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Tag: visions of the future

Representation Matters

Representation and social transformation

The Artdog Quotes of the Week

How does representation play a role in social transformation? Last week’s Monday post explored stereotypes and the power of portrayal. Now let’s tackle social transformation.

Make no mistake. Society is always transforming. Social change happens, whether we want it to or not. And individually we can’t control how it changes. 

This quote from Ellen DeGeneres says, "Whenever people act like gay image in the media will influence kids to be gay, I want to remind them that gay children grew up with only straight people on television."
No, the creators of content can’t change basic facts of human existence. But we can affect how people think about those facts, for well or ill. (This quote-image featuring Ellen DeGeneres is courtesy of FCKH8 on Twitter).

One person’s efforts rarely provide a huge pivot point, unless that one person speaks for thousands, and society was ripe for the change. Case in point: #MeTooThat one was way overdue!

What kind of future do you want?

We can’t control the changes. But we can affect how things change. 

What kind of future do you want? As creative people, we make art that comments on how things are and how things could be. If you think a more broadly representative world would be more fair and interesting, reflect that in your art.

Subverting the stereotypes

If you think harmful stereotypes should be questioned, treat them like the clichés they are. Turn them inside out. Subvert them. Transform them into something fresh and unexpected and better

This quote from Rosie Perez reads, "I started calling people on their stuff. I'd say, 'listen, things have to change. How come I keep getting 50 million offers to play the crack ho?' And I challenged them on it, and initially, oh my God, the negative response was horrific."
It can take guts to “call people on their stuff” and challenge stereotypes. But artistic integrity demands it. (This quote-image from Rosie Perez is courtesy of The Huffington Post).

That’s just basic sound practice–but you’re also making a statement by the way you make the transformation. 

Please note that this approach requires awareness. Creative people fall into tropesclichés and stereotyped thinking when they don’t recognize them for what they are. We all have unconscious biases. But we owe it to ourselves, our work, and our fans to learn about them and challenge them.

Representation and social transformation

Wider and more diverse representation is essential to the social transformations that I would love to see come about. I have my own ways to portray that, particularly in the stories I write. 

This quote from Gina Rodriguez says, "I became an actor to change the way I grew up. The way I grew up, I never saw myself on the screen. I have two older sisters. One's an investment banker. The other one is a doctor, and I never saw us being played as investment bankers. And I realized how limiting that was for me. I would look at the screen and think, 'Well, there's no way I can do it, because I'm not there.'"
Artists need to seize the power of portrayal. (This quote-image from Gina Rodriguez is courtesy of The Huffington Post).

There are as many possible approaches as there are artists. Some, such as those in the Solarpunk movement, seek to portray the benefits of positive future change. 

Writers, artists, filmmakers and others with a more dystopic bent often dramatize how badly things can go wrong. Perhaps as a cautionary tale. Or because they’re pessimists. Or because conflict is inherent in a dystopic plotline.

Everyone takes an individual path, because each of us has our own unique voice. We must let the world hear our visions, presented from our own perspectives, in our own voices.

What values do you seek to embrace? What negative outcomes do you hope we avoid? 

IMAGE CREDITS:

Many thanks to  FCKH8 on Twitter and The Huffington Post for the quote-images in this post.

In this photo from the original Star Trek series, Leonard Nimoy as “Mr. Spock” sits at the console of what looked in the mid-1960s like a very futuristic computer array. The console has a black frame with readout windows that shows many different-colored, glowing rectangles above a console covered with buttons and toggle-switches. Nimoy’s costume consisted of a blue velour tunic with a black collar and a Starfleet badge. His character’s black hair has straight-line-cut bangs and the pointy ears that became iconic. Photo courtesy of “Subspace Communicator” blog, collected in 2018.

Design fiction and science fiction

Have you ever heard of design fiction? WALDENLABS’ John Robb explains it this way: “Design fiction is a way for designers and artists to visually depict the future in inspiring ways. Typically, design fiction is associated with how technology will change our future.” But in my opinion he misses an important aspect of design fiction with this definition.

