“We” are the Americans. “They” are everyone else. I really find myself in conversations with my fellow Americans where I hear these sentiments in the most sincere terms. Maybe this is why American foreign policy upsets so many people around the world. We tend to move peoples and nations around the geopolitical map like pieces on a chess board.
History teaches us that kind of international engagement creates enemies and topples empires. But I digress. We were discussing science fiction and environmentalism.
American science fiction and non-American science fiction are often quite different things. You can gain some insights into the way people look at science fiction around the world by watching the videos they upload to YouTube (and I have certainly tried to share a few on this and the other SF Fandom blog).
One recent movie that has attracted attention at the 2010 Sundance Festival is “PUMZI” (you can learn more about the movie at www.pumzimovie.com). I’ve embedded the trailer for “PUMZI” below.
The story resonates well for people who understand oppression and repression of ideas. But how well does it reach out to American audiences, who usually expect half-naked women, spaceships, and rayguns? James Cameron’s “Avatar” has been taken to task for many reasons but the objections people have raised haven’t prevented the movie from grossing over a billion dollars.
In American science fiction, sex and violence prevail over thoughtful consideration of what is going on around us (a theme Cameron’s movie admittedly raises in a blatant fashion). Not all SF films use sex and violence to keep the audience interested in the story.
But the distinctions between American sensibilities and other regions’ sensibilities exist in other areas. Take the whole concept of “green police”, for example. Short-sighted and narrow-minded people think only terms of their own experience when looking at what “green police” might mean. Open-minded, explorative people have adapted “green police” to their own uses.
I’m referring to how “green police” is used in the United States versus how it seems (to me) to be used in Europe. In Europe people are using “green police” as an icon for ecological awareness and responsibility. Here we use the term to designate oppressive police groups charged with environmental maintenance — or so it seems. There is another, more negative historical connotation for “green police” that is not connected with the environment.
In Nazi Germany, one branch of the police were called the “green police” because of their green uniforms. Some Americans stubbornly insist this is the only proper context in which to think of “green police” — but in Europe people are embracing the name, purging it of the negativity and associating it with a dynamic new, positive force.
American science fiction can propose some interesting ideas for how to cope with environmental change and destruction, but if we are insensitive to how people view us and our ideals elsewhere those ideas may not bear much fruit. It’s not so much that we’re talking to a wall as we’re building a wall between us and the rest of Earth’s inhabitants.
Take my proposal that we irrigate deserts around the globe. We have the technology and the industrial capacity to do this. We have a pretty solid paleobiological record that shows nature has already done this more than once. We can transform large portions of our desert wildlife habitats into forested, watery wildlife habitats without sacrificing the ecological niches that have developed around deserts.
But more importantly we can expand our capacity for dwelling on this planet without destroying ourselves, and at the same time we can learn something about what it takes to intentionally effect change on a planetary scale. We absolutely need to learn how to alter global environments according to a well-reasoned plan, because one day we’ll be attempting to colonize other planets.
That is a common theme in science fiction, but science needs to advance in order for our science fiction to advance. Possibly worse than our failure to agree on what the message in the medium means might be our failure to let our speculative thought evolve into the next generation of ideas that are put to work for the benefit of all.
There cannot be an “us” and “them” any more. Our planet is too small. We need to clean it up and reshape it a little. We already know that we can accelerate natural environmental change in a careless, haphazard way. Even if we abandoned our industrial technology today we could not help but accelerate natural environmental change in a careless, haphazard way. We are too many to be insignificant to the environment.
So now it’s time for us to start thinking about how to accelerate natural environmental change in a thoughtful, measured way. We are, after all, just as much a part of nature and the environment as the littlest bee.