Professor talks about state’s influence in science-fiction
By Forest Lassman
The state of Kansas has played an important role in many famous science-fiction projects, from the television show “Jericho” to the short sto¬ries and film “A Boy and His Dog.”
A mixture of love of science fiction and love of the state inspired English profes¬sor David Davis to give the presentation “Ad Astra and Beyond: Science Fiction in Kansas” on March 22.
Davis has always been a big fan of the genre and was happy to present about it. Part of his love comes from that fact that science fiction is based in truth.
“I like the speculative aspect. The idea that this could actually come to pass. I like fantasy too, but you’re pretty sure that at no point in your life is a wizard or a hobbit going to come by,” Davis said. “The beauty of science fiction is ev¬ery day I will log onto the internet and something that used to be science fiction is now science-fact. Back in the 1940s, sci¬ence fiction had people talking into their watches … well, the iWatch is here.”
Science fiction can also be used to in¬directly talk about a controversial subject.
“In my science-fiction class, we talk about estrangement: how issues that might be very touchy [if] moved to an-other time or another planet can put them at arm’s length,” Davis said. “For instance, the very first interracial kiss on television in America was “Star Trek” … Other shows’ censors had said no, [but] nobody even floated down on “Star Trek” because it was on another planet and there were aliens involved. You were able to push it away far enough that it seemed safe. And so because of that, sci¬ence fiction is able to take on issues.”
By looking at science fiction set in our state, Davis argues we can see how the state is viewed. Davis uses the made-for-TV film “The Day After,” which takes place after a nuclear bomb hits Kansas City, as an example of this.
“The idea is that if nuclear war would reach Kansas, there’s nowhere to hide. Kansas over and over again is used as that kind of ultimate hometown America. If you really want to threaten the reader, threaten Kansas,” Davis said
The state can also be used as an ex¬ample of hope. In shows like “Jericho” and movies like “Mars Attacks,” Kansas is shown in a positive light with hard-working and moral characters.
“There is also a real depiction of ide¬alism. Kansans are self-reliant [and] Kan¬sans fight for themselves, which is all part of the American mythos: how we like to see ourselves.”
Davis also credits the film “The Wiz¬ard of Oz” as a defining part of the state’s portrayal, which sets us apart from other midwestern states.
“We have a defining narrative. There is no defining Nebraska narrative, for instance. There’s no story that the rest of America thinks of if you say ‘Nebraska,’ ” Davis said. “Kansas has a story, so rather than being set up with ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ I think Kansas is smart to embrace it. At least it gives us a starting point.”
Students who want to learn more about science fiction can take Davis’ class, and his presentation IS/WILL will be put up on YouTube for those that missed it.