The Velvet Light Trap 52 (2003) 1-3
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Science fiction and fantasy explore the liminal spaces of being, the space between the imagined and the real, between what we are and what we might become. As genres they inhabit an uneasy space, sometimes dismissed as adolescent fare to be outgrown, sometimes hailed as visionary glimpses into an alternative reality. Culturally, the gendering of science fiction as more masculine and technologically oriented and fantasy as more feminine and nature oriented enacts a central tension in Western culture between science and nature, reason and emotion and replays the movement in Western culture between nostalgia for an imagined organic natural wholeness and attempts to re-create (or transcend) this homogeneous utopia through technology.
This central tension between science and nature is powerfully apparent in contemporary anxieties over the status of identities, bodies, and communities in cyberspace. On the one hand, communication technologies hold out the promise of being able to transcend the limitations of the body and enter a utopia where one can fulfill all of one's fantasies. On the other, they raise the specter of boundary confusion, as visible markers of difference—race, class, age, sexuality, gender, cultural affiliation—can potentially be effaced in cyberspace. The status of the body as a presumptively natural guarantor of social and cultural difference and hierarchy is made uncertain by technologies that alter this "natural" object to the extent that the very distinction between natural and artificial becomes meaningless. Thus these changes raise troubling questions about what it means to live as an embodied subject and about the policing and monitoring of bodies that sustains existing social orders and hierarchies.
Although the technologically mediated alterations or evolution of humans is a key theme in science fiction, it is not by any means the only issue addressed in these texts, nor is science fiction the only place where these questions are being raised. Fantasy texts also explore and experiment with alternative logics of identity formation and social organization—multiple genders and sexualities, varied family and kin networks, magic rather than technoscience as a source of social, economic, or cultural power, alternative economies, and so on. Furthermore, it is important to remember that science fiction and fantasy are promiscuous genres—themes and objects from these genres mix indiscriminately with other discourses to crop up in varied and unexpected places. Thus, rather than trying to define or understand these texts through lists of generic characteristics, we might be better served by understanding science fiction and fantasy as a certain perspective toward present social, cultural, and economic realities, an orientation that can cross discourses and genres.
So it is not surprising that, no matter where we look today, we are surrounded by objects and concepts drawn from the rich imaginary of science fiction and fantasy literature, film, and television: Star Wars the film and "Star Wars" the Reagan administration's Strategic Defense Initiative, cell phones, vampires, military satellites, special effects, holistic therapies, genetic engineering, goddess worship, robot assembly lines, virtual reality, Trekkie conventions, James Bond's gadgets, Dr. Frankenstein's Monster, X-ray machines, and cyborgs.
Fantasy is most often associated with the swords-and-sorcerers-style epics of alternate realities. But elements of the fantastic, the unreal, and the magical can be seen everywhere. Popular television shows from The Twilight [End Page 1] Zone toThe Six Million Dollar Man to I Dream of Jeannieto The X-Files have often combined elements of science fiction and fantasy, while fantasy interludes have been a staple of television and film programming from The Secret Life of Walter Mitty to Dream Onto Ally McBeal.
Beyond these obviously demarcated sequences, fantasy is woven into the very structure of cinematic and televisual identification and pleasure, as is made very clear in texts as different as James Bond films, Forrest Gump, digitally animated "documentaries" on dinosaurs, Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, Casablanca, and The Green Berets. As Elizabeth Cowie has persuasively argued in her book Representing the Woman: Cinema and Psychoanalysis, spectatorship involves entering into the fantasy scenarios provided by the visual text. Indeed, fantasy is intimately connected to the...