Sci Fi Reigns at Toronto’s Fan Expo Canada 2012 [Op-Ed]
FAN EXPO OP-ED
By Chris Lackner
“All the works of man have their origin in creative fantasy. What right have we then to depreciate imagination?”
“Don’t you call me a mindless philosopher you overweight glob of grease!”
— C-3PO to Jabba the Hutt, Star Wars: A New Hope
Carl Jung may have said it more eloquently, but leave it to the droid C-3P0 to sum up my response to critics of sci-fi and fantasy. Those who unfairly dismiss the worlds of fantasy as mindless and cheesy are missing the big picture: that the genre, when done well, can teach us more about ourselves than almost any other.
From franchise epics like Star Trek and Star Wars to serial dramas like The X-Files, the best sci-fi and fantasy offer a glimpse into our modern world through a distorted, funhouse mirror. They offer a safe place to deal with challenging questions about society, technology, ethics and politics. They just happen to also offer heroes in spandex — and the occasional Wookie.
Behind almost every costumed fangirl and fanboy flocking to this week’s Fan Expo in Toronto, is a story that has challenged us, and made us re-think our place in the universe.
Just a quick glance at the list of celebrity appearances at Fan Expo offers countless examples of fantasy as high-art.
For starters, there’s Gillian Anderson. As Scully on The X-Files, Anderson represented our modern skepticism of the fantastical – the logic-driven cynicism of our age. Her counterpart, David Duchovny as Fox Mulder, offered the other side of the coin: a man willing to challenge beliefs, to push boundaries and to believe the impossible was possible. When you look past the alien conspiracy, sexual tension — and the occasional sewer monster — their two characters are a good representation of how the sci-fi genre works.
We, as the audience, are all Scullys. And sci-fi and fantasy works — whether novel, comic, TV show or film — are collectively, the Mulder of the equation. Probing. Challenging. Mind-opening.
Lou Ferrigno of The Incredible Hulk will bring his biceps to this week’s convention. The series, which originally ran from 1978 to 1982, is cherished for its campy fun. But at the same time, The Hulk connects on a personal level. Brainy scientist Bruce Banner, and his inner-green demon and anger issues, speaks to the animal instincts inside all of us. Sure, we’re civilized. But who among us hasn’t wanted to give in to their frustrations and embrace the big green behemoth’s mantra of “Hulk smash.” There is a reason why Mark Ruffalo’s understated, human portrayal of the character in the recent film, The Avengers, offered some of its best moments.
Christopher Lloyd’s bug-eyed Doc Brown — also in Toronto this week — offered an almost cartoon-like presence in the Back to the Future series. But the good doctor and company made us think about the future we all might face, especially in the series’ second installment where Marty (Michael J. Fox) visits the not-so-distant future of 2015. So much of the future portrayed as fantastical in the film has come true. The interactive homes, with their multi-connected screens and ready access to electronic news and information, are already a part of our modern, web and mobile-driven lives. (For the record: I’m still waiting for my flying car and hover board).
The best sci-fi not only reflects who we are but tells us where we might go. The Star Trek franchise is healthily represented at Fan Expo by Kate Mulgrew (Star Trek Voyager) and Levar Burton (Star Trek: The Next Generation). Through its intergalactic, fictional canvas, the series explored some of our most taboo, troubling subjects — from genocide, racism and civil war, to terrorism and genetic science. The show’s depiction of an ideal-driven struggle for equality and peace among vastly different species, offered lessons on mutual respect for our all-too divisive real world. (They showed us the magic potential of a holodeck… I’m betting Apple is already working on one).
James Marsters will be in town from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a cult series that used metaphor-laden monsters and demons to tell a coming-of-age story of a teenage girl and her group of friends. Alan Tudyk is here from Joss Whedon’s short-lived, beloved series Firefly, which portrayed a central government vastly overstepping its powers and authority. Not a future any of us want to see, but one explored in some of the best sci-fi epics. Firefly’s portrayal of a future language, which at times seemed a hybrid of English and Chinese, might be another one of those fictional ideas that one day becomes a reality in our globalized culture.
X-Files, showcased at Fan Expo with appearances by both Anderson and William B. Davies, (the actor who playing The Smoking Man), inadvertently sums up the genre best. Mulder’s character once suggested, “dreams are answers to questions we haven’t figured out how to ask yet.”
The same could be said for sci-fi and fantasy. It’s the landscape of dreams, but it can offer us answers to some of our most important and burning questions.
• Chris Lackner is a Media Consultant with Holmes Creative Communications and a journalist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.