Stories of what is to come: the future in film and television 1959-1989

Bonner, Frances Jane (1991). Stories of what is to come: the future in film and television 1959-1989. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.00010167

Abstract

The thesis examines films, television programmes and associated newspaper articles from the period 1959-1989 to discover how the future has been talked about in popular discourses. It considers both fiction and nonfiction in the areas of defence, nuclear issues, ecological catastrophes, space and artificial beings. It is particularly concerned to contrast scientific discourse with science fiction to discover how the distinction between them is maintained when the temporal setting is the future and whatever is asserted or depicted is characterised by not yet having happened.

The thesis begins by investigating the discursive struggle over the naming of the US military policy both Star Wars and SDI. It uses the concept of professional language and Michel Foucault's arguments about regimes of truth to explain the status of the more scientific term, while the popularity and success of the film are advanced as reasons for the appeal of the popular title. The following chapters attempt to discover whether this example is charcteristic or an oddity.

The examination of the presentation of potential eco-catastrophes, particularly in TV science programmes finds minimal variation and piecemeal presentation being used in an attempt to separate scientific discourse from SF and emphasise certainty. In looking at nuclear discourse the competing claims of the defence establishment and those people making nuclear war dramas for TV to speak with authority about the future are investigated to try to understand why there is such a paucity of depictions of the nuclear future.

It is discovered that talking about the future in space shifted with economic discourse became more dominant than scientific, but that this did not apply to those fictions, like Star Trek, which were constrained by precursors from the 1960s. These are the major instances of an optimistic future. In considering the case of artificial beings, changes are found within the fictions as certain categories of being become scientifically more feasible. An analogy with colonial discourse and the concept 'hybridity' proves particularly useful.

The thesis concludes by finding hybrids of fiction and non-fiction, scientific and science fictional discourses most characteristic of popular discourses about the future.

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