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Profs Given Grant To Overcome White Male Hegemony in Science Fiction. Or Something.

The year: 1968. A science fiction show called Star Trek makes history by featuring the first interracial kiss on American television.

The year: 1959. A writer named Robert Heinlein makes a Filipino young man his protagonist in what many consider to be his best work, Starship Troopers.

The year: 1973. Marvel Comics’ Captain America title features its hero tracking down a villain who ends up being none other than President Richard Nixon himself. The event causes Cap to become highly disillusioned, and he gives up wearing the American flag for a time.

The year: 1980. Writer Gregory Benford’s novel Timescape warns of global environmental apocalypse if humans aren’t more careful in how they alter their surroundings.

Science fiction has always been an avenue through which creators comment on political, cultural and social matters. Like racism. The nature of society and government. Abuse of power. Stewardship of our planet.

But only in the hallowed halls of academia will you discover such is not enough for this creative genre. No sir. If the creators are not of the “right” color or background, and if the “right” issues aren’t being addressed adequately, then there’s a problem.

At the University of California, Riverside, a grant was needed to explore “ethnic futurisms” — because, it seems, “there has long been an unacknowledged tradition of SF written by people of color.”

“Alternative Futurisms,” which will launch in September 2015, will bring together African American, Latino, Native American, and Asian American scholars, artists and writers to examine the colonial roots and legacies of science fiction and the power of speculative fiction as a tool for social change.

Science fiction fans and scholars are rethinking what counts as science fiction, explained Sherryl Vint, professor of English and co-director of the SFTS program with Latham. Vint is co-principal investigator of the Sawyer Seminar with Latham and Nalo Hopkinson, professor of creative writing and an award-winning author of science fiction and fantasy.

“The canon is not monolithically white,” she added. “Questions of social justice are emerging, particularly with regard to colonialism, borders, DNA, and profiling. Our seminar will elicit and sustain dialogue among the many peoples of color who are using speculative techniques to combat systemic racism and will seek to displace the hegemony of the post-racial imaginary with a range of ethnic futurisms.”

The “colonial roots and legacies” of sci-fi? Sounds like yet another university-based grievance fest. And who wants to translate that last sentence? Any takers? Here, I’ll give it a go:

“Our seminar, comprised almost exclusively of non-white folks, will discuss how science fiction can combat the persistently and incorrigibly racist Western societies, and will strive to abolish the popularity of racial unity themes in the genre and replace them with various racial and ethnic separatist group fictions.”

How was that?

Unfortunately for UCR, other than that last deconstructivist-based sentence, there’s little new “Alternative Futurisms” offers to science fiction. “Speculative fiction as a tool for social change” is, after all, what sci-fi is.

white-spacemen.x-ray.deltaone Sorry. We’re too white.
 

This story comes about, ironically, at a time when there has been considerable debate within the science fiction community about matters racial and sexual. The rise and popularity of social media, particularly Twitter and Facebook, have served as a catalyst for such. This online brouhaha, for example, between conservative author Larry Correia and lefty writer John Scalzi is a (continuing) microcosm of such. Unfortunately, the predictable accusations of racism, sexism and homophobia by those in the latter camp mar real conversations.

Over the last decade or so, the “Big Two” comicbook companies Marvel and DC have made headline-worthy attempts to “diversify” their ranks — characters and creators alike — sometimes by turning long-established characters into something they’re not. And, like the liberal (general) science fiction crowd, progressive comicbook fans and creators alike are quick to denounce any criticism of such, however innocuous.

Most recently, for example, it was announced the Marvel character Thor would become … a woman. (This is in the comics, not the movies, so don’t worry about Chris Hemsworth ladies. Oh, wait, was that sexist? My apologies.) Even reactions such as “it’s just a cheap gimmick” have been met with angry counters, invoking “misogyny,” “angry white males,” “marginalization,” and, of course, “racism.” Like the movie industry’s predilection for churning out “reboots” of even classic science films, such announcements, much like comicbook character “deaths,” are merely short-term gimmicks, guaranteed to result in a sales boost, however fleeting. I suppose it’s just too much work to actually create new (diverse) characters, much like it’s the same situation with writing original movie scripts …?

