Zenon: SciFi Icon of the 21st Century

September 25, 2015 § 1 Comment

We all know that science fiction tends to appeal to a certain adolescent following- the “nerds,” the misfits, and the marginalized (and I say that with no negative connotation; in fact, I’d probably categorize myself as a member of these groups). But what happens when the genre is popularized and gains a wider following? Does it change the essence of the works that follow? To answer these questions, I turn to a seminal work of film and television. This movie rocked my world, and I’m still more than a little bitter that it was snubbed by the Academy Awards the year it was released. I’m referring to, of course, Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century.

For those of you unfamiliar, the film follows the titular character, a spunky 13-year-old girl who lives on a spaceship in the year 2049. The purpose of the spaceship: unclear. It just orbits the Earth. But that’s all an impressionable kid needs; well, that and the highly imaginative lycra fashions that are heavily featured in the film. The main conflict involves Zenon, who’s known only the ship for her entire life, becoming “grounded” on Earth as punishment for venturing out into space without supervision or permission. Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century was highly successful with its key demographic and spawned two more sequels within five years of its release. (It should be noted that the movie was based on a book of the same name, but the novel was much less commercially popular.)

Their outfits. Their hair. The purported technology of 2049. Iconic.

Their outfits. Their hair. The purported technology of 2049. Iconic.

I spoke to some friends to see what they remembered about the movie, and the most common response was a line from a heavily featured song: “Zoom, zoom, zoom, make my heart go boom, boom, my supernova girl.” If anything, this line reveals what I believe to be the core of the effectiveness of this brand of pop-scifi: vaguely related to the actual discipline of science if only to allow for an entertainment factor, and little more. Viewers weren’t taught what a supernova is when the song rang out in the finale.  But if even one viewer looked up the concept to learn more about it, did Zenon really teach something after all?

Zenon succeeded in bringing an excitement for space, exploration, and science in general to a generation of predominantly female viewers. The dialogue was cheesy, the special effects were low-budget, the jokes uninventive, and the characters one-dimensional. But none of that really mattered to an impressionable kid. If the goal was to make us excited about space exploration, it succeeded; never mind that there was little by way of actual scientific explanation. If authors of the science fiction genre ever see the need to expand their fan base to more of the general population, perhaps they would do well to cut down on the “science” and bring out more of the “fiction”; small doses of information, spoon-fed to impressionable readers and viewers who otherwise might be entirely uninterested, are better than nothing.



§ One Response to Zenon: SciFi Icon of the 21st Century

  • sarahmjamison says:

    As a child I was utterly obsessed with this movie. Frankly, it should be a classic in everyone’s video library. Age is no restriction and anyone who disagrees with me will have to be prepared for a spirited debate.

    Your article prompted me to think, though, why do I love this movie so much? Why is this a movie that, 15 years later, I still remember the lyrics to the songs? (As a side note, wow, this movie is almost 16 years old. That makes me feel old and nostalgic for an earlier era. For anyone that wants to correct me that it was not really an “era” ago, I concede but it still feels like eons ago). What your article made me realize is that it was one of the only movies of my childhood that even remotely introduced science to a young girl. Young girls in the 1990s and early 2000s had shows with dreamy boys to fawn over and silly school dramas that pointed out the struggles of being a young person. But they really didn’t scream “science.” While Zenon can’t really be called scientifically accurate, it didn’t need to be. The purpose was not to teach a young girl about black holes or physics. Truthfully it may not really have even been intended to spark an interest in science, but it did just that.

    Zenon made science exciting and made it seem like anything could be possible. It shed fetters on imagination, thus welcoming young girls to imagine a world where scientific feats such as living permanently in space were possible.

    Not only did your article inspire me to question my love for Zenon and the role that science played in that love, but it also inspired me to sit in bed on a Saturday and watch it again. Cheers!


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