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.)
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.