Dan and Morgan talk the roots of Sci-Fi and the influence of Colonialism on the genre. So much white savior narrative, just so, so much.
A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
[Music fades out and voices fade in]
Dan: They might get there real bad they could, but one way or another, it’s going to get weird. Some stuff is going to happen. That’s never happened. It’s already that’s already happening.
D: And it’s going to keep doing that and we have to learn to to duck and roll and figure out how to get through it. Without a bunch of people dying and we’re already fucking up part of that.
M: I mean, obviously that’s part of—
D: You’ve seen these, You’ve seen the results, guys.
D: If you’re part of the world—
M: I mean, that’s part of why they were like,
D: —you know what we are talking about.
M: That’s part of why shows like The Expanse are so appealing, I think, it like, offers a way out of this.
D: Yes, emotionally.
M: But, uh, yeah.
D: And maybe it will trigger the right kind of thinking in some important individual who’s coming up now, or about to come on the scene and…Yeah, that’s ‘I got to be that person who makes this this happen.’
M: I mean, people talk a lot of shit about Elon Musk because he’s a billionaire, but—
D: I mean, it’s mostly because he’s an asshole.
M: Well, hey.
D: Or excuse me, I don’t know how litigious he is. I don’t know how you can define that. That insult just then. I think it’s because he acts like an asshole.
M: Well, wouldn’t you?
M: Look OK—
D: Not in the same way. Not in the weird, aggressive bro way that he does, like the personal shit.
D: He gets up in people’s business where it’s like, ‘Dude, this isn’t school. You’re a billionaire. Just walk it off. You’re fine. You don’t need to say anything right now.’
M: Well, being smart and entrepreneurial doesn’t have to go hand in hand with being, you know, morally mature.
D: Oh no, no, no, no.
M: So I will say, like, I moved to Space Coast the year that they ended the [Space] Shuttle program.
D: Aw, that’s a shame.
M: Yeah. And I actually saw the last shuttle go into space. I believe it was Discovery. Businesses were closing and it was like a really bleak time for the Space Coast. And then Space X came in and totally re-energized—
M: And they brought—
D: They have been so important to just—
M: They have, and brought—
D: —me not being in despair about the future.
M: Yes. And bringing young people.
D: Oh good, at least somebody’s still going to space.
M: And they have young people in the aeronautics program. And Elon Musk, I mean, like, he’s trying, he’s actually trying to get us out of here.
D: I don’t think anyone should be a billionaire. But if you’re going to be a billionaire, you’ve got to at least do something useful for society. He’s not doing enough by any stretch—
D: —but I will acknowledge that there needs to be someone who’s filling that niche right now in society. I wish it was, you know, NASA.
D: The huge government agency that captured our hearts and minds as a as a country and that everyone in my entire lifetime we have not been on the Moon. When—
M: Yeah, I guess.
D: —the computers that sent us there, the ones on the ships, were less powerful than most of our watches.
D: You know? What? And I mean regular watch, not even smart watch.
M: I think we got… There was like nothing. There’s nothing up there.
D: Oh, no, there’s not.
M: There’s nothing really worth mining. It’s not full, right?
D: Which is what drives our society in everything.
M: Yeah, it’s money.
D: I mean, I’m not an anarchist—
M: I am.
D: —but I would say that I’ve gone into full blown, at least utopian, anti-capitalist. Like, I wished that it—
D: —was possible for us to escape it. I’m not sure it is, but God, it would be nice if we could escape that—
D: —at least in the form that it exists in, like not in the sense of like, Oh yeah, we have resources and some of us have them and we share them and it’s, it helps us out if we can not share them with someone and say, ‘Well, what about give me something?’ If we could barter on society levels instead of talking about fake money. Like every country is in debt. Stop talking about that. It’s a gift.
M: Yeah, money is not real. And, but you said the most important phrase, which is taxpayer money.
M: That’s when it’s real to people.
D: And they won’t sponsor things that do more for life itself—
D: —than anything that has ever happened. We as a society are part of that truth. That legacy of what life has done, has accomplished. Conscious Life.
D: But we decided to leave this place and venture out into the the expanse of nothingness between us and the Moon and then actually go and sit on it. That’s incredible. And it could be such a good launching point for future endeavors like, like for things that would make us money going to the asteroid belt, you know, and having a nice way station to make that more feasible and more adaptable and cheaper. You know, you want to learn about capital.
D: And we’re going to talk a lot about capital today because we actually have a show that we’re doing. That’s what this is. It’s not actually just this, just a phone call we’re having. [Morgan laughs] We do host a podcast called The Expansing. My name is Dan Winburn, and my co-host is: just state your name.
D: Just mononym Morgan is the other person here. Don’t look into it. You’re joining us and tuning in to the most important sci-fi fandom podcast specifically about The Expanse and also anything tangential to that that we feel like talking about and that what’s the most important one of those kinds of podcasts. There isn’t a better one of that.
M: Yeah, if you like tangents.
D: Mmhmm. Thank you. What we were going to do, Dusters today? Bunch of Dusters listening in. Thanks, guys, for being there.
M: Our listeners?
D: Yeah, those people.
M: What about ‘Space Cadets?’
D: Space Cadets? Oh, I like, that might work. We’ll have to check with any other podcasts are using ‘Space Cadet.’ Theresa, can you get on that? MacGyver it, I think we should stop saying Google and we should say MacGyver. I think.
M: I’ll just I’ll ask Siri, I’ll have an answer.
D: Yeah, there we go.
M: And yet we haven’t been back to the moon.
D: Right? We haven’t been back to the Moon, but we’ve got robot assistants. Come on. That’s not fun. If you can’t do it and look out the window and see rings. Come on. I want that. I’ve been playing too many video games and now I dream about it. We were talking a lot about toilet stuff last time, and I thought it was pretty funny that when these are getting released is a little bit off. I think we’re eventually going to try and get a little bit closer to like week to week so people still sort of remember the thing we’re talking about. But not too long after that, I was delighted to see that they had a problem on the ship coming back and they weren’t able to get it fixed and they just had to use—
M: Oh God.
