I’ve read some truly hilarious “Science fiction has become nothing more than romance novels in outer space!” arguments in my time, but I don’t think I’ve read one quite as poorly-written and outright hysterical (word used with all due irony) as the article on The Spearhead about “The War on Science Fiction and Marvin Minsky.” (Thanks to Eric Selinger for the link.)
As far as I can tell, the argument in the article can be divided into the following premise and conclusion:
1. Science fiction has been egregiously feminized. Witness the new Battlestar Galactica, where Starbuck is now a woman. (Sidenote: Dear Dirk Benedict: Both Starbucks as played by you and Katee Sackhoff possess gonads. Gonads are not, as you seem to think, strictly male. If they were, that would lead to really interesting results, because assuming humans still reproduced sexually, there’d be a lot more gay sex in the world. Is that really what you’re trying to push for? Think about it.) In short: science fiction is now about stupid relationship drama, and males don’t like stupid relationship drama, they like doing things and exploding things and exploring things and exploding the things they’ve just explored. (I would just like to state for the record that writers like Ray Bradbury, Frank Herbert, Vernor Vinge and Kim Stanley Robinson have never hinged works on the intricacies of human relationship and experience, because that would make them writers of stupid relationship drama, and therefore pansy boys and not at all true purveyors of science fiction.)
2. At any rate, because of this egregious feminization of science fiction, the—ah, fuck it, I’m just going to quote the article verbatim, because it’s JUST THAT GOOD:
As we know science fiction has inspired boys to pursue careers in science, engineering, and technology as men. With women killing science fiction on television, the current generation of boys won’t have this opportunity to be inspired to work in these fields. There is still a great deal of written science fiction that is real science fiction so all is not lost. However, many boys who would have gone on to make scientific discoveries and invent new technologies will not do so since they will never be inspired by science fiction as boys.
I’m not going to attempt to dissect this article line-by-line, because if nothing else, the commenters are doing a decent enough job, but I do want to make two observations:
1. Beneath the anger in the article is a true undertone of fear. This was written by a deeply insecure person, one who sees the world changing around him and is frantic to keep the world static as opposed to adapting to the new realities. This fear is based on a foundation of outraged privilege. When a majority in power has to give up its special privileges, or when it has to share those same privileges with everybody else (therefore making it resemble a basic right, as opposed to a privilege), the majoritarian take is always to cast these losses of power as evidence of bullying, and the sharing of rights as the gaining of special rights by the other minority. As the default milieu changes, the majority will fight to keep things static, because the majority see things as neutral or balanced instead of weighed in their favor. One of the hallmarks—one of the greatest perks, in fact—of societal and cultural privilege is never having to think about it. You just take it for granted. This struggle happens over and over and over again: whenever inroads are made towards equality between the races, the genders or sexual orientations, those who are deeply invested in keeping the things as they used to be start lashing out, with “things need to stay in their place because that’s where they’ve always belonged” being one of their greatest rallying cries.
2. It doesn’t matter that things have never stayed where they belong, and they certainly never stayed in the place envisioned by the people fighting change. Many of the appeals to history or authority by these people are strangely ahistorical. A lot of the appeals to a return to tradition or the right order are typically based on relatively recent history—the pattern I’ve noticed for appeals for a return to traditional womanhood or traditional marriage seem to pinpoint either middle-class white mores of the 1950s or the late Victorian as a desirable era to emulate. And even that’s filtered through a very particular lens: nostalgia, which gives the past a rather nice, fuzzy glow and a pretty gloss over all its intricacies, difficulties and inconsistencies. What’s more, a lot of our current view of the relatively recent past is informed, not by documentarian depictions, but by Hollywood and advertising. We think of John Wayne and Cary Grant; we don’t think of blue-collar families in which both parents worked and scrabbled to make a living. Picking some inchoate time in the past when “men were men and women were women” allows you to ignore things like like how at various points in time, manly men used to wear satin and high heels, or wrote epic poetry about falling in love, and women worked in factories.
I don’t have a good way to end this, other than to point out this bit of absurdity: Starbuck being played by a female, the blurring of old gender roles and the advent of people acting like, y’know, people in science fiction means we’ll have fewer scientists. I know, I know, the article writer specified boys, but really, male scientists are what really count. How’s that for a conclusion?
Edited to add:
One more point I’d like to make. The definition of “male” and “masculine” as used by masculists such as those at The Spearhead are self-reflexive, and it drives me nuts. When you point to men who enjoy the new incarnation of BSG, or who enjoy gender subversion, the first counter is almost always “Well, that’s because they’re not REAL men. Real men are defined by what real men enjoy.” STAB STAB STAB.