Growing popularity of science fiction films in 1950s Essay
This paper focuses on the growing popularity of science fiction films in 1950s. Besides the tension between U.S and Russia following the World War II, there were also rumors of Alien visitation. These two combinations of events had a very huge impact on the Holly wood movies.
During this time, Spy thrillers and Science fiction films dominated the movie shelves. Spy thrillers were attributed to the spy agents deployed by both the Russian government and the U.S government to protect their interests, while science fiction was attributed to both the Roswell rules and the advancement in technology especially the military technology. Most of the science fiction films reflect the socio-political environment in both the US and the rest of the world.
Science fiction is an art of exploring impact of real or imaginary science on an individual or society at large. Just like fantasy and horror, science fiction is a type of indecisive fiction. All types of tentative fiction use elements that are profoundly unfamiliar to the reader or the audience. In this kind of situation, real human concerns and subjects can be explored in a completely different light.
Therefore, science fiction not only thrills its readers/audience by unknown and imaginary world, but also reflects issues affecting people in different environments (Nicholls & Clute, 1995).
Science fictions are known to predict the future advancement in science and technology. By combining the knowledge of real science and imaginations, the authors of science fictions have been able to create unbelievable technologies in the movie world. More significantly, these authors have also predicted the impact of such technologies on individuals and society in general (Orr, 2001, Nicholls &Clute, 1995).
Exceptionally prevalent in film and literature in the present day, science fiction has mainly established itself as genre over the past one and half century. In spite of its growing popularity, science fiction owes its root to the mythical and philosophical literature. Classic poems like The Odyssey, books such as Utopia written by Thomas More among others had elements of the fantastic prediction of the science fiction in the 20th Century (Nicholls &Clute, 1995).
Science fiction has presented not only some of the greatest stories in the contemporary literature, but has also predicted many developments that define the modern world. “This paper focuses on the growing popularity of science-fiction films in the 1950s reflecting the contemporary social and political concerns as well as addressing changes in the Hollywood film industry after World War II” (Orr, 2002).
Science fiction films in the post world war II era
One thing is definite; myths are characterized by their times. For instance, ancient myths look ridiculous in the world today. Ancient Greeks believed that lightning comes from Zeus and that Apollo hauled the sun across the sky. Those beliefs have become fairytales in our contemporary world (Camp, 1997).
Modern science allows people to view things in a different way. Almost every person knows why the sun moves and causes of lightning, but there is a reason why the ancient people did not have such knowledge. Such an idea is significant today since we live in a rocket age. Countries such as US and Russia send their people to the moon and their satellites to other planets. Therefore, these specimens are real in the modern world (Parish, 2001).
There has been a culture of paranoia after the World War II. The main factors that have contributed to this are the post war transformation of nations into industrialized society, religious extremism, and the fear of weapons of mass destruction/ nuclear weapons. These factors form a powerful combination of the emotionally charged days (Knight, 2002). Some authors believe that science fiction expresses reality and not cultural phenomenon.
In essence, these authors have given example of certain instances in order to convince their audience. Many people believe that an alien aircraft crashed near Roswell in the mid 1969. Fanatics believe that the government staged a cover up to hide the truth from the public. Hollywood has taken advantage of this fanaticism and produced many Alien movies (Toby, 2000).
A collection of articles edited by Orr (2001) provides an outlook of the transformation that took place in the American films following the Second World War. World War II gave rise to two genres of film. These are the science fiction, and the spy thriller movies. Both of these categories of films provide a window into the 2nd world war culture.
Presentation of the future in science fiction films changed tremendously following the Second World War. Orr (2002) analyzes this fact. Orr (2002) looks at several films and highlights the evolving features of the science fiction as the war progressed. The main examples of science fiction films he provided are Star Wars, Space Odyssey, and the Alien film.
After the Second World War, US entered the cold war. This was the major starting point of the Science fiction films and conspiracy theories. The main theme at that time was paranoia. This was partly attributed to the real fear of attack by the USSR and by the general lack of trust among the government officials. Emerging from the remains of the war, were completely new type of American citizens (Keith 1993).
This resulted into fundamental changes in the US economy. There was a paradigm shift from production to consumption; otherwise known as the post-industrial American society. Under the post industrial American society people became more and more estranged from the government bureaucracies. American citizens were becoming more generic creating a notion of Lonely America (Melley, 2002).
Other features of the cold war included printed magazine stories alleging visitation of Aliens into the earth and other extraterrestrial stories. As time progressed, tension started to rise between US and Soviet Union. Soviet Union tested their first nuclear bomb in 1949. The combination of Roswell incident which was just two years old and the soviet atomic bombs created a huge paranoia among the American public and the world at large (Alain & Luc, 2001, McAndrew, 1997).
The cold war affected almost every aspect of the American society. This saw dramatic changes particularly in the film industry. Orr (2001) stated in his article, the cold war and the cinema wonder, that there were two types of films that dominated the film industry during the cold war era.