D: The toilets broke.
M: Oh no.
D: So they were just in diapers for days.
D: And that’s just something we’re not going to be able to ever fix.
D: Because if it’s not working, well, that’s the solution you have unless you want to just wallow in it or unless you have a stillsuit of some sort. But that’s basically what we’re talking about anyway is just pooping in your pants?
M: Yeah. [Dan snickers] Basically. And then you’re you’re just wearing a robot that cleans you.
D: Steely-eyed missile men. That’s what they are.
M: People with their pants full of poop.
D: Yes. So that was fun to see that in the news.
M: Oh, that’s amazing.
D: So what is your actual favorite quote? Did you pick one?
M: Oh, I don’t know if I could pick a favorite.
D: Well. OK. I didn’t mean to imply that, because I’m not a fan of favorites anyway. What is your quote of the week from some sci-fi person or science person? I would say.
M: Can I do one for each?
M: OK. So Arthur C Clarke. He said “The creation of wealth is certainly not to be despised, but in the long run, the only human activities really worthwhile are the search for knowledge in the creation of beauty. This is beyond argument. The only point of debate is which comes first.”
M: So, that’s why he’s one of the greatest.
D: That’s very cool.
M: I mean, just the idea of acquiring wealth is like, you know, 2000 years ago, nobody gives a shit how many silver coins someone had. That is totally irrelevant to us now.
M: That form of money hasn’t even been linear to today. But the search for knowledge was, and the creation of art. So that’s actually that’s a real, tangible human legacy. And then on that same vein from Ray Bradbury, and this is this is going to make me cry. “’Everyone must leave something behind when he dies.’ My grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made or a garden planted something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die. And when people look at that tree or that flower, you planted you there.”
M: Yeah, I love Ray Bradbury.
D: Jeez, you’re like swinging for the fences, and I just wanted like, some kooky, I guess. [Morgan laughs] No, that’s awesome.
M: I got a kooky one.
D: Welcome to The Expansing where we quote sci-fi authors.
M: For an hour. This is this is a kooky one from Ray Bradbury says. “I have never listened to anyone who criticized my taste in space travel, sideshows, or gorillas. When this occurs, I pack up my dinosaurs and leave the room.” So.
D: I had only picked one, but then yours. Your first one was so much better in terms of just depth of thought. It’s this is more of just a simple observation, and it’s like, ‘Yeah, that’s true.’ And this is from Carl Sagan. So it actually crosses both boundaries anyway. “One glance at a book and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for 1000 years. To read is to voyage through time.” Which is not literally true in the physical sense, but it is literally true in the in the sense of communicating information, communicating thoughts, communicating the events of someone’s life directly from the source.
M: Yeah, that’s amazing. That’s a great quote.
D: Then you had picked two, so I went and picked another Carl Sagan quote that’s a little bit more negative. But: “An extraterrestrial being newly arrived on Earth, scrutinizing what we mainly present to our children and television, radio, movies, newspapers, magazines, the comics and many books, might easily conclude that we are intent on teaching them murder, rape, cruelty, superstition, credulity, and consumerism. We keep at it and through constant repetition, many of them finally get it.”
M: That’s crazy.
M: Yeah, a little little known detail about Carl Sagan, he was not an optimist.
D: I think that he was an optimist in spirit. But he also said, but this is the truth about what’s happening.
D: Or at least his personality was that he he was optimistic, I guess, in his way of speaking, his way of thinking, but his acceptance of the reality of the nature of the universe, the nature of humanity, the nature of history.
M: Yeah, that’s really what it comes down to is just human nature.
D: Yeah, he just saw the truth and said, Well, this is bad. Things are bad.
D: We’re bad. A lot of the time. It becomes overwhelming sometimes to think about the general awfulness of things happening in the world. And it’s so easy to forget that it’s both. It’s always both. That doesn’t make it better. It just is.
M: Yeah, you can’t focus too much on the bad stuff. Like, I was just having a conversation with a child because that’s a huge part of my life as a mom. So this, this 14 year old is telling me like their greatest fear is, is World War Three.
M: And like, we’re right on the verge of it.
D: Yeah, mine too kiddo.
M: Yeah China has nukes, North Korea has nukes and it could happen any day. And Donald Trump and like, you know, and I just had to explain, like World War Three’s been on the table since I was born.
D: Yeah. I—
D: —I can sympathize with it feeling very close to the surface right now. I feel like right now feels a little bit more like probably with the fifties felt like.
M: Yeah, but the reality is, is it’s not happening.
D: No, I don’t think that. I think most everybody in charge of anything like that is aware of how bad that would be and is like, ‘Well, that would be the end for everything good that I like. That’s the things I like.’
D: ‘Those are all going to go away if that happens.’ So I think most of them accept that reality. And I, it would be incredible to if someone were to just pull the trigger out of nowhere. Not that it’s impossible, but it, but like you said, it’s been like that for a long time. The real problems are going to be much more insidious.
M: Exactly, like the real concern is the economy grinding to a halt. Like, that’s what we really want to avoid.
M: It’s not like loss of human life or—
D: Because all these beautiful things that we like to talk about the art and culture and all that, the technology won’t go away. But the means and the will to make a lot of things that we enjoy in our idleness will go away. We are the beneficiaries of a very colonial system that is pretending that it isn’t, which makes us blind to it, which means we become more dependent on it for everything in our lives, including the substance of our lives. And I know I’m saying this into a microphone and hoping people will give me money, [Morgan laughs] so I keep getting to do it. But it again, it’s it’s true and we have to live in a system that exists. It’s like, I can’t live outside the universe, right?
M: Yeah, thousands of years, we haven’t come up with anything better. Yeah.
