Friday, June 06, 2008

Hollywood against the Mutants

Australian philosopher, science fiction writer* and editor-in-chief of The Journal of Evolution and Technology Russell Blackford has written a piece for the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies** that takes a look at the history of mutants in science fiction.
Stories of mutated humans first became common in the science fiction magazines of the 1930s, with mutation often providing a rationalisation for narratives that described the exploits of superhumans. Of the many science-fictional tales from the 1930s that concerned superhuman beings, Olaf Stapledon’s novel Odd John (1935) is surely the best-known today and one of the finest of its kind ever written. Arguably, it was not equalled until the 1950s publication of More than Human, by Theodore Sturgeon. Here, Sturgeon depicts a group of mutants with psychic powers who can merge minds and form a single “gestalt” being of great power.
He continues on through the superhuman (and super animal) mutants of the post-atomic era, the X-Men, and the depiction of mutants in the movies as dangerous - yet "cool".
For reasons like these, Hollywood’s anti-mutant war is a rather equivocal one after all — covertly, if not overtly, it tends to produce a sub-text that mutants are cool as well as dangerous (as are cyborgs, robots, modern-day dinosaurs, and aliens from space). In this sense, its texts are at war with themselves as much as with science and technology, and (short of some kind of large-scale sociological study) it can be difficult to gauge the net effect on audiences. The technophobic elements may predominate on balance — at least some of the time, or even much of the time — and they are certainly worth exposing and challenging, but the sub-text of techno-allure is also worth our attempts to trace and understand. There’s much room for sensitive discussion and exploration of Hollywood’s ambiguous war against the mutants.
Much like X-Men, the TV series Heroes exemplifies this dichotomy: some of the mutant superhumans are clearly evil and dangerous, while others work to oppose them and protect the "normals". However, both the good and evil characters are ultimately set apart from the rest of humanity.

* Among Blackford's novels are the Terminator 2: The New John Connor Chronicles trilogy and Kong Reborn:
Jack Denham, grandson of moviemaker Carl Denham (who brought Kong to New York in 1933) clashes with a ruthless business magnate, Carlton Hemming, as both attempt to clone the giant ape, Kong, from blood samples discovered by a high-steel worker in 1999. Succeeding beyond their wildest dreams, it is quickly apparent the cloned ape belongs back in his native wilderness and not the wilds of New York. The final life-and-death struggle is played out on Skull Island--a lost world in the Indian Ocean, full of monstrous creatures--where the original Kong was found over 70 years ago.
** The Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies is a think tank for "promoting the ethical use of technology to expand human capabilities", and is the publisher of The Journal of Evolution and Technology.

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