Science fiction and horror are two genres that often find themselves intersecting where some form of power reduces humans to mere cogs in the machine. Technology, the future, aliens, and the like, it seems, can be terribly frightening.
George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four stands as one of the most comprehensive and enduring examinations of when that power abuse is in the hands of a totalitarian government. Dystopian SF that explores the dangers of “big government” resonates with the Libertarian thread running through the American public, but SF also aims its detailed satire and allegory at the nuances of just how governments become totalitarian.
Ridley Scotts’ Alien and more recent Prometheus share more than a director and some sort of lineage in their narratives: Both SF films are horrifying tales of oppressive corporations. [Scott's Blade Runner can be included here are these films also include the dangers of megalomaniacs, especially corporatists and industrialists who use their ill-got billions for something other than the common good.]
While the mid-1950s spawned SF/horror films as thinly disguised propaganda matching the public hysteria about the Red Scare—the immediate and insidious threat of Communism (see Invasion of the Body Snatchers for a tour de force of such)—the Cold War eventually proved that the creeping cancer of Communism wasn’t as powerful as political leadership and pop culture claimed.
What, then, does SF say about more credible fears facing humanity?
In Cat’s Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut (1963) introduces into his fictional world Bokononism, a religion in which its messiah through the sacred text, The Books of Bokonon, confesses: “‘All of the true things I am about to tell you are shameless lies’” (p. 5).
The government of San Lorenzo finds its stability built on a fabricated conflict between General McCabe and the founder of Bokononism, Bokonon:
“‘Well, when it became evident that no governmental or economic reform was going to make the people much less miserable, the religion became the one real instrument of hope. Truth was the enemy of the people, because the truth was so terrible, so Bokonon made it his business to provide the people with better and better lies.’” (p. 172)
The charade driven by McCabe outlawing Bokononism and declaring Bokonon a fugitive continues at the expense of McCabe and Bokonon as men until their manufactured war between the righteous McCabe and renegade holy man Bokonon becomes essential itself:
“‘McCabe was always sane enough to realize that without the holy man to war against, he himself would become meaningless.’” (p. 175)
Cat’s Cradle examines the power of creating a demon for the public in order to keep that public distracted while the privileged remain privileged. Yet, Vonnegut’s often slapstick and always raucous narrative could just as easily be about the U.S. at almost any point in the past century.
What should be feared about the U.S. government and society is better captured, in fact, by Cat’s Cradle, Alien, and Prometheus than Invasion of the Body Snatchers. In other words, Communism and Socialism remain much invoked demons, but the dangers lie somewhere else entirely.
In 2013, two ideologies are intersecting—not unlike SF and horror—the progressive and often liberal education community and the libertarian and populist rightwing commentators and public. The common demon?
Common Core State Standards (CCSS).
While the progressive education community tends to reject CCSS as yet more of the failed accountability, standards, and high-stakes testing paradigm (the insanity of doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results) as well as a distraction from the need to address poverty and inequity, the libertarian/populist rejections of CCSS tend toward a fear of an Orwellian Big Brother or subversive curriculum as pods placed beside the beds of our children; thus, all over Facebook, CCSS are being linked to the Great Evils—Communism and Socialism.
While there is much to be feared about CCSS, that fear need not be grounded on its use to instill communism and/or socialism in America’s youth.
“Communism” and “Socialism” are terms tossed about without much regard for what they mean, but like Bokononism in San Lorenzo, the terms are “ism’s” that blind; they are manufactured demons that allow genuine threats to exist and prosper.
In both Alien and Prometheus, main characters and the audience soon discover that under the guise of science and exploration, the evils of corporate greed—controlling government and its military—are far more horrifying and real than any Red Scare or any form of government, in fact.
Ironically, while I contend we don’t need CCSS, the ability of corporate America to so easily and persistently manipulate the public’s lack of understanding of “-ism’s” seems to beg for a close inspection of just what is being taught in our schools. And if I were going to implement a core curriculum in the U.S., it would include a careful and extensive consideration of some foundational terms:
Condemning CCSS as a government plot to brainwash America’s children with Communism or Socialism ignores some basic points of fact:
- Socialists and communists have no power and almost no voice in the U.S.; for at least sixty years, both terms have been used in public discourse to demonize and marginalize (even as both terms are almost always misused in that discourse).
- The CCSS were created by and are overwhelming endorsed by the power and corporate elite—who benefit from a consumer culture, not a communist or socialist society.
For those who fear the CCSS, I want to remind you once again: Look carefully at this entire cover of Education Week exposing that CCSS is consumerism and commodification—not communism and socialism:
The crass commercialism covering a major education publication reads like an infomercial:
“Catch At-Risk Kindergarteners Before They Fail…in 20 Minutes a Day!”
“Help At-Risk Kindergarteners…20 minutes a day gets them back on track!”
But a letter from the company vice president doesn’t inspire much confidence about high standards: “Kindervention is the most unique program in our history…,” it opens.
Most unique? Maybe words that can’t be qualified aren’t in the CCSS.
Ultimately, CCSS are a distraction.
And cries that CCSS are a communist, socialist, or government plot are distractions.
So the odd intersection of progressives and libertarians rejecting the CCSS fails ultimately since the reasons are deeply divided, but there is a reason that we all—every citizen of the U.S. regardless of ideology—should unite against CCSS and most other corporate manipulations of our Commons:
Being consumed by manufactured demons is a self-defeating American tradition that needs to be set aside.
Like the crews in both Alien and Prometheus, Americans are blinded, and often asking the wrong questions (“Why is Common Core not requiring cursive writing instruction?”)—or worse yet, not asking any questions at all about the power of corporate America over the government we fail to see as “we the people.”