Science Fiction in Literature and Other Media

September 2, 2011 § Leave a comment

Our culture seems to have very different perceptions of science fiction and its fans that are based upon the medium within which it is presented. Reading science fiction novels and watching science fiction movies are treated as very different activities, and are responded to in very different ways. My family, a group of generally culturally-typical individuals without strong scientific backgrounds, is an excellent example of this interesting contradiction.

My parents, like many Americans, consider the Star Wars trilogy to be some of the greatest movies ever made, and my family enjoys watching popular science fiction movies such as Avatar. When I was a kid, we would all watch The X-Files together, eventually moving on to spend our Friday evenings watching Stargate: SG1. My mother and sister have read the Harry Potter series many times over, as have a large proportion of my friends. However, neither my family nor many of my friends have an interest in science fiction literature. In fact, they consider it “nerdy” and, to a lesser extent, “masculine.” What, exactly, makes magic, vampires, and Middle Earth more socially acceptable and feminine, and less nerdy, than space battles and futurism, and why is this distinction seemingly more pronounced in literature than in other media?

The answers to these questions are unclear. The masculinity of science fiction is undoubtedly related to the masculinity of science and technology in general; for example, men comprise a significantly greater proportion of scientists, engineers, and mathematicians than do women. Perhaps science fiction movies and television shows are perceived as less masculine and nerdy because they are created and marketed in order to appeal to the greatest number of people. A new book, after all, is not promoted to anywhere near the extent of a movie like Avatar. Or perhaps science fiction is more accessible for uninitiated or casual audiences when it is presented in a visual medium: certainly the visual aspects of exploring different worlds and outer space are part of the appeal of science fiction movies, and this effect may be diminished for some audiences when translated into literature. There are any number of possible answers to the question of why science fiction literature is less socially acceptable than science fiction in visual media, and I hope to further explore this topic through the course of the semester, both from sociological interest and to better understand my own experiences regarding my family.

–Sarah

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