D: I have to continue existing, but everything wonderful that we talk about and do with our free time, that all is predicated on the existence of this, this economy in its current state. And a lot of people don’t want that to change in any way for good or for bad, which means it stagnates and creates more tension for people who are suffering because of it. And that actually segues kind of nicely into our subject today, which is Colonialism in sci-fi.
D: I think this is actually going to have to be a two parter. Even sitting here looking at notes, I’m like, we’re not even going to touch half of this. There’s no way. We just don’t have time. And I don’t think that we have the, I think it would be a little bit brazen of us to do like a five part special on Colonialism when we’ve only gotten five episodes under our belt. Yet. Like our ten listeners, might not appreciate that deep dive just yet. We might revisit it. But we did want to talk a little bit about just the origins of sci-fi itself, really. And I’m going to quote kind of extensively from a book by a guy named John Rieder called Colonialism and the Emergence of Science Fiction.
M: Yeah, I’m really excited to hear about this.
D: Right up our alley. The book was really quite interesting. A little bit of a slog. Not because the writing’s bad, but because it’s very academic. It’s, it’s dense. You know?
D: But super interesting. And like almost fully half of the actual text is end notes that he just peppers through the book.
D: It was written in 2008, so at first I thought that it was going to be missing a bunch of details. But it’s actually about the emergence of Science Fiction, really the early stuff leading up into maybe the Fifties or so. Right?
M: That’s the kind of shit I like.
D: Yeah, I thought you’d be into it. So we’re sort of defining sci-fi, I think, as mostly being things that have to do, not only just with advanced technology, because then you’re talking about, OK, is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde sci-fi? Like, uh, because it’s the definitions that get spoken about in the book are kind of like this where it’s it’s like, ‘I know it when I see it’ sort of definitions that intellectuals argue about.
M: Yeah there’s a lot of—
D: But we’re really talking about space aliens and that sort of stuff. Time travel, you know, things that are potentially based in reality, explainable by the science that we understand at the present day. But maybe we don’t have it yet.
M: There’s a lot of crossover with Science Fiction and fantasy. Generally, I think Science Fiction is stuff that could be true,
M: Maybe flavored with like, but you kind of wish it weren’t.
D: [laughing] Right.
M: Whereas fantasy is stuff that you only wish could be true, but it never could be.
D: Right. Just because it’s it’s like literally magic.
M: Yeah, or dragons. [laughs]
D: So using that basic explanation, I think, you know, most of us understand what we mean when we when we say Science Fiction, we can argue about the nitty gritty about, is this particular thing actually Science Fiction, but the appearance of that as a genre, as something that we unify as a genre. I think you would you would be correct in saying we’re really talking about late a late 19th century as the the real emergence of what we would call Science Fiction the genre. Right? But it does have these threads, these roots going back a lot further in at least in European literary history.
D: All the way back to arguably things like Utopia by Thomas Moore, which was written in 1516. Cyrano de Bergerac, The Comical History, Gulliver’s Tales, these things where you were. We could certainly call them fantasy, but it’s a very specific sort of story where you’re going somewhere that’s other, and you’re interacting with living beings that are different but not like magical. They’re just they’re just other types of people, right? Weird people.
D: Then you’re having your adventures and you’re coming back like, it’s a physical space that’s different, that you’re going up and having these fantastical adventures and then coming back. And it’s not meant to be fantasy exactly. It’s, you know, and there’s a lot of tongue in cheek and a lot of it’s political satire of the time and that sort of thing. But those sorts of ideas got planted right around the same time that Europe started nosing around in other people’s business every once in a while, going and stealing their spices and their humans.
M: And encountering people that looked totally different.
D: Yeah, and encountering different people and going on these big adventures and discovering New Worlds from which to profit and [laughs] and send stuff home and…
M: Are we really interesting—
D: Hey, cool, there’s this gold just lying around. All we have to do is kill all these people. This is awesome.
M: Yeah, a really interesting little fact from Art History is the Egyptians, right? I mean, Egypt is in Africa, but it’s North Africa. So they would come back and try to describe to the artist what they look like. And you get these like crazy carvings and drawings of like what they were trying to describe Africans. Like. [laughs]
M: So they had never even conceived of, of what the rest of the world looks like.
D: And it’s really hard to to illustrate something that you maybe got a glimpse of once.
D: Or had described to you entirely by someone else.
D: There were so many wild stories about fantastic animals and picture books that had these impossible creatures, and it’s the same sort of filling in the blanks reflex to say, Well, what? We have to explain this right? And it is wrapped up in the scientific and philosophical revolution of the Renaissance, you know, and then leading us into all of these new arts and new writing styles and new thinking. And there’s a lot of good that came out of that. But it’s also would any of this had have happened in the way that it happened if we hadn’t stolen a bunch of stuff from the rest of the world? And by which I mean also just resources like just saying, Oh, the spices that were yours are now ours. Even if we gave you money that you didn’t used to use or have, that was worth anything to you.
M: We got all of Montana for a sack of beads. [Louisiana Purchase]
D: Right? That’s sort of that sort of thing. It flows through everything that comes after it.
D: And even into our our ways of telling stories where we got really interested, especially white men in these adventure tales of going to some exotic place and meeting beautiful women that were so innocent and didn’t know our ways. And and oh, there’s these evil bad guys that are keeping everybody down and I get to go in and kill the bad guys and save the girl and get the treasure and then zippity back all the way home and everything’s back to normal and we’re having a great adventure. Wasn’t that amazing?
M: Yeah, there’s a really great early example of that. one of the earliest sci fi epics, A Princess of Mars is exactly that plot.
D: Mmhmm. OK.
M: Did you ever see you? Did you read it?
D: That you said, Did you ever see? I assume you’re about to say, Did you ever see John Carter?
M: Yeah, did you see the movie?
D: I did see John Carter. I really liked John Carter.
M: I will not give movies like that a fucking second of my time. [Dan laughs] So I did not see it.
D: I really enjoyed it. I think it was. I think people thought it was going to be something else. And. You know, I am a, I go to Burger King occasionally. Like.
