Hot on the news that James Gunn will be named the next Science Fiction Grandmaster - an award he will receive at the 2007 Nebula Awards ceremony in May- John Joseph Adams ran an interview on SciFi Wire that I only just stumbled on now (I've been away). At the close of the interview, Gunn articulated something so well that I'm going to repost it here, italics mine:
"Let's save the world through science fiction. Built into SF is a concept that the world is changing, and we can influence the direction of that change by the choices we make today. I believe SF thinking has the potential to save the world, not in specific ways—it always has stressed the need to do something about pollution, overpopulation, war, racial and gender prejudice and all the other crimes against humanity that we could change if we chose—but in the more important general ways. So it isn't any one thing, but our human outlook that can save the world. To offer one illustration: Isaac Asimov said, 'SF writers and readers didn't put a man on the moon all by themselves, but they created a climate of opinion in which the goal of putting a man on the moon became acceptable.'"
It's that climate of opinion that I think is so important. I remember when James Cameron's Terminator 2 came out in 1991 , being really struck by how important it was that Cameron suggested the annihilation of humanity via technology (which I took then as a strong metaphor for our nukes) wasn't inevitable. Even the uber-optimistic Star Trek always just assumed that WWIII happened sometime in the 1990s. It was an assumption that was pretty universal (even in comics continuity - poor Jonah Hex) all through the 60s and 70s, and Cameron was the first time I registered someone standing up and saying "Maybe this doesn't have to happen." And say what you will about Arnold Schwarzennegger - putting out a mass meme like that is of major importance. Because the ideals of our media do trickle down into our collective consciousness and take root. (There's a great line I seem to recall reading in Japan Edge: The Insider's Guide to Japanese Pop Subculture that talks about how we're the generation that got our morality from The Brady Bunch but saved the higher philosophical notions for Empire Strikes Back. True.)
Nor do I think Cameron's subtitle Judgment Day should be overlooked. Because there's no literal final judgement by the machines of the humans in the film; no judgment imposed from the outside (by robots or dieties) - the day in question is the day in 1991 where the concept that the future is predetermined (uh, predestined) is undermined. And it was around that same time, sometime between August 2, 1990 and February 1991 - a period I spent mostly in London - when I was back in Alabama watching with horror as those around me, some of them relatives, all speculated if the Gulf War wasn't the start of Armaggedon - the general opinion of the time being that if it was, they were all ready to meet Jesus. (I sure as hell wasn't!) And the realization then that we had a man in power with his finger on the button who might share the same crazy notion as those around me sent a chill down my spine. So, for my money, the importance of fostering a climate of opinion in which we have some positive alternatives to blowing ourselves up was and remains vital.