Wired’s Observation Desk videos are meant to be quick takes on important issues, which is kind of too bad, because I could listen to Adam Rogers talk all day about ecological post-apocalyptic science fiction and why it matters.
This, I think, is the important takeaway: as Rogers puts it, “We hope that science fiction can be, in some cases, better at teaching us things than science.” By this, I don’t think he means that science fiction communicates the facts better than a biology or climate science textbook, but that fiction can give visceral life to concepts that feel abstract even when they’re clearly laid out with facts and figures that should be intellectually and emotionally comprehensible to us. Beasts of the Southern Wild, which he talks about, does a terrific job of communicating what it is like to ride out a hurricane in insufficiently hardened shelter, and what it’s like to see a landscape we’ve come to know radically rearranged in the aftermath of the storm. Educating people is one thing. Getting them emotionally invested and activated is a second step, one which art is particularly well-suited.
And that’s the reason why I get so frustrated with science fiction that is conceptually lazy or sloppy, or oriented towards spectacle rather than making an idea visceral for the audience. Not everything has to be sober, or substantive, or educational, of course. But I hate watching people make science fiction, in particular, that’s intended to leave the viewer with absolutely nothing, no connection to the things going on around them, when they leave the theater or turn off the television set.