M: To me, movies like that are just colors and lights.
D: Notice, I said I enjoyed it.
D: I didn’t say it was good cinema. I just thought it was a good, that kind of movie.
M: OK, OK. Fair enough.
D: I would watch it if it was on right now. [Morgan laughs] I mean, I’m sure I can stream it somewhere, but…
M: Instead of Gattaca?
D: No. I definitely would watch Gattaca first.
M: I guess that makes one of us, so—
D: If it’s streaming I’d watch Gattaca first. It’s on Hulu.
D: Yeah. Hulu, which is definitely going to sponsor us now, right? Hulu? Free advertising so far.
M: Oh, the should. I love Hulu.
D: Give us money.
M: Honestly, unpaid sponsorship. Hulu is the superior streaming service. Honestly.
D: I am impossible to please. In almost—
M: They have the most old stuff.
D: —any factor of my life, so I never have the one favorite thing. It’s always like, ‘Oh, these guys do this really well. But I hate that they don’t do this at all or do this really badly’ or ‘This other thing is really good in the other place. Why don’t they have that here?’
M: That’s why we will never get it together as a society.
D: Yeah, yeah. We’re doomed.
M: So anyway—
D: It’s because of people like me.
M: Use—you in particular, Dan, you’re holding all of us back. So the book A Princess of Mars is basically this whole white European fantasy that you just described, like verbatim, which is John Carter, and he’s he’s a Confederate veteran, by the way.
M: He’s a veteran of the Civil War on the Confederate side.
D: It’s the original Dances with Wolves.
M: So I’m already not into it.
D: But on Mars.
M: Yeah. [Dan laughs] And he basically, like, is hiding in a cave from Native American ‘savages.’ So already I’m like, Boo!
M: But he’s transported to Mars, and there’s these like crazy creatures.
D: Why is the cat in here.
Theresa the Producer: Got it. She opened the door.
M: Let the cat in. Put a little headphone on the guy.
D: Oh my God, I can hear her on the mic. Zuul, go away.
D: There is no podcast ‘only Zuul.’
M: [laughs] My cat is currently sleeping on top of my painting that I’m supposed to be working on. So anyhow, so he goes to Mars, he confronts these like crazy six-armed creatures with different colored skin and he has superpowers! Isn’t that cool? The white guy!
M: Goes to a new land and he has superpowers.
D: Because there is less gravity, so he’s really strong.
M: He’s stronger and faster and smarter.
D: Jump tall buildings in a single bound is what he can do.
M: A single bound. Any do… wins the girl, and it’s this entire power fantasy—
M: —of being the outsider who who shows up to these like unsuspecting ‘simple natives’ and basically conquers them.
M: And gets the girl.
D: Yeah. And there’s so many, like I said, Stargate, if you break down Stargate, the movie, I did not watch the TV series. I think it might have seen one episode, but I I couldn’t fall in love with it. But I really like the movie and that’s all it is. It’s that exact storyline, and it’s almost worse because they are in fact, just normal people—
D: —who happen to have been from this lineage that got stolen and relocated to some other world. But they’re still just Egyptian people that are still alive and in the modern day—
M: Oh, interesting.
D: —which is exactly the sorts of things that we had a problem with with Colonialism because they regarded, and people still do it to this day, we have uncontacted people whose way of life is in fact modern day or modern human beings that are alive right now—
D: —on the same planet that we inhabit. And they’ve always been here and their lives are just as important as yours because all meaning is made up, it, none of it’s real anyway. It’s just human construct—
M: Yeah, there’s this—
D: —So their lives are just as good as yours. And there’s, they’re having babies and making meals and having arguments and having sex and, and…
M: And building houses and making clothing.
D: Building houses and enjoying a great day. They’re doing all of those things as well in the modern world.
M: They just don’t have a cell phone. [Dan laughs] Yeah, there is this weird fetishizing of what we would consider, I guess, anachronistic. The whole thing was ‘savages.’
D: Right. The…
M: White Europeans calling everyone else a ‘savage.’
D: Right. In this book, John Rieder calls it ‘trope of the savage.’ Yeah, there’s a bunch of tropes that he speaks about, and one of them is like the ‘princess trope,’ the ‘evil priest trope.’ I mean, I got a lot of this information from him, but as you read it, you’re, you’re going, Yep, yep. Oh, checkbox. Oh, yeah, right? That is like all of it.
M: Well, interestingly, even in Zootopia, did you ever see Zootopia?
D: Yeah. [laughs]
M: So all of the animals have evolved beyond their baser instincts. They go ‘savage,’ and it’s basically where they revert to their, you know, ancient ways. And it’s not even their animal nature because they are still animals. So they’re still living every day with their animal nature just denying they’re like.
D: It’s like a weird Island of Dr. Moreau—
D: —alteration. It’s a sort of a twist on the—
M: I would say a science fiction film.
D: And there’s a lot of sci fi philosophy that goes along with the idea of like, if you are civilized enough, then you are above certain things. You’re above evolution.
M: Yeah, that’s, that’s the lie.
D: Unfortunately, I am not above asking for money in the Capitalism game, and we need to do that to keep doing this. So we got some ads and we’ll talk more about that when we come back from those… ads.
M: Roll ‘em.
D: And we’re back.
M: Three, two, one. [laughs]
D: Um, wow, that was, that was really great, that, I’m I don’t even mind the interruption because—
M: No, where’s my wallet?
D: —that was such an amazing ad. It really, the flow of the conversation is not as important, frankly.
M: No. It gives me a chance to get back to my knitting.
D: Yeah, we were talking about the ‘trope of the savage.’ And I wanted to give a little term that I that I found in the book here. Uh, this is the quote from the book. “The subtitle of Janvier’s The Aztec Treasure House charmingly names the object of this anthropological perspective ‘Contemporaneous Antiquity’—“
D: “—and Janvier’s novel shows all too well how the Western scientists narrative of the past is connected to Colonial mastery of the present.” So this sort of idea that and I like that term, the ‘contemporaneous antiquity’ you’re talking about people who are alive right now whose society and culture and technology are in your mind representative of your own culture in the distant past.
