Science Fiction Language/political Reporting: Communicating News Via Words from Nowhere Real

By Barr, Marleen S. | ETC.: A Review of General Semantics, January 2012 | Go to article overview

Science Fiction Language/political Reporting: Communicating News Via Words from Nowhere Real


Barr, Marleen S., ETC.: A Review of General Semantics


  We have been approaching this presidential race the wrong
  way. It's not political science. It's science fiction.
  Something is amiss in the space-time continuum. The candidates
  running now are not the same ones we started out with. It's
  'Invasion of the Body Snatchers' all over again. We're watching
  the clash of the pod people. The first hint that things were
  not what they seemed came when Barack Obama turned into Hillary
  Clinton, We believe this was engineered by Hillary fans who had
  seen that early 'Star Trek' episode about the woman who wanted
  to be a starship commander so bad that she figured out a way to
  switch brains with Captain Kirk. (Gail Collins, 2008c, p. A19)

  Have the worlds of science fiction and presidential politics
  ever been more closely aligned than they were in 2007? This was
  the year when Rudolph Giuliani told a young questioner on the
  campaign trail that "we'll be prepared" if the United States is
  attacked by aliens from another planet; when Dennis Kucinich
  blithely confessed during a Democratic debate that he'd seen a
  U.F.O.; and when Mitt Romney revealed in an interview that L.
  Ron Hubbard's 'Battlefield Earth' was one of his favorite novels.
  But really, is it all that remarkable that Romney would identify
  with the story of a virtuous hero who saves Earth from a foreign
  invasion force? Or that several candidates have embraced science
  fiction when so many of them could benefit from its lessons?
  (Dave Itzkolf, 2007, p. 16)

Dave Itzkoff notes that science fiction and presidential politics are closely aligned worlds. Gail Collins' piece, which is replete with science fiction contexts and references to science fiction texts, exemplifies how science fiction parlance permeates New York Times oped page columnists' prose. In order fully to understand Collins, readers must be fluent in fantastic language and cognizant of the science fiction canon. They must immediately recognize "space-time continuum" and "pod people"; they must be familiar with The Invasion of the Body Snatehers and Star Trek. By stressing science fiction language's political communicative effectiveness, Itzkoff complements Collins' content which indicates that this language is a political presence. He points to how Giuliani, Kucinich, and Romncy use science fiction tropes to describe their individual agendas. My purpose is to apply Samuel R. Delany's notion of "the language of science fiction" to the pervasive use of science fiction's linguistic presence and resonance in current political reporting parlance. I will closely read New York Times political opinion writers as well as other political commentators with an eye toward showing that the language of science fiction has become a post colonial illocutionary force that exemplifies how to do political things with science fiction words.

Delam's discussion of "the language of science fiction" emphasizes that science fiction language is a distinct communicative system and, in order to understand science fiction, science fiction readers must be fluent in this system. In the manner of Creole and American black dialect, science fiction language has been positioned as a linguistic Other--a silenced, colonized, and marginalized discourse practice. Collins and Itzkoff indicate that this is no longer true. Science fiction language, in the manner of postcolonial discourse, now speaks as a major force at the nexus of current debates about national politics: it serves as an instantaneously recognizable metaphor which challenges, normalizes, and contests political debates. Postcolonial science fiction language has become the United States" new national language for navigating the political landscape.

I will explain the affective value of the new postcolonial language of science fiction and its connotation in the context of national and. by implication, global politics. I will accomplish this objective by analyzing how postcolonial science fiction language functions as a major communicative force used by political opinion writers (especially Times columnists publishing between 2006 and 2010). …

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