These were the spy thrillers and the irresistible science fiction. The idea behind the spy thriller was attributed to the allegation that the US had trained individuals to safeguard American interest by spying. U.S and the Soviet Union spied on each other all the way through the cold war. It even came to the point where the Russian film industry produced its own version of the America’s James Bond. Therefore, the same pressure that infiltrated the American culture was also finding its way in the Russian culture (Melley, 2002).
Besides the spy thriller, science fiction is seen as one of the most dominant genre during the cold war period. Smith (2000) draws a correlation between science fiction films and the Roswell incident. Smith termed this correlation as Roswell rules.
Roswell rules essentially take the stand that every science fiction movies featuring Alien invasion for the most part takes place in a desert, with the military involved. This is very common in most films for instance “The day the earth stood still” and “Invaders from the mass”. Both of these films took place in the desert thus followed the Roswell rules (Alain & Luc, 2001, McAndrew, 1997).
In addition to Roswell incident, Hantke (2003) draws a correlation between science fiction films and the advancement in technology during the 1950s. Hantke (2003) states that 1950s was dominated with technological advancement in comparison with the previous decades.
People started to imagine the future as an astounding technological utopia where humans could communicate with Aliens from other planets while at the same time making trips to the outer space (Hantke, 2003). There was no reason to doubt Hantke’s theory since people started to travel to the outer space as early as 1957 when Sputnik entered the orbit. In 1969 Neil Armstrong became the first man to ever step his foot on the moon.
The period between 1950s and 1970s saw a large number of space programs being conducted from nothing to humans walking on the moon. If this development had kept going along similar line, then the idea behind the film” A space Odyssey” would have not been so outrageous to the viewers (Darlington, 1997).
From the above arguments, it is very clear how programs such as “Star Trek” and “Movie 2001” originated. Nevertheless, science fiction is nothing more than the glorified ancient tales. Alain & Luc (2001) compares science fiction to the stories of goblins and gnomes during the ancient times.
In the stories of goblins and gnomes, creatures seized people and transfer them to other dimensions where there was change in time. Just a couple of years after bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the world first radiation mutant appeared on the big screen. This mutant was known as the “Godzilla” in a movie starred by Harrison Ford (Alain & Luc, 2001).
After the Godzilla, the cold war films were full of mutant aliens, body snatchers, man-eating dandelions, pods, blood-sucking vegetables among others. The rise of nuclear era considerably changed the way people viewed the world. It changed even people’s fantasies. Other movies of that period took a much less optimistic view of the future. 1979 film “Alien” by Ridley Scott almost by itself introduced a new visual grammar for the science fiction movies.
This film featured extraterrestrial creatures trying to eliminate all the people that existed before it. Its main difference from other science fiction films is how it portrayed life in the future. The previous films such as Star Trek and 2001 presented a clean and lustrous view of the future where the environment is perfect and advanced (Alain & Luc, 2001).
In the film spaceship Alien, everything from the ship and the environment looks filthy and claustrophobic. This presented the idea that the future is likely to have enormous technologies, which instead of improving the human life will ruin it.
This was not Ridley’s idea in making the ship; the ship was made tighter and compact to increase the tension resulting from fighting the vicious animal-like creatures from the outer space. This does not take a way the fact that many science fiction films nowadays have a less positive view of the future (Lev 1998).
Let us start with the “Planet of Apes” in the early 60s which represents a future world destroyed by nuclear war and the Apes are now the rulers of the earth. In this film human beings are not wiped out by the nuclear war, instead have become slaves to the apes. In a matter of fact human in the movie cannot speak. This is means that humans have become animals and animals have taken their place. The main theme of this film is that, while technology allows us to progress, it is also the cause of downward spiraling that can result to destruction.
This is a true picture formed by the cold war ideology. The world war wiped out many generations and the ability to do this came from sophisticated military technology. Killing of the mass is a science when it comes to military warfare. Therefore, advanced military technology can only result to the death of more people. The nuclear bomb represented that threat (Parish, 2001).
Others argue that the presence of advanced nuclear weapons has also saved lives. Something that people during the cold war would have not anticipated. The truth is that the presence of nuclear weapons prevented the US and the Soviet Union from engaging in war. In addition, sophisticated military technology has helped to save lives during wars.
Precision guided missiles minimizes the total number of people that are killed during wars, thus provides the ability to prevent civilian deaths. These are some of the facts that could have not been anticipated during the cold war era (Keith, 1993).
A number of films have followed these concepts. Their main theme is that some type of disastrous future awaits the humankind, for instance” Mad Max”, “Blade Runner”, and the “Water world” (Lev 1998). Each of these films is a product of the cold war mentality. The films “Water world” and “Blade runner” each focuses on the ecological catastrophe while “Mad max” emphasizes on a future earth that is unproductive and unusable.