D: And while that may be true in a literal sense, as far as technology is concerned, which is actually usually the main thing that’s different between any of these, these cultures, whether it’s in sci-fi or in the adventure stories or any of those is just military technology. Can we kill you easily and you can’t stop us? Then we win, we do the thing, we get to have your stuff. But except for that, all those other things are just, they’re just culture. They’re just they’re ephemeral. They’re, they’re not important to their existence.
M: So in in Art History, there’s actually ‘Archeology,’ the umbrella term. But then if you’re specifically studying Greek and Roman, that’s ‘Classical Archeology.’ It has its own completely separate category. There is this like this totally separate little love affair that Western civilization has with specifically Greek and Roman culture, to the point that when America was founded—
M: —OK. They designed all of our architecture after Greek and Roman…
D: I mean, we literally… [laughs]
M: It’s all based on democracy. Like…
D: We literally culturally appropriated that.
D: That’s America’s founding ideals were like, ‘Hey, those other people thought of that. We should take that,’ which is fine.
M: They said, specifically. They said: ‘We are the heirs—“
D: In this case.
M: They said: “We are the heirs of the Roman Empire.”
D: Yes. But you—
M: That’s why they did that.
D: Exactly. And, and…
M: That’s why all of our capital buildings look like Roman—
M: —you know, Senate buildings.
D: But it’s also—
M: With the columns and everything.
D: And this is, this is how, we’re kind of jumping ahead to something I was going to talk about, but—
M: Well getting, getting, I can get back to the Art History thing.
D: Well, that’s—
D: —that’s kind of part of it because it’s, in it’s, we have this history of doing this in story and in real life even, of saying, ‘OK, this is a really cool thing that I see that’s other’ so other is usually bad that we don’t like that. It’s other, but this is neat. So I must have some connection to this somehow. And there are a lot of stories, adventure stories, and sci-fi stories, where it’s like you discover that you’re somehow imbued with this special connection to the to the people of the story… like this is a little bit of a reach, but for instance, in Dune, when Paul Atreides spends enough time there, he, you know, it takes the spice. He spends all this time with the fremen. His eyes turn blue, which is also kind of a weird, deep cut reference to a really old piece of sci-fi Mister Stranger’s Sealed Packet from 1889.
D: There were these people with blue skin and the protagonist, like, hung out with them and was like one of them and his skin turned blue.
D: And I just can’t help but wonder if he had read that book at some point—
D: —or maybe intentionally referenced that because the idea of the Eyes of Ibad from the freman being the blue within blue. But it’s from being in that environment, you know, and then you could become one of them.
D: And there are a lot of stories like that. So to quote from that book: “In The Devil Tree of El Dorado, the mysterious guide Manila, is the returning heir and one of the white adventurers discovers that he too is descended from the El Doradan’s, which is why he has had visions of the place in his dreams before arriving there. Sometimes common ancestry is established indirectly by some kind of historical, cultural or linguistic evidence. Considerable but inconclusive speculation is devoted to the possible Phoenician or Persian origins of the white race found in central Africa in Allan Quartermain, all, of course, motivated by the need to explain the primary sign of consanguinity… their skin color.”
M: Hmm. [Dan laughs] I like ‘consanguinity.’
D: Yeah, there’s this. There’s this need. To find these things that are from elsewhere—
D: —and say those those good things about elsewhere are actually good things about us, too. And we have those. And so they’re ours, and all the bad things obviously are: ‘That’s you guys.’ [laughs]
D: And there’s echoes of that in all those little adventure tales, and they, and they, they bleed into the modern day in in things like Dune, although I would give Frank Herbert the credit of primarily making that out to be bad. He’s not advocating for. He’s just basing a story around it. But, you know, something like Stargate that came very far up and really, I think, probably flew under most people’s radar as far as that sort of storyline. I mean, Star Wars is kind of that.
D: It’s got it’s got threads of that. A New Hope is very much of that DNA.
M: Yeah. And then you can’t not mention Avatar.
D: Oh, oh, you mean the Cameron.
D: Sorry, I’ve, we’ve been we’ve been watching Legend of Korra and which I had not seen before—
M: It’s much better.
D: —and it’s, which is awesome.
M: It’s way better. So you can’t not mention Avatar.
D: Right. No, we got that that for sure. Ah, God, it. I did forget Avatar existed, I think, because that obviously is. Yeah, ‘Oh hi, Colonialism.’
M: Yeah. And it’s always something in that vein where the like the natives, the ‘savages,’ the aliens, whatever have some advanced form of spiritualism, whereas like the colonizers have some advanced technology that’s inherently evil. Like in order to be spiritual, you have to kind of be simple.
D: Yeah, you have to be to be fetishized like that, like what we did with Native populations here and in places like Hawaii and elsewhere where we sort of view them in this quote-unquote ‘positive’ light by simplifying them.
D: And in the book, actually, there’s an image. There was a famous photograph of a Hawaiian fisherman. And it’s, the way he’s presented is, Oh, look at this amazing documentary photo of of this man doing his normal thing that he does.
M: It’s totally staged.
D: And there’s a lot of, a lot of photography like that at the time where they posed Natives. But the author points out that, well, if you look at what he’s doing, he’s sort of standing in a way that doesn’t make sense if he’s fishing and he’s standing amongst a bunch of rocks where he wouldn’t be looking for fish with that net that he’s holding, which he clearly isn’t doing anything with it. It’s a posed thing—
M: They did that all over the world.
D: He alluded to—
D: —a lot of the covers from things like Amazing Stories—
M: Uh huh.