What is “design fiction”?

Robb offers examples of companies that are developing products they want to promote. To do that, they’ve put together videos to show how those products might be used in the future. He suggested that one by Corning, “A Day Made of Glass,” is an excellent example (see above).

It was made in 2011, but it still looks pretty futuristic . . . except in a few of the ways that women are portrayed. Did you catch them? Some are subtle, others quite blatant. What struck me most forcibly however, was how old that “art form” of design fiction by companies making products really is, and how it actually misses the mark if you want to think of it as “art.”

In my opinion, Robb conflates corporate design fiction with science fiction wrongly. He points to Star Trek‘s best-known innovations. That show’s  communicators inspired the development of cell phones. Their glass computers later came into reality as touchscreens. Science fiction readers need not look far to point out other innovations first portrayed in sf. But they were made for a different purpose.

In this photo from the original Star Trek series, Leonard Nimoy as “Mr. Spock” sits at the console of what looked in the mid-1960s like a very futuristic computer array. The console has a black frame with readout windows that shows many different-colored, glowing rectangles above a console covered with buttons and toggle-switches. Nimoy’s costume consisted of a blue velour tunic with a black collar and a Starfleet badge. His character’s black hair has straight-line-cut bangs and the pointy ears that became iconic. Photo courtesy of “Subspace Communicator” blog, collected in 2018.
Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and his shipmates used an inspiring computer unlike anything the 1960s had seen before. But Star Trek wasn’t “design fiction.” That is, it was created to tell engaging stories, not sell computers.

The difference between design fiction and science fiction

Note that corporate design fiction is created for different reasons than science fiction. At recent sf conventions, I participated in programming that showed examples of corporate design fiction from the 1930s, ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s.

Those visions focused on kitchens, cars, and houses. They presented fascinating glimpses, but they were made primarily as marketing tools. Companies developed them to create brand identity and to sell the companies’ products of that day. The design fiction imagery associated their products with futuristic visions. It was a way to say “we’re advanced!”

Here’s an example of futuristic design fiction from 1956.

Doesn’t sf have an agenda, too?

Science fiction offers a viewpoint, of course. But each individual science fiction writer develops their own unique viewpoint. An author may represent more than one viewpoint, over a lifetime of work. But science fiction is not primarily designed to preach, teach, or sell products.

Our wheelhouse is different. We shine a light on new thoughts, ideas, and potential problems . . . and also always to entertain, beguile, and if possible, enrich our readers’ lives. If those technological wonders we invent in the course of doing that become real someday, well, that’s icing on the cake.

About the Author

I’m Jan S. Gephardt, and I’ve been writing this blog since 2009. As you might guess from this topic, I write science fiction, as well as make paper sculpture. Learn more about my XK9 series from my publishing company, Weird Sisters Publishing. I originally wrote this post in 2018 and updated it in 2024.

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to Corning via YouTube, for the “A Day Made of Glass” video. Thank you, CBS Sunday Morning, for the 1956 GM vision of the “car of the future.” And I’m grateful to Subspace Communique for the photo of Mr. Spock and his computer.

A 1940s-50s vision of a future kitchen

The Artdog Image of Interest 

When I was researching videos of ways the past viewed the possibilities of the future, I found that most seemed to fall into repeated categories. Futuristic kitchens (especially as envisioned by contemporary makers of kitchen appliances, imagine that!) formed a major subcategory.

Oddly enough, the makers of these videos rarely envisioned men as the ones who’d be cooking. Here’s a classic “future kitchen” from sometime in the 1940s-50s:

My Images of Interest in October are videos, all of them drawn from a panel discussion, “Yesterday’s Tomorrow,” moderated by Kathryn Sullivan, in which I participated at FenCon XV. I shared these videos with the audience, and they generated enough interest that I thought my blog-readers might like them too!

VIDEO: many thanks to YouTube and Susan Pine for this video! 

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