They are not peripheral films. Numerous well-produced science films continue to flood the entertainment world. The American public acknowledged the science fiction as the conventional entertainment genre during the cold war era. This is associated with the cold war suspicion and improbability (Fenster, 1999).
Science fiction films and the American culture and socio-politics
The fear and suspicion caused by the cold war environment worked to create facets of popular culture. These included Alien films, science fiction films and other range of conspiracy theories.
These ideas have continued to be promulgated even in the post cold war era, thus showing how rooted they have become in our culture. Unluckily the predictions of science fictions have not come true. Besides landing in the moon 30 years back, there is no significant developments that have been made apart from sending satellites to far away planets (Fenster, 1999).
What can be learned from this is that the future can never be predicted. In all likelihood, the conspiracy theory will not fade away very soon. Mysteries such as the Alien visitations are also unlikely to be solved very soon and this will only add to its public appeal. Cold war laid a foundation for conspiracy theories to be ingrained in the American consciousness. This consciousness is not static but dynamic (Fenster, 1999).
Besides the tensions among nations and extraterrestrial creatures, science fiction films also depict the reality of the American social life. For instance, the original film “Star wars” portrayed a large planet without nations, societies and colored race. In the movie, we see warrior fighting the bandits and the scavengers.
Critics argued that the movie portrayed racism that existed in the American society since there was no single black, Hispanic or Asian face. This forced director to include other actors such as Samuel LL Jackson the subsequent series. The boundless territory represented the effects of globalization that is turning the world into a global village (Lev, 1998).
The American theme is apparent in the 5th and penultimate episode of the “Star Wars: Episode II- Attack of the clones”. The movie presents the republic as both incapable to maintain law and order or enforce laws on the wayward members. The legislature is so ineffective that it does not even care about the efforts to assassinate one of its member; Senator Padme Amidala (Lev, 1998).
This kind of scenario can be compared to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The film also portrays the current apprehension in America with the politicization of the Supreme Court. In the movie, the Supreme Court is portrayed as bogged down in prolonged hearings, whose findings are disregarded by the trade federation. From the film, we see Lucas having little faith in formal politics and believe that politics is entrenched in deception, that legislation is the art of ploy (Fenster, 1999).
Science fiction film originally was based fundamentally on the scientific knowledge, myths, and imaginations. This was later shaped by advancement in military technology following the World War II. In this era, most the science fiction movies were mainly based on military technology. After the World War II, the world particular America was engulfed in paranoia.
There was an increase in tension between the United States and the Soviet Union. At the same time, there were rumors that Aliens had visited the earth as with the Roswell case. Both the fear of war and Alien invasion shaped the Hollywood movies.
At that time, Hollywood was dominated by spy thrillers and science fiction movies. Spy thrillers are attributed to the spy agents deployed by both the Russian government and the U.S government to protect their interests, while science fiction is shaped by the Roswell rules and the advancement in technology especially the military technology. Some science fiction films such as the star wars depict the rot in the American judicial and political systems.
Alain, P., & Luc, P. C. 2001. Extraterrestrial Beliefs and Experiences: An Application of the Theory of Reasoned Action. Journal of Social Psychology, 141(2), p199.
Camp, G.1997. Selling Fear: Conspiracy Theories and End-Times Paranoia. Grand
Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
Darlington, D.1997. Area 51: The Dreamland Chronicles. New York: H. Holt.
Fenster, M. 1999. Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power In American Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Hantke, S. 2003. In the Belly of the Mechanical Beast: Technological Environment in the Alien Films. Journal of Popular Culture, 36(3).
Keith, J.1993. Secret and Suppressed: Banned Ideas and Hidden History. Venice, CA: Feral House.
Knight, P. 2002. Conspiracy Nation: The Politics of Paranoia in Post War America. New York: New York University Press.
Lev, P. 1998. Who’s Future? Star Wars, Alien, and Blade Runner. Literature Film Quarterly, 26(1), p30.
McAndrew, J. 1997. The Roswell Report: Case Closed. Washington D.C.: Headquarters United States Air Force.
Melley, T. 2002. Empire of Conspiracy: The Culture of Paranoia in Post-War America. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Nicholls, P., &Clute, J. 1995. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, (Reprint Edition) St. Martins Press.
Orr, J. 2001. Post-War Cinema and Modernity: A Film Reader. New York: New York University Press.
Orr, J. 2002. The Art and Politics of Film. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Parish, J. 2001. The Age of Anxiety: Conspiracy Theory And the Human Sciences. Oxford: Blackwell/Sociological Review.
Toby, S. 2000. Little Gray Men: Roswell and the Rise of a Popular Culture. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.
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Abstract This paper focuses on the growing popularity of science fiction films in 1950s. Besides the tension between U.S and Russia following the World War II, there were also rumors […]