D: and a lot of those pulp serials that had these crazy covers of men in cages, shooting at giant headed aliens and stuff like that. There’s this sort of presentation of of like, ‘Oh, you stumbled on them in their natural state and isn’t it? Isn’t it weird? Let’s look at them.’ Which is a little bit meaner than, than that, but there’s always that simplification that their lives aren’t as complex or interesting as ours. But we won’t. We won’t hurt them. We we respect them. They’re so spiritual.
M: Yeah. Yeah. And that like posing them, taking them out of whatever they were doing and making them stand around in and have their photo taken. And you know, even I see a lot of stuff circulating as memes where it’s pictures of like Indigenous Maori women or Africans or Asian, whatever, with some, like, inspiring caption.
M: But if you look as an artist, I’m very interested in these things and they’re all staged photos.
M: A lot of our depiction of Native American tribal dress isn’t even accurate.
D: Yeah, no.
M: It was like no better than basically theater costumes that they made because the culture had already been, like, practically wiped out before photography was even really available.
D: Yeah, and—
M: And so they would make these like artificial recreations of what they thought their garb looked like.
M: So a lot of what we like seeing about Native American traditional dress is just totally made up.
D: And a lot of the documentation of those sorts of things was not fueled by a genuine desire to, to preserve something. It was for an audience.
D: They were giving it to someone. They were selling it for something for some reason. So they had to make it popular. You know, if nobody buys these photographs, I’m not going to be able to afford the next trip to this place. So it has to be something that someone will want to buy. And I have this personal connection to something like this that I don’t claim any Native ancestry of any kind. But my family lived in and around Cherokee [North Carolina] and were, my grandmother was it was a schoolteacher there for a long time, and she knew everybody in Cherokee, like all of the Native population that worked in a store or something, we always talked to them on, for hours. So I’d see them in their normal day-to-day existence and knew a lot of them, and we’d go visit them and go to some of the tourist places and say, hi. And there was one in particular that was really, even at the time, very disheartening because it was the quote-unquote ‘Chief.’ Right? And I actually, as I was a child, I don’t know if he was the actual Chief or if that was just what people called him for this particular thing. Or it was just a term of respect because there is an actual Chief and Tribal Council and all that stuff. But he was in a teepee. And a headdress and people were in line to go in and take a photo with him.
D: He’s a Cherokee. They didn’t do those things.
D: So it’s that’s even at the time it was like they ‘They don’t do this. This isn’t what. Like last time we came here, he was just in a shirt and pants’ like, this is weird—
M: Yeah, watching football…
D: —what’s going on? And also none of the stuff in the museum looks like this way, the real museum that’s right over there, that has all the stuff. None of that, they didn’t look like. What is this?
M: I have a story from my own family about connections to Native American culture in the United States. So, you know, my my mom’s family is from Northern Minnesota.
M: My great grandmother came over here from France as a teenager. It’s a long story. But she she had a couple kids and she wasn’t married, so her family sent her to live on an Indian Reservation to live with the nuns.
D: Oh, wow.
M: There was a nunnery on the reservation there, and Minnesota has a long history with the Native Americans. It’s extremely dark. So if you see a homeless person on the street, they’re Native American. It’s really unsettling. And my great great grandmother grew up on this Indian Reservation with Ojibwe Indians. She learned to speak the language. She met her husband. They had a bunch of kids. My grandfather grew up in a wood cabin, no running water or electricity on an Indian Reservation in Northern Minnesota.
D: Geez, I didn’t know that.
M: Yeah. So I remember going up there to visit family when I was a teenager and we were going back to my aunt’s house and we drove past a Native American family walking through the neighborhood, and everyone in the car started saying, ‘Oh, what are they doing here? Oh God, I hope they don’t. They didn’t move in. Do you think they’re stealing stuff?’
D: Oh, geez.
M: And I was like, ‘What the fuck like?’ Because living in the South, you’re used to a certain amount of racism. But this was like—
M: —this is something I had never encountered. It’s real subtle down here.
D: Yeah, it’s it’s a lot subtler. Until it’s not.
D: But it’s not out in the open like it like it once was.
M: It was really shocking when I kind of became aware of that.
M: You know, it sort of clouded my halcyon memories of my youth.
M: At the cabin in the woods. And then you realize like, Oh, there’s this entire culture that’s built around it.
D: Yeah. Just to pull us out of that, that terrifying nosedive is that it’s also like in The Expanse. It’s like with the Belters. Like they—
D: Earthers come to, let’s say, Ceres and are, you know, governing over them.
D: And they’ve been here struggling for generations, trying to make ends meet and everything. And they come. The Earthers come in with all this muscle strength and and money and and show up and look down on them and push them around. And it’s the exact same human story that we just keep doing.
D: And there, there are properties that treat that better than others like Stargate is, is way, way different of a take on it than, say, Star Wars or Dune or Star Trek. In fact Star Trek has done an interesting job of having an arc without ever really resolving the genuine problem of Colonialism in the storyline, which I think we’ll have to talk about after an ad. Because of Colonialism. [Morgan laughs] Ads.
D: And we’re back and I want to talk about Star Trek for a minute, because.
M: Can we talk about Star Trek for an hour?
D: Yeah, it’s the problem is, all of these things that we like to talk about. They could be books and they are books and people write books on them. But we just want to sort of gloss over it. But we’re both sort of meticulous people and it makes it hard to—
M: And we both love Star Trek.
D: —shut up. Yeah, and we both love Star Trek. And if you want to go in terms of chronology, I don’t know when you started watching Star Trek, but I saw the original Star Trek when it was the only Star Trek series that you could see. That was it. When you talked about Star Trek the series, it was that or the animated series, which is in many ways better than the original. So.
D: Yeah, because they can do all kinds of stuff they couldn’t have done with the show because they, you know, they just draw it. So that lets them do a lot of things that would have been really hard. And it’s not just about effects, it’s also like story beats. I mean.
M: Yeah, I started watching the original Star Trek pretty young.
