Future Imperfect

This weekend Bytes and Banter and the website OverGeeking.com are proud to present this international, cross cultural blog collaboration. We present this post made by Anthony Curtis, the blog admin of OverGeeking.com.

Anthony Curtis is a member of Mensa as well as a blogger, originally from Jacksonville,FL now living in Great Falls, MT. When not debating on Star Wars or getting lost on TVTropes.org, he can be found writing for OverGeeking.com and working on his serial novel Spark Of Tyranny.

OverGeeking.com is about over thinking about Geek culture - movies,  video games, technology etc... It is a place where whether Luke Skywalker's lighsaber can cut Superman can be discussed.

Quick, think of a nation that has nearly 20% of the world’s population. A nation that is rapidly modernizing, with construction and technology booming. A nation where you can still find the cutting edge of the modern world not far removed from rural villages that live largely the same way their ancestors did for generations. And despite its growth into what will no doubt be one of the superpowers of the next century, it has been largely ignored in genre media. What nation am I referring to?

I’m willing to bet that many readers went with China. And if you are one of those readers, then congratulations, you are wrong. The nation I was referring to in this meandering introduction is India, the forgotten nation of our imagined future.

Science fiction is the genre of what might be, not what is. With that in mind, works of science fiction have been able to explore ideas and scenarios that other genres of fiction just can’t do. Our only limitation in science fiction is our imagination. Science fiction gladly tinkers with, or even outright ignores the physical laws of the universe. It’s too bad that much of the time it keeps with a white washed or, if more recent, traditionally American view of things to come.

What am I talking about? Look at any representation of the future in science fiction (I won’t be including Star Wars in this discussion, because Star Wars was “long, long ago”, and thus, not our future. Battlestar Galactica falls under this caveat too), and examine the ethnic makeup of their worlds. Works not made in past quarter century are likely to have lily white casts. As we have moved towards a more progressive society, we have managed to sprinkle in people who represent the rainbow of human existence
But even with a more inclusive future becoming more common in science fiction, the people of India still seem to be missing out. This is a little more understandable in works set in the near future and within a particular place; but in worlds where the Earth is united or even just a small part of a larger whole, Indians are very notable in their absence.

Why is that? Well, for starters, look back to the first paragraph. According to the most recent numbers I can find, upwards of 17% of the Earth’s population is Indian. That means if you randomly grabbed a crew of say, 6 to 12 people, it is statistically likely that at least one of them should be Indian.

We have seen countless science fiction futures where China either stands equal with European and American powers, or has overtaken them altogether. Firefly, for example, is a future where Americans and Chinese have settled a far-flung solar system. East Asian culture is often used to flavor other works’ future settings. But Indian culture seems to have faded from the planet in these futures. There might be space Buddhists, but not space Hindus. And the only Muslims we ever see are Arab or African.

Star Trek, that optimistic view of our future, is an excellent example of this problem. Of course, the United States and Europe are well represented in Starfleet. Communications Officer Uhura and Engineer Geordi La Forge both hail from Africa, and Hikaru Sulu, the ensign of Japanese descent, got to fly the Enterprise. Even the newest Star Trek film had the USS Kelvin originally captained by an Arab (who is killed in the first five minutes, but it is still moving in the right direction).

How well can the English Benedict Cumberbatch
portray the Asian villain Khan Noonien Singh
As inclusive as the Trek universe has tried to be, even with as many ham fisted special episodes about diversity that it has filmed, somehow it managed to miss the Indian subcontinent. The one prominent character who may have been South Asian (albeit played by an Hispanic American), the villain Khan Noonien Singh, who stood toe to toe with Captain Kirk and nearly beat him, is rumored to be the villain of the upcoming Trek film, and of course played by the very English Benedict Cumberbatch.

But what seems to be forgotten is that India is a nation on the rise. With an improving infrastructure, increasing overseas investment, and growing middle and professional class, India is set to be the dominant democracy on Earth within the next century or so. One can easily imagine a future where India stands as the multi-cultural, democratic counterbalance to the hegemonic, autocratic China.

No matter how the future plays out, India will be an essential part of it. It is time that our imagined futures begin to reflect the reality of our present. Science fiction is at its best when it is grounded in the hopes and fears of today. And today, India is a nation on the rise, and as we move forward, a people we cannot continue to ignore.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...