetsons, all good clean fun, explored, reinvented and repaired the real world. Now, we’re watching people slice, shoot, mutilate, rape and denigrate each other. “Crush, Kill, Destroy!”
Surviving the Future
In the real world, our kids are witnessing technologies that allow rockets and missiles kill other, REAL kids on the beach. On social media they’re seeing REAL kids bash homeless people on the sidewalk. They’re watching images and stories flit across their screens every day that show them the brutality in the world. And it all looks like a game.
Captain Kirk would have said this: “Death, destruction, disease, horror. That’s what war is all about, Anan. That’s what makes it a thing to be avoided. You’ve made it neat and painless. So neat and painless, you’ve had no reason to stop it.”
DAREarts helps kids identify who they are, what they want and how they can empower themselves to envision their futures in a world that exists rather than a digital world. A critical division of fact and fantasy, the weight of consequences and the rewards of good judgement.
By working in teams and creating their own powerful graphic novel characters, comic book scenarios with the idea of saving the real world instead of trying to survive in a destroyed future, they see a critical difference in what they do and how they behave in a virtual existence.
The sandbox that Lisa spoke of can be quite frightening. But if you look at the mechanics of how that sandbox is built, you can be discriminate. If you know who you are in the real world, virtual worlds can be a safer and more fun place to play. The girls and boys who wish to create the content in the future can take more control of their world and become the kind of authors who write the future so that it reflects decent behaviour in human beings.
“We can admit that we’re killers but we’re not gonna kill today.” – Captain Kirk, Star Trek Season 1 Episode 24: A Taste of Armageddon
It’s just that simple.