D: Yeah. So it’s, it’s grown from OK, that was the original series. And then I wasn’t old enough really to watch the movies yet. So I actually saw the original series first because it was relatively kid friendly being from the sixties, even though there was an interracial kiss.
M: But yeah, that’s actually one of my favorite stories is that that was the first interracial kiss on television—
D: Yeah, Star Trek was important.
M: —and they had to get around it by putting it in the format where these alien beings were controlling them telepathically.
D: Right. [laughs]
M: And forcing them to do it.
D: Obviously we’d never do this in real life.
M: Yeah, but I actually love that story because it just goes to show that Science Fiction is the frontier. It is like the bleeding edge of culture.
D: Fascinatingly enough, Star Trek has been so important with things like that to change things that are happening to say, ‘Hey, let’s question stuff.’ But it also has these roots in not just in the story, but also in the the cultural thinking in Colonialism, right? It’s very much imbued with those things like the idea of the ‘exotic woman.’
D: You know, the green alien ladies dancing for our heroes. Kirk being the love interest in every storyline that would happen that involved an alien race with a female member. You know, if we want to talk about the original series, there was an episode called “The Apple,” which has them encountering. It’s very much that old trope of them going to this remote place so that they discover a planet where these primitive people who sort of live in a Garden of Eden type situation where they they don’t have to work, they just relax. The weather is perfect and they they worship a machine. That’s—
D: —and they’re called the Feeders of Vaal. So they have to feed the machine, these rocks and stuff to to keep it, keep it going. But the machine does all the stuff that makes their lives perfect and they just sit there. But they don’t, you know, they’re living there and in blissful ignorance. Right?
D: Like these untouched ‘savages.’ And the only catch is that they’re not, they can’t have sex because they don’t need more of them, because part of the thing of it being perfect is that there’s population control and they don’t need to make any more of it. Oh, and they’re immortal, by the way.
D: So it’s not just, Oh, that sucks. You can’t have sex, but you get to look at each other all day. No, but they’re also immortal. So they can just sit around being in heaven, like they’re in heaven.
M: That is a consequence of a long life.
D: They are in heaven.
D: But the Enterprise shows up and there and and Kirk’s like, ‘No sex? That’s, you can’t do that to these people.’
M: Oh yeah. How dare…
D: But he comes in and imposes his own morals and culture on these people who are living in absolute bliss and they destroy it. It’s it’s ruined.
D: That’s from the original series, and that’s that’s a good thing that happened. That’s what we do. And we’re the good guys.
M: Yeah, because automating life—
D: They weren’t, they weren’t elevated. They weren’t civilized. It’s better now.
D: They’re better now.
M: Automating life has always been one of those cautionary things in Science Fiction where, like, if life is too easy, then we’re just like babies. [laughs]
D: Right. But it but it also goes back to the idea of of, well, whose decision does that get to be like whether or not these people are quote-unquote ‘primitive.’ They are contemporaries of yours. And in fact, it turns out they’re actually your elders because these people are immortal, they’ve been around for a long time. What if this is just what they want? You’re taking away their their consent, you’re taking away their, in fact, it’s not. You’re taking away their consent. You’re disregarding the idea that they could consent.
M: And the apple, of course, being an allusion to the garden, right, the tree of knowledge is actually the knowledge of good and evil.
M: And eating the apple is what makes Eve want to fuck.
D: And it’s it’s one of the few times where that kind of writing is subtle in a beautiful way. But it doesn’t, it doesn’t dispel the message of we’re better because we’re better because we have all the things. We’re, we’re the best. And they get better at this as we progress on to The Next Generation. But we’re still, we’re still encountering things like. “Who Watches the Watchers,” do you remember that one?
M: Refresh me.
D: So. The Prime Directive, which is something that’s supposed to go through all of Star Trek, right? It’s that’s that they don’t interfere with the development of other cultures of other worlds, right? And once the those worlds are able to do space faring on their own and they’re all stable, they have a unified world government and they can all agree to come into the Federation. They join the Federation.
M: Which is pretty whack, by the way.
D: Yeah, it is uh…
M: Because it’s like super advanced aliens came to Earth and they were like, ‘Hi guys, we’re just here to take some pictures and like, fuck around a little bit.’
M: ‘We’re to take this amazing technology that could change your life and open up generations of space when we’re out of here, like Fuck You!’
D: ‘Oh, are some of you starving? Oh, are you on the brink of nuclear annihilation because of maniacs who are who are strong on your governments?’
D: ‘It sucks for you.’
D: And “Who Watches the Watchers” this episode of The Next Generation, Councilor Troi is undercover on this world where there’s like proto-Vulcans.
M: Yes. I know exactly what you’re talking about.
D: She’s there to observe, and it’s pretty cool. They have like a, they got a little hologram in force field situation. They watch them and. But the problem is she gets found out.
M: And she spills the beans.
D: Yeah. Well, Picard has to show up. OK. The long story short, they interfere very directly in this culture.
D: And in the end, it basically boils down to, well, ’It’s OK, because now they don’t, we’ll tell them about and we’ll ease them into it. And then they’ll be better because they’re, they’re they’re going to learn about us and it’ll be OK this time.’ Like, it’s always like that with the Prime Directive. They always find a way around it, you know?
D: And they use these very emotional pleased to do it. We’re not here to talk about that episode, but it’s it’s another one of those. Well, who gave you the right to even be there if your rule is don’t interfere—
M: At all.
D: —that should include going there physically and watching. what are you doing? Of course, something like this might happen.
D: But they, not only do they always ignore that, but it’s a good way of making them feel better about what they really are, which is this incredibly this deeply Colonial system where it’s—
M: It’s voyeurism.
D: They get all of the benefits. They don’t have to worry about money. Members of the Federation can just go and do whatever they want to with their lives. And these people that live in the backwoods, it’s like, it’s like the Roman Empire. It’s like, if you guys get your shit together, we’ll let you be part of civilization. But until then, you’re on your own and also—
M: It’s never enough.
