Monday, November 10, 2008

Musings -- New Thresholds of Possibility and Sci-Fi Geek Out

The blogosphere is already crowded with 222 too many “Age of Obama” essays, and really, this blog isn’t about politics. Yet as I sit here musing about the shifting American social fabric, I am wondering how all of this talk (and hopefully action) about “change” is going to inform creative expression and intellectual inquiry.

In other contexts, I have described my own work (as a whole) as “writing towards change.” I like to think of my writing as working against and through oppressive regimes of thought. This is a moral imperative for me. I write to help forge a path to a brighter future.

However, as I write towards change, I am writing within dramatic and literary traditions that seem to understand me best as a minority--peripheral to the larger scheme of things. I cannot deny the truth of these statements: I am black. I am American. I am male. I am gay. I would not presume to deny similar statements from others, but what disturbs me is the persistent unspoken, but commonplace, belief that these are unassailable limits of existence. It is as if we cannot even imagine alternatives.

And so my battleground for change as an artist is the human imagination itself. I find my tools for change outside the real. I seek possibility in the fantastic, in the unbelievable that goes beyond mere spectacle and enters the speculative.

It is this fact of speculative fiction—the possibility—that has always made it my favorite genre. I am a champion of SF precisely because it challenges our limits, brings us to new thresholds. Does science fiction predict our future? Yeah....but I think that’s a bit of a crude way of looking at it. I do think that sci fi at its best anticipates our future. And stuff like Star Trek attempts to envision a future worth working towards. SF helps to articulate possibility.

If you are of the mind that pop culture helps shade the American imagination, I invite you to consider the impact of Nichelle Nichols as Uhura in Star Trek…

Consider the impact (decades later) of Avery Brooks, as not only a crew member, but as the Commander (and later Captain) on Star Trek Deep Space Nine…And that’s just Star Trek.

There has been a concerted, if imperfect, effort to be more inclusive in science fiction in so many interesting works…and not just in race…consider Sigorney Weaver’s Ripley in Alien...and those are just a few pop culture ones…

This week has been a rare moment where we have rushed head-first across a threshold into our future. The concept of a “black president” has been a marker in the African-American psyche for as long as I can remember. I would say it has been something always deemed possible, but probably not “in our lifetimes.” And yet, here we are.

So now, as we come together to break this historical barrier, I am wondering what other articulations of the future will preoccupy my imagination. There’s a lot of work to do, of course. Plenty to “write towards change” about. And…it’s as if all of a sudden I have a bit more latitude, especially as a person of color, to set my sights on new possibilities…hmmm. Interesting to see where this will lead.

I want to know what Christopher Columbus would think. What would Thomas Jefferson say? Harriet Tubman? Frantz Fanon…Queen Victoria…W.E.B. DuBois….Walt Whitman…Emperor Hirohito…Walt Disney…what about Black Elk? I want to chat with James Baldwin and Octavia Butler about it…I want to see what history would say about this moment…about this future that is somehow already here.


Jamar Herrod said...

Well with all those varied famous black and white counterparts from history they would say a variety of things. You, my professor, and my associate from school seem to have an interest in SCi-Fi particular Star Trek.

I just can't get into it honestly. I'm stuck with my African-American lit and black gay men's writing. And even though I have substantial American literature in my background, that is not something I prefer to discuss.

Derek Lee McPhatter said...

Jamar, you might like this site:

E9of10 said...


I find it a little disconcerting that the significance of this most historic moment isn't more inspiring to you as a man and an American. I find it curious that your cousin reacted similarly. I wonder whether it's your age, experience or both.

It's also interesting that as you muse about being pigeon-holed, you identify yourself first as black. I wonder whether your position is influenced in some small part by how you view yourself.

You are so much better than that. You've barely tapped your true potential.

As we live through history, I hope that in some way you can see the recent election as a catalyst. A catalyst that allows you to shed the labels that you have allowed society to place on you and "become the change you want to see in the world."

Gene Roddenberry sure did.

Derek Lee McPhatter said...

Hey e9of10.

Sure I'm inspired by this election. Its very inspiring and groundbreaking. I don't feel the need to belabor that point though...this blog isn't really about that anyway.

The point I was making about all those identity markers like black and gay, that we have to ENVISION change before it actually happens, and for a long time Black America has been dreaming about what a "black president" would mean. Now that's a reality. So my question is, what else will we dream about?

And my argument, artistically, is that sci-fi can and does play a very powerful role in helping us imagine the future...that's all....

I don't know what's disconcerting about any of that...