For a long time I’ve been wanting to write about why I love so many Sci-Fi TV shows. Today, on August 8, the inofficial #Sense8Day (the birthday of the eight sensates in the series Sense8), I feel like I finally have to just do it. This blog post will focus on underlying themes and issues rather than plots and filmmaking.
Many Sensies (Sense8 fans) have said that Sense8 has changed their lives, whereas I thought: „Finally a series that shows the world as I always wanted it to be.‟ And I think this is partly due to the fact that when Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) first aired on German television in 1990 (at the very latest; I’d been interested in science fiction even before that), I became hooked on Gene Roddenberry’s vision of a United Federation of Planets, of peaceful exploration, of beings from not only different human races but from different extra-terrestrial races working together. Of course, there were also space battles and not every encountered alien was benign, but trying to find a peaceful resolution was always paramount. I guess that is why I’ve always been a bigger fan of Star Trek than Star Wars (which doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy Star Wars too!) – it has simply provided a more utopian look at humanity’s future. Mind you, not all of my favorite Sci-Fi TV series have this utopian look, Battlestar Galactica (BSG; 2004-2009), notably, paints a more dystopian future of the earth. Nor do I love all Star Trek series the same. But the notion of „If we work together, we can make the world a better place‟ is palpable in all of Star Trek, in BSG, in Farscape, in Sense8, and – my most recent discovery – The OA. In The OA, which has just been cancelled after season 2 by Netflix, this aspect of working together is given the most beautiful expression: By doing the „Five Movements‟ together, people can be risen from the dead, an interdimensional portal can be opened, in one case a school shooting can be (more or less) prevented… I’ve honestly never seen any „dance‟ as beautiful, powerful and meaningful as these movements. In Sense8 the sensates can literally take over the bodies of their fellow sensates and, thus, save them. They can be with each other while being spread all over the world, from Kenya to South Korea, from Germany to the US, from India to the UK, from Mexico to Iceland.
And this togetherness isn’t just an illusion on screen, the cast truly felt and feel this connection as well. I cannot speak for The OA (I don’t have a lot of background information on this show), but I’ve been at numerous Science Fiction conventions and seen how much love the actors feel for each other. This is not a show they put on for the fans – there is so much support and love behind the scenes, on social media, in real life! And that is why these shows are so important: they don’t just promote togetherness, they live it, and, therefore, the fans (most of them anyway) live it too. Watching the DS9 (Deep Space Nine) documentary What We Left Behind a few weeks ago, I felt the strong sense of friendship, nay family, basically oozing from the big screen. Seeing the cast of Sense8 interact with each other at Sense8 Con 2 in Paris or behind the scenes or on social media (when, for instance, Max Riemelt visited Tina Desai in India), you cannot deny them having this strong bond coming from firstly „playing‟ this bond. Their lives are not the same anymore – connections have been made that will last a lifetime. This makes the theme of unity of these shows so much more credible.
But it’s not just unity that, well, unites these Sci-Fi series, it’s also diversity. The original Star Trek series featured the first interracial kiss (Uhura and Kirk) on American television, TNG had more women and people of color among its main cast, DS9 could be considered to have the first genderfluid character (Dax) in its main cast, as well as a black commander (Captain Sisko), Star Trek: Discovery has Star Trek’s strongest black female lead in Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green is breathtakingly good!), the first openly gay couple (played by gay actors) and a main female cast member that is not super skinny… And these are just examples concerning the main characters. Sense8 has a white transgender woman (played by a transgender woman) being in a lesbian relationship with a black woman, two gay men, a pansexual woman in a relationship with a man, heterosexual relationships – and pansexual orgies. Plus, we have Africans, Mexicans, Koreans, Germans, Icelanders, Americans, Indians, Spaniards… Come to think of it: There is actually one thing that has changed in my life since Sense8: I feel a much stronger urgency to support transgender issues and visibility. The OA has a young transgender male Asian-American (also played by a transgender male!) among a very varied group of the five that learn the movements from the OA (including a teacher in her sixties). And yet, these series do not focus on transgender issues (in contrast to Transparent, for instance, which I actually don’t want to watch anymore, due to the casting of the main character, now that I actually know transgender actors) or sexual orientation, they just make up part of the characters‘ identity. Sure, on Sense8 we learn a lot about what it is like for a transgender person (not) to be accepted by their family or for an action star to come out as gay, and there is this beautiful wedding in the „finale‟ (Sense8 fans call it „special‟), followed by another pansexual orgy. So, yes, gender and sexuality do play a major role, but it’s not all the series is about.
One last aspect I want to mention today is the representation of strong female characters. By „strong‟ I don’t necessarily mean physically strong, and it also doesn’t mean that these women don’t have weaknesses or don’t show fear or other emotions. I much rather mean well fleshed out female characters that are not just there as love interests or victims that need to be saved. In my view science fiction and fantasy have been providing the best examples of that kind of woman. From Uhura to Michael Burnham, Star Trek has offered a tremendous number of women that can hold their own without „becoming like men‟ in the process. Women on Star Trek can be doctors, science officers, commanders, captains, admirals – and villains. Women on BSG can be communications officers, mechanics, pilots, commanders, presidents – and cylons. Women on Sense8 can be hackers, martial artists & businesswomen (in one!), scientists, DJs – and villains. The OA is the „Original Angel‟… In my favorite fantasy/mystery series Buffy, a young teenage girl becomes „the chosen one‟ and kicks serious ass without losing her humanity and her desire to be „just a normal girl/woman‟.
I’m sure that there are actually a number of women in science out there today that have been encouraged to take that path by these role models. I personally ended up in the quite typically female profession of a teacher but I try to teach my students that they can do and be everything they want if they work hard and passionately for it. I hope I also show them that I accept „outsiders‟ the way they are, that they don’t need to conform to what maybe a conservative, narrow-minded society expects from them. Part of this conviction of mine („Come as you are‟) surely comes from my family, my upbringing. But I’m convinced that the world that Star Trek & Co. have shown to me has also played a big role in what constitutes my values today.
And that’s why I love science fiction.