D: —we wouldn’t want to mess with you because that wouldn’t be nice. That wouldn’t be appropriate.
D: We wouldn’t want to interfere with your development, but we are gonna—
M: We don’t want to help you too much. No one helped us.
D: Right, right. Except the Vulcans, of course.
M: Yeah. [Dan laughs] Yeah, it’s, it’s voyeurism is I mean, this has been around forever. Like white Europeans, when they started accumulating wealth, one of their favorite things to do is go travel around the world and just look at Natives, like bring home some souvenirs.
D: And not to mention—
M: It’s bullshit.
D: —the Federation pretends to be all about exploration and stuff in the Next Generation. But it is not because why would you be sending ships out there? You have probes. We have. I mean, we can see the universe right now from here with a with a satellite.
M: We just launched a new one. Yeah, it needs a new camera, right?
D: Right. The James Webb.
D: I’m hoping that goes well.
M: Hell yeah.
D: We’ll be seeing some cool stuff. But then in Deep Space Nine, we get a lot of stuff with the Bajorans who are pretty clear analog for a lot of things in, say, the Middle East or Native populations.
D: And they are being occupied and undergoing a lot of hardships, and it’s much more complex and it’s not as defensive of what the Federation is. It’s just sort of like, Well, we need to work within these frameworks for trying to prevent violence. We’re trying to not make things worse for anybody here on this frontier, etc. So it sort of looks at a lot of those issues, a little bit more head on and, and it it all evolves a lot more characters that are from different cultures. And so we get more complexity of who is living under these, these structures, who is occupying the Federation.
D: And then I haven’t watched a lot of it. But the I think the first couple episodes of the new Picard series are with him having turned his back on the Federation, left Starfleet, renounced it because of of bad things that were being done. So you you start to think that, OK, they’re going to acknowledge like maybe Starfleet is bad and blah blah blah. But turns out, no, no, no, they got infiltrated. It wasn’t really that they were bad, you know, and it doesn’t. It sort of pulls back. It doesn’t go all the way and acknowledge and really explore the idea that even though we say we want all these good things and a lot of them happen to a lot of people, the system that we have in this utopia is actually only a utopia for some, right?
D: It doesn’t ever actually acknowledge that like really and look it full-on in the face, which is unfortunate, and maybe we’ll get a little bit more of that in the future. But also, frankly, as someone who loved it my whole life, we don’t need more Star Trek. It’s fine.
M: I think we’re going on Star Trek. The movies are great. I saw a lot of them in the theater when I was a kid.
M: Like, what else?
D: And then they got worse.
M: Yeah, what else are you going to do?
D: Let Discovery and Picard do their thing and then we can just say goodbye. And I’m not a big fan of Lower Decks, although I admit I have only watched the first episode, but it turned me off so, so extremely that I couldn’t proceed. Also, it’s hard to get it for free.
M: Yeah, it’s kind of like with the Star Wars, like doing the same thing with a 100 spinoff movies years and like, I am not a fan of Star Wars, I will say that.
D: I think you’d be a bigger fan if you saw more of the spin off stuff.
M: I’ve seen most of it.
M: Because my. Yes, one of my best friends is a huge Star Wars fan.
D: Uh Oh.
M: And she has strong-armed me into watching.
D: What did you watch.
M: A lot of the movies—
D: No, no no.
M: —and watch the—
D: I’m not talking about the movies.
M: We watched The Mandalorian together.
M: And I will admit it’s very funny, because Taika Waititi?
M: I guess the creator is a genius.
M: And when I saw Baby Yoda, I wanted to get pregnant so bad.
M: It was the cutest thing.
D: I didn’t understand the hate. Hey, I know that there were some people who were like, aaaah, but…
M: No, I was like, Oh my God, put a baby in me. Like, it was adorable. But yeah, is it necessary? Does it really matter? Does The Mandalorian fucking matter?
D: None of this matters.
M: No. Now, I think we need to make room for new things.
D: Have you seen Rebels?
D: It’s amazing. It’s I couldn’t believe it’s a kids’ show. We were turning to each other every five minutes watching the thing.
D: Kids’ Show. Kids’ Show. Because these crazy adult themes, these incredibly complex story turns and tragedies, and decisions that people have to make.
M: Well, that’s how it should be. That’s how it should be. I mean, why should a plot be or character be simple? Because it’s designed for a young viewer?
D: No, it’s it’s, it’s excellent. I would highly recommend that even if you had never seen anything else, if I was like, I need to get someone who likes good stories, good writing to like Star Wars as a concept, I would tell them to watch Rebels.
M: I will watch it right after Gattaca. [Dan laughs]
D: All right, we’re going to have to wrap this up. We’re going to have part two coming up next time. And, uh, in the meantime, you can follow us on Twitter. You can. You can @theexpansing on Twitter and we have TheExpansing.com. We’re fancy like that. We got an actual ancient technology of of web sites that we have one of.
M: Yes, I post a lot of family recipes to the website.
D: I am @DanWinburn at Twitter, on Twitter, not at Twitter. I don’t work there, although if they want to sponsor, but they’re not as evil as Facebook, so sure, give us money. That’s the only place you can find me. But you don’t want to be friends with me. Don’t follow me.
M: No, I can confirm.
D: Morgan, what about you?
D: Buy art. Not enough people buy art.
M: Yeah, buy some of my art.
D: And I and I don’t mean buy pictures. It’s not an NFT situation, buy a physical piece of art that a person put their fingers on.
M: I’m a traditional painter.
D: And made something beautiful in the world that didn’t exist before that.
M: Yeah, everything is hand-painted by me. So…
M: Yeah. Keeping the traditions alive.
D: So on the next episode, we are going to in fact mention the series The Expanse a couple of times. That we sort of didn’t really know very much this time. But maybe because it’s so obvious about how Colonialist the story is, we just it’s like, Well, everyone knows great, but we really talk about that a couple of times.
M: Yeah, we’re going to dig in hard.
[Music fades in and out.]