This summer, Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin criticized fantastical Science Fiction
TV shows and movies, claiming that they are responsible for a lack of interest in real space exploration.
"I blame the fantastic and unbelievable shows about space flight and rocket ships that are on today," Aldrin said in an interview during an ice cream party held by the National Geographic Channel at the Television Critics Association press tour in Beverly Hills, Calif., this week. "All the shows where they beam people around and things like that have made young people think that that is what the space program should be doing. It's not realistic."
This caused a bit of a stir this summer and just recently, SF Signal posted a series of responses
by popular SF authors. Several responses are worthy of note. First, let's get John Scalzi's response out of the way:
Absolutely. This also explains why the unrealistic science in CSI has completely killed interest in forensic pathology. And why the upcoming show Buzz, The Cranky Old Astronaut What Shakes His Fist at the Kids These Days will ruin the joy of illicitly playing on Aldrin's lawn for generations to come.
Heh. Ok, so most of them take a more serious approach to the material. Ultimately, most of the responses boil down to "He kinda has a point, but not really." But there are some good points made in the process. First, Jack McDevitt actually agrees with Aldrin... but then he also claims that without SF, we'd never have had interest in the first place (and presumably, Aldrin thus wouldn't have had the chance to go gallavanting around the moon). J. Michael Straczynski makes the obvious point:
The only thing wrong with Buzz Aldrin's statement is that it's not true.
For proof, all you have to do is talk to any number of scientists and engineers and, yes, even some of the more recent crowd of astronauts to discover that many of them began to first show an interest in space technology as the result of watching science fiction movies and TV series that opened up the possibility of space flight. Once we see it being done, even fictionally, we can get behind it and start making it happen.
Mike Brotherton makes some excellent points and also has a few good suggestions:
Real space exploration has been slow, expensive, and dangerous, a far cry from rugged, unintellectual heroes and their droids popping into hyperspace, or taking a quick excursion to blow up an Earth-destined asteroid the size of Texas.
... Advocates of space exploration need to go make their own case to the public. More books, movies, and TV shows should be created about the real deal. There are a few bright points: The Right Stuff, Apollo 13, and October Sky come to mind. These were all terrific, exciting stories about the real thing, and the existence of Star Wars doesn't diminish their power. A top ten TV show about colonizing the moon or visiting Mars would do wonders. NASA and the National Science Foundation already provide funding for public education, and good public education would also be inspiring, engaging on a personal level. I would love to see NASA sponsor script contests, or produce movies that were realistic about space exploration and possessed some educational component (just getting the science right would count in my book). There's already a lot that these organizations do, but astronauts visiting colleges to give speeches doesn't have anything like the impact of a popular movie or TV show.
Personally, my first thought was that Aldrin was nuts. Then I realized that he only really mentioned TV and movies... and when I really thought about it, it began to make a little more sense. I don't believe for a second that fantastical TV shows like Star Trek
actively discourage people because they feature FTL drives and transporters, but at the same time I can't think of many SF shows or movies that really do focus on the realities of space travel. In general, true hard science fiction is poorly represented in TV and film. In books, it's a different story. They tend to also contain McGuffins like FTL drives, but they try to minimize that in favor of scientific rigor. But books seem to work better at that than visual mediums. As Mike Brotherton noted above, space travel is slow, expensive, and dangerous. The "dangerous" part would probably make for good TV, but the tedious, slow and expensive parts probably don't. The fact is that realistic space travel isn't anywhere near as glamorous as it sounds at first... a fact that is completely antithetical to TV and movies. That doesn't mean that great stories can't be told in a realistic and engaging fashion, and I would gladly watch a show like that if it were aired, but I'm not holding my breath. Would such a show really spark that much interest in the space program? I'm not sure. In general, I tend to believe that art reflects the culture it was created in... and that this hypothetical hard SF show we're talking about would only really become popular in a society that was already interested in space travel. Fortunately, I don't think it's that hard of a sell. It may not be as glamorous as it seems at first, but that's a problem all technological fields
face... and technological advances don't seem to be slowing either...