Doctor, This is Madness.... You Will Destroy Us All
"The machine, as we know it, exists for the most part underground."
"How do you mean, 'exists'?" Djeela-Lal said curiously.
"What probably happens is that it seeks natural crevices and interstices in the rock and spreads through them. This is all speculative, you understand."
"Current size?" Djeela-Lal asked.
"We know it operates its own robot circuits. One theory has it that it grows its own crystals down below. But no one knows for sure.
Djeela-Lal said: "With no way to stop it until this entire planet becomes an orbiting ball of brain rattling around the sun?"
"Wow! Oh boy! Hoo! Have you got some imagination" The Funco File 1969 by Burt Cole.
Who believes this sort of escapism anymore? Rather, who does not? What else fills the same unconscious needs with such a broad arsenal of devices and monsters. How else would we know what is going to happen to the Earth in five billion years? How else could we encounter the blob or see whole galaxies destroyed? Does it not also fulfill a higher need-to find a myth of the twentieth century? Yet despite the myth-making 2001, we currently languish in a Science Fiction recession. The recession has become so widespread as to paralyze our space program.
We must place part of the blame on the fact that landing on the moon was much duller than any story could have been. The astronauts found no subterranean insect monsters (H. G. Wells), prehistoric monoliths (Arthur C. Clark), deadly, suffocating moondust (Howard Fast). We are all bored. Even the staff at Cape Kennedy is quitting without having been brainwashed by the Spiderman from Mercury. The scientists themselves are more concerned about the marital problems their involvement with machines has caused. And they no longer speak with a German accent left over from a great world war. No more will the great von Braun shout, "This whole space program is based on the theory that three pregnant women can have one baby in three months!" The program is stillborn.
Yet there are still more severe side effects of the Nixon years. The golden days of UFO scares in little California towns are gone. Occasionally a local newspaper will print one housewife's account of how she met the flaming creatures from the sun, but our fears have been relocated. Perhaps the massive 800 page Condon report dealt the death blow to the boom. At any rate, we gaze into the night sky with unaccustomed security these days. The cities hold more dangers in store for the timid.
Where is the bravery that sustained the nation through the rigors of the space race? Before historical revisionists set in, the fifties were known as a time of postwar boom. (and Nixon was only Vice-President.) Then America's hopes, indeed, the free world's, depended on a frail rocket named Vanguard. But the shiny object could fly only a yard before collapsing inward. The army developed the Jupiter rocket with the spinning Explorer satellite as its payload. The booster was as American as Werner von Braun, but it did not explode and the race to the moon was on. The Russians became nasty and secretive. They sent up a dog which died in space. The Americans sent up a monkey which lived. Yuri Gagarin (now dead) circled the world. Gus Grissom (now dead) let his capsule sink in the Atlantic. The fair-haired boy, John Glenn, was such a good astronaut that he went into politics and slipped in a bathtub.
It was unusual mentality indeed which led the United States into the space race, a mentality closely allied to Science Fiction's aspiration towards myth. The race had no political purpose outside the vague notion of propaganda value. But it did fulfill a widespread public need to make life more endurable. The story had its deaths and triumphs, and may yet have its Frankenstein. It can rival 2001 in its epic sweep and pointed vagueness.
Like some ancient Greek town, the United States combed the countryside for a Magnificent Seven to do battle against the dark forces of Space and the Russians. Their training program was a scries of twelve labors to perform on the road to heroism. They went to Africa to broil in the sun. They lived beneath the sea, whirled in Centrifuges, flew X-15's. There must have been reasons for these exploits, but the true motivation was to make heroes of these astronauts. There was Gus, Deke, Wally, and Scott. They were good men, and true, not the old wrecks the Russians sent into space from Dark Siberian plains. Neither were they for that matter the bible punching sissies who reached the moon last summer. These Seven drank and loved. Here was excitement. America needed heroes and made them in her own image. Certainly people talked of international cooperation, but we wanted to beat the Russians on our own. If they could send a satellite around the moon, we could send one around the sun and call it Pioneer or Ranger and make it send back bleeps and photographs and even the recorded voice of Dwight Eisenhower.
Yet as the goal drew nearer, it seemed less important. Gone was the romance of seven heroes and their weapons named Atlas. Mercury, rockets which blew up on the pad or went haywire and threatened to devastate peaceful Florida towns unless destroyed by Mission Control. The space program grew at a tremendous rate, overtaking the Russians and overtaking itself to the point where three men died in a dreadful fire during a ground test. Space became business for corporations and convenience for the housewife. After political interferences, the men in the program had changed as well. They could not manage to get their pre-rehearsed first words from the moon straight. No one dared anymore to put a sign in the capsule window reading, "Deke Slayton is a turtle." The entire enterprise seemed fanciful and wasteful.
The ravages of political assassination and poverty changed the climate which had given birth to these exploits. And that was when the Science Fiction recession set in. Public fear and fantasy was redirected towards its own dissident elements. The space race became a purely technological experience. Although the public has turned to healing itself before conquering other worlds, its Science Fiction rhapsody lives on in literature and film although no longer fills the public's need for fantasy so completely as to be financed by government spending. But Science Fiction can reveal something about what sent America on those bizarre exploits.
