Science Fiction Studies

#22 = Volume 7, Part 3 = November 1980


Symposium on Alien

Participants: Jackie Byars (Moderator), Jeff Gould, Peter Fitting, Judith Newton, Tony Safford, Clayton Lee

Abstract .--This symposium on Alien presents six different scholars' viewpoints on the film. Jackie Byars, as moderator of the symposium, begins the discussion with some ideological readings of Alien; Jeff Gould analyzes the destruction of the social by the organic; Peter Fitting situates Alien in the long tradition of Hollywood "monster'' cinema and discusses the social and psychological function of such films; Judith Newton focuses on the portrayal of the film's heroine, Ripley, as a locus of feminism and anxiety; Tony Safford investigates the science/humanism dichotomy in Alien, especially as it relates to the depiction of the film's fictional characters; Clayton Lee presents several cognitive approaches to Alien, and identifies the film as an example of the postmodern baroque.

Andrew Gordon

The Empire Strikes Back: Monsters from the Id

Abstract.--  Much like its predecessor Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back is a film which evokes what Joseph Campbell once called "the monomyth," portraying the mythic hero's Departure, Initiation, and Return. In Empire, however, George Lucas and his co-writers have deepened and darkened the Star Wars' vision. Empire is a rousing adventure story, but it is also genuinely disturbing: e.g., the heroes are in retreat from beginning to end, they accomplish only minor victories and suffer major defeats, and Luke Skywalker's very identity and manhood have been shaken by the loss of his lightsaber and his right hand to Darth Vader and the discovery that Vader is his long-lost father. Although both films deal with the primal anxieties often portrayed in fairy-tales, Empire is not as reassuring as Star Wars because it brings those anxieties nearer to the surface without satisfactorily resolving them.

Mark Siegel

Science-Fiction Characterization and TV's Battle for the Stars

Abstract .--Hypothesis: SF novels often tend to portray their fictional worlds through the the subjective perception of their characters, described in realistic fashion; television SF, in contrast, tends to use more stereotypical, stylized characters and to emphasize the action- oriented plot and its mythic, allegorical, or symbolic overtones. The popular success of Star Trek and the corresponding lack of success of Battlestar Gallactica, for example, serve to demonstrate the validity of this hypothesis.

Mark Siegel

The Rocky Horror Picture Show: More Than A Lip Service

Abstract .--The Rocky Horror Picture Show is discussed as a unique social phenomenon which serves as a ``rite of intensification'' to restore social equilibrium where the patterns and laws of social interaction are changing. Showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show have been adopted by a segment of the American society as a ritual to act out the conflicts created by changes in sex roles occurring in the United States.  

Michael Stern

Making Culture Into Nature; or, Who Put the "Special" into "Special Effects"?

Abstract.--This essay examines the ``special effects'' in SF. It connects SF as a discourse featuring special effects to other forms of mass communications, especially advertising and news, which have their own versions of special effects. Each is analyzed in terms of its own specific brand of ``textuality'' and its communicative dynamics.

Donald F. Theall

On Science Fiction as Symbolic Communication

Abstract.--The SF genre has, for several years now, elicited a growing critical interest in the intellectual world. This essay discusses the unparalleled popularity of Star Trek as a phenomenon of mass communication which reflects certain fundamental value systems implicit in American society: e.g., the myth of the frontier, the valorization of technology, the economics of free enterprise, and politics of manifest destiny in the conquest of space.

This television series can be described in terms of the "poetic motive of symbolic communication'' (K. Burke), i.e., an expression of humanity's intrinsic pleasure in creating symbols. If the function of art is to transcend and reevaluate the lived moment, Star Trek tends, on the contrary, to reiterate the ideological status quo. Without attaining the level of catharsis of great works of art, Star Trek nevertheless offers to its public a new form of communication where its symbolic action reflects in part the complexity of contemporary structures of feeling.

In this context, Star Trek is compared with Kubrick's 2001, and with Lem's Futurological Congress--each of which uses more sophisticated and polyvalent SF structures to evoke the intellectual and emotional complexity of humans and their universe.

  moonbut.gif (4466 bytes) Back to Home