Science fiction aficionados crave good stories, no matter the race/gender/sexual orientation of the creators or the stories’ characters. An all-consuming desire for — and corresponding knee-jerk criticism toward dissenters of — superficial “diversity” does little to enhance and encourage the human oneness much of science fiction envisions. Nor, for that matter, does seeking to “displace the hegemony of the post-racial imaginary” with cluttered, separatist racial/ethnic literary enclaves.

Lastly, in terms of access and availability, today there is little to prevent minority science fiction creators from getting their creations out to the public. They certainly don’t face, for example, what Benny Russell did in my favorite Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode, “Far Beyond the Stars.” All it takes is hard work and a lot of persistence. Just ask sci-fi author great Larry Niven; even a trust fund (white) guy’s stories like his got rejected a gazillion times … but eventually one broke through. And I, for one, am glad he kept at it.

Dave Huber is an assistant editor of  The College Fix. He’s written about science fiction and comics (among other things) for over a decade, mostly at The Colossus of Rhodey.

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IMAGES: Matthew Vaughan & x-ray delta one/Flickr

About the Author
Assistant Editor
Dave Huber is assistant editor of The College Fix. He has been writing about education, politics, and entertainment for over a decade, including a stint at the popular media bias site Newsbusters. Dave is a retired educator with over 25 years of service who holds a B.A. and M.Ed. from the University of Delaware, as well as graduate student membership in the National Association of Scholars.

Add to the Discussion

  • Inigo_Ona

    Let’s just have the Ministry of Truth write everything in politically correct terms then we will all feel better.

    • CommentDeleted

      That idea is doubleplusgud.

  • If Thor is becoming a woman, will Wonder Woman become a man? This could get very strange after a while.

    I also have to wonder if the science fiction world will address such things as Heinlein’s notorious, almost humorous nowadays, sexism in such classics as “Stranger in a Strange Land”; or what will happen to Michael Crichton’s ever-so-non-pc attack on the Global Warmers in “State Of Fear”?

    I have no problem at all with groups of authors seeking to advance political viewpoints in their writing voluntarily, seeking to advance their beliefs in some way to a wider audience through embedding them in their fiction. I did much the same thing in my own “TobakkoNacht — The Story.”

    I *do* have a problem however when “powers that be” push the proselytizing of any particular stripe of political beliefs upon artists and creators and writers. A $175,000 grant may seem to be a small thing in itself, but power flows from money as much as from guns in today’s world, and I’ve seen the power that’s managed to wipe the simple act of smoking a cigarette off the screens of thousands of episodes of television productions featuring cold-blooded killing, dismembered corpses, tractor-trailer-loads of gore, and table after table of cannibalistic feasting on human body parts in our living rooms. We’ve already opened the door to allowing PC-Politics to dictate what we can see in our media, and this particular instance of it, the “Alternative Futurisms” conference is something I personally see as a good thing in and of itself… but I worry about it being another brick in a foundation that could build into a prison for what creative minds are and are not allowed to share with the public in the future.

    – MJM

  • If Thor is becoming a woman, will Wonder Woman become a man? This could get very strange after a while.

    I also have to wonder if the science fiction world will address such things as Heinlein’s notorious, almost humorous nowadays, sexism in such classics as “Stranger in a Strange Land”; or what will happen to Michael Crichton’s ever-so-non-pc attack on the Global Warmers in “State Of Fear”?

    I have no problem at all with groups of authors seeking to advance political viewpoints in their writing voluntarily, seeking to advance their beliefs in some way to a wider audience through embedding them in their fiction. I did much the same thing in my own “TobakkoNacht — The Story.”

    I *do* have a problem however when “powers that be” push the proselytizing of any particular stripe of political beliefs upon artists and creators and writers. A $175,000 grant may seem to be a small thing in itself, but power flows from money as much as from guns in today’s world, and I’ve seen the power that’s managed to wipe the simple act of smoking a cigarette off the screens of thousands of episodes of television productions featuring cold-blooded killing, dismembered corpses, tractor-trailer-loads of gore, and table after table of cannibalistic feasting on human body parts in our living rooms, since, after all, children might be watching.