The movement did not originate solely with Superman. Buck Rogers, Frankenstein, or even H. G. Wells. A great wealth of horrifying supernatural material has always filled the world's myths. Sigmund Freud, because he raised the unconscious to the conscious level, may well be the seminal figure. Of course any Science Fiction worth its metaphysical salt extends outward to the blackest realms of the universe where our planet is lost among other planets, and our galaxy among other galaxies. But Science Fiction is also a voyage inward to the realm of the unconscious where identities merge into the one-ness of universal being and so forth. But the fiction, the unconscious, dominates over the science. Physical laws are bent to mental demands. An author's cavalier appropriation of any physical law or quirk to suit his fictional purpose is half the fun of Science Fiction. Three pillars of Science Fiction, then, are psychology, mythology, and of course technology. But they are all bound by a common force: fear. Fear often comes in two quantitative clinical groups, fear of the Mad Scientists and fear of Alien Invasion. The first category is a variation on the Faustian theme. The scientist and his deadly invention, the Machine, aspire to godly heights and thus destroy themselves and quite possibly the entire planet.
The most popular movie in this category. "Frankenstein," begins to define the nature of America's scientific fantasy by revealing a morbid fear of technology and a fascination with escape from rigid social restraints. The 1932 original movie, starring Colin Clive as the obsessed doctor and Boris Karloff as the monster, rests on a simple plot, but touches deep unconscious forces. As Colin Clive raises Boris Karloff to the ceiling to receive electrical impulses from the thunderstorm raging outside. Clive's fiancee pleads with him to return to her. But he is obsessed by his monster. In fact on a deeper level no difference exists between his two passions. The brilliant juxtaposition of the sad love story to the creation of the monster demonstrates how they feed off each other in the doctor's mind. He is pursuing twin love affairs. One is the conventional, mannered, self-deceiving garden variety and the other is the violent subconscious variety. Dr. Frankenstein gives his deepest unconscious fear substance by creating the monster. What kind of monster would return at the time of his maker's marriage and attempt to claim him for his own? In many ways, the monster acts as a jealous mother figure who still lives in her son's subconscious and demands all his attention to the exclusion of his fiancee. And the monster is also a persecuting father figure who must be overcome if the son is to be successful. This Oedipal theme is a variation of the Faustian theme of man challenging God, son challenging father. The monster is in all a double threat, a hideous combination of psychological horrors. He is not simply aesthetically displeasing. He is a monster because he disturbs something very deep in us. Technology serves as the midwife to this frightening birth. In this early phase, the scientific fantasy arises from a profound unease with society and a fear and fascination of what science may bring about.
With it's ritual force. "Frankenstein" can stand as a basic experience in the scientific fantasy. But a movie of the special effects for special effects' sake has peculiar delights and revelations as well. The pseudo-myth Science Fiction epic "This Island Earth" concerns the second category of fear, fear of Alien Invasion. It Jeans very heavily on its 1956 milieu for inspiration, yet despite, or perhaps because of inanity, it reveals other immediate aspects of the mentality behind the race to the moon. While the flick is apparently a cartoon show of sheer escapism, the political situation somehow manages to insinuate it self.
Here the story concerns a jet plane pilot-scientist (Rex Reason) who is enlisted by a group of Aliens from the planet Metalluna who are working on a top secret project in Georgia. Our hero receives a mysterious do-it-your-self machine in the mail and despite the warnings of his square colleague builds the contraption which goes by the name of "interossiter." Through the ill-fitting costumes and wooden exclamations, the significant theme of machines taking on a life of their own, as did Frankenstein, drives the creaky plot forward. To make a long story short, a mysterious Alien appears on the screen of the interossiter and informs Rex that a mysterious plane will meet him at five o'clock the next morning. Sure enough, the scientist takes on the challenge and who should he meet but the girl in Vermont he once knew, but who pretends not to recognize him. It turns out that she too is a world famous scientist. The exposition deftly continues as we learn that these world-famous scientists have been assembled in order to save Metalluna from their arch-enemy. Swibberlex or something. However, the Aliens intend to submit the Earthlings to frontal lobotomies so that they will have no will of their own. Through a series of circumstances too embarrassing to relate, the scientist and the girl find themselves in a flying saucer heading towards Metalluna itself.
"Earth!" exclaims the girl as a Hammond globe recedes in one window.
"Metalluna!" ejaculates the Alien as a blow-up of a glass marble grows in another window. However, they arrive at Metalluna only to see it devastated by its enemies and taken over by a race of mutant insects the inhabitants had bred as slaves. The three return to Earth in the nick of time. The Alien plunges his saucer into the ocean after bidding adieu to the Earthlings. And the girl admits that she was the one in Vermont after all.
On one level, the entire venture is an unfortunate forced marriage of a pointless cosmic myth and a thoroughly conventional love story. Yet a need existed at that time which the film tries to fill, however feebly. In 1956, public curiosity and fear of flying sauccers was at a high point. Perhaps not coincidentally, the spirit of McCarthyism was in the recent past. And one of that period's most salient features was its fear of scientists who supposedly gave secrets to foreign nations. In short, the stereotype of the scientist was a political counterpart to the movies mad scientist image. Both impressions shared the classic fear that science was destroying society. But enlightened by "This Island Earth." the movie-goer felt reassured to know that the traitorous fellow-traveller scientists which he feared were only working for peace themselves. And even more reassuring, the Metallunians (read Russians) were involved in internecine wars. They would eventually destroy themselves while the mutant