Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Government in SF - a failure of imagination?

(Within this post, I'm going to take the stance that SF stands for "speculative fiction" rather than science fiction. My main reason is that SF these days rarely contains much actual "sciency" stuff, and the category has become so broad that the term "science fiction" is not even vaguely true of most of it. It is also possible that it serves my argument. )

I've long had a problem with how government is represented in SF, particularly film and television, but it also happens in written SF - that the governments almost always seem to be of only two very narrow types:
(i) near-absolute monarchy (though possibly called an emperor or something, often also with a noble class);
(ii) US-style presidential democracy.

I have no doubt that in many stories, these are plausible models. However, I simply cannot fathom why so many writers assume that if it's not the first, it must be the second. Sometimes the US political system is reproduced to an astonishing level of detail, including a near duplicate constitution and everything.

According to wikipedia:
- there are 123 democratic countries
- there are 72 parliamentary democracies
- in addition, there are a large number of "hybrid" models (particularly in Eastern Europe)

That is, a US-style democracy is by far in the minority. On earth, parliamentary-style democracies are the rule. Yet in SF, they're almost unheard of.

So why in visual-media SF (the majority of whose writers are from the US), if you don't have some form of monarchy or monarchy analogue, will it be (apart from a very few exceptions), a US-clone democracy, often down to its boot-buckles? Is this a failure of imagination? Are US film and TV writers largely unable to imagine anything else? Are they unaware of anything else? Or do they imagine that a US audience won't accept anything else (and everyone else will, presumably)? If it's the last, that, too, is a failure of imagination - I certainly don't believe US fans of SF are that unimaginative and unwilling to think about different ideas.

Obviously, people tend to write about what they're familiar with, but if you only ever write about only what's in your back yard, your fiction hardly deserves the name "speculative".

Come on, people, have a look at the world around you. Try a different model for government once in a while!


Anonymous said...

Well, ever notice how the monarchy-style governments are always the bad guys--especially if there is an emperor--and the presidential democracies are always the good guys? That's because everyone knows our type of government is the best, of course.

Efrique said...

Blogger Efrique said...

Yeah, usually so. I don't have a huge problem with generally tending to assume absolute governments will generally be bad, as long as the possibility that some may be somewhat more enlightened crops up now and then.

I do take issue with "the only democracy is presidential democracy" viewpoint, and yes, I think that is related to the "our type of government is the best".

It's a very parochial view, and I think the continual rehashing of the same message makes people blind to ways of doing things better. If there's anything that should absolutely be about examining different ways of doing things, it's SF!

Dana Hunter said...

"Try a different model for government once in a while!"

I'm trying, I'm trying! In point of fact, a huge reason why I haven't been able to write my magnum opus is because I'm trying to figure out what sort o' governments the different worlds have. For someone who just got into politics year before last, it's a damned steep learning curve.

All I can say is, there has to somewhere, some way, but a FAR better way of governing than the piece of crap democracy America suffers. But every book on government published in America seems to take for granted that of course our system of government is so much better than everybody else's there's no reason to explore other possibilities in depth. Bastards.