    We’ve already opened the door to allowing PC-Politics to dictate what we can see in our media, and this particular instance of it, the “Alternative Futurisms” conference is something I personally see as a good thing in and of itself… but I worry about it being another brick in a foundation that could build into a prison for what creative minds are and are not allowed to share with the public in the future.

    – MJM

    • CruisingTroll

      Michael, if you haven’t already, I encourage you to investigate the Corriae v Scalzi contretemps, and head over to the Mad Genius Club for some perspective on just what the Social Justice Warriors have in mind. It’s highly unlikely you’ll be nearly as sanguine about this conference …

    • I tend to agree. I worry when government money is used to make a political point. My own writing tends to lean heavily toward libertarian themes. As for the whole Thor thing, I think Joe Quesada has it out for modern Norse Pagans and is trying his best to piss us off.

      • Zack Y.

        Yeah, I don’t think they even bothered to check that Odinism is still a living religion. I mean, that would’ve taken entire minutes of effort and access to the Internet.

        Besides, I may not know much Norse Theology (I’ll defer to you on that for obvious reasons), but I did have enough classical education to know that they could’ve at least gone with Freya or Sif instead this atrocity. Even that change would still be about as tasteless as making Jesus a member of the Avengers.

  • As every writer knows, you can’t please everyone. Literature that is not allowed to OFFEND anyone is not the answer.

  • Dinobot

    Read Larry Correia’s blog. Here is one of the samples what he and other Baen authors are up against. http://monsterhunternation.com/2014/04/24/an-explanation-about-the-hugo-awards-controversy/

  • pst314

    Writer Sarah Hoyt has also been discussing the Social Justice Warrior idiots on her blog According to Hoyt.

  • pst314

    “A writer named Robert Heinlein makes a Filipino young
    man his protagonist in what many consider to be his best work, Starship Troopers.” As a matter of fact, many characters in his stories have dark skins. For instance, Manny in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is black. What’s more, the race of these characters is dealt with in a very low-key way, showing the reader that in these future societies race doesn’t matter. None of that clumsy “look, look, my hero is black” stuff.

    • Zack Y.

      These people SAY they want the world to get better, but they don’t really want it. Think about it- as a class, they’re all professional whiners. So as the world gets qualitatively better and there are fewer REAL things to whine about, their industry dies.

      That’s why you see these people constantly inventing new injustices and doing everything they can to massively over-hype existing ones. If they ever made the mistake of conceding that a “social justice” fight was ever won, people would have no reason to give them money and attention anymore.

  • Ulysses Noman

    Yet another front of Marxism in academia. ‘Social Justice’ is the Marxist dialectic. It is poison and madness in every field it is thrust into.

  • Ulysses Noman

    Ironic that so many of the masters of science fiction warn us of the dangers of the thought police swallowing various societies in their ‘future histories’. And now here they are, the Marxist Mavens of Mediocrity pushing their garbage into the world of science fiction. Always and forever seeking to recontextualize everything they touch such that anything that isn’t Marxism / Social Justice becomes doubleplusungood.

  • Zack Y.

    I’m waiting for some college president to have the stones to enact the campus “nuclear option”.

    Most schools have a “College of Arts and Sciences” or something similar that crams the core STEM majors in with all the humanities. I’d split those into 2 distinct colleges, then flat-out abolish the stand-alone College of Arts for about 5 years. Simultaneously, I’d totally revamp the faculty hiring system and abolish tenure for new hires. A good system for the faculty would be a hard exam you have to pass on general knowledge (a sort of super-GRE) and then an even harder one for your specific discipline like classical history, modern political theory, etc. just to get an interview. Those interviews should be taped and the tapes made available to the public.

    Oh, it is draconian. But its necessary. You have to drive out the mush-heads and campus radicals currently squatting in the ruins of those disciplines, and put in place a system that makes it hard for them to get back in. Most of them became what they are because they couldn’t cut it as real scholars, so just putting in quality control would do a lot to drive out “academics” whose entire body of ‘research’ consists of a few whiny opinion pieces written in incoherent & impenetrable newspeak.

  • Kit Ingoldby

    Good grief, this article is an offence against the English language. What a congealed mess of empty jargon smeared across the page.

  • banger377

    One word: Barbarella.