As we ramp up for election season, it's time to consider how science fiction has changed the face of politics. In California, where I live, we recently elected a science fiction actor Governor, but that's not what I mean. The question is, can science fiction change politics in the way other rhetoric does? We asked Jim Munroe, a Canadian SF writer (Flyboy Action Figure Comes with Gasmask, Everybody in Silico) and filmmaker (Infest Wisely) who used to work at Adbusters magazine and often deals with political themes in his writing. He said there's really only one science fiction novel that changed politics, but only by providing descriptive terms rather than proscriptive ideas.
When I think about the dynamics of politics and science fiction, my
favourite case study is Orwell's 1984 . . . Instead of a totally plausible story, Orwell gave us the phrase "big brother", which was a cultural inoculation against intrusive technologies. Not to say it was 100% effective, but can you imagine what the world would look like now if all we didn't have a suitably foreboding term? Warning people about "interconnected databases" just wouldn't have the same effect as invoking Big Brother. Orwell could have produced a book that was more believable, if you look at his subtler and more nuanced works, but I think he intended this to be a political act rather than an artistic work . . . Naming, as our fantasy brethren tell us, has Power. (Or at least, frames a starting point for a discussion.) I don't think there's many policy-makers coming out of a SF movie with bold new plans for America.
If you haven't seen Munroe's nanopunk movie Infest Wisely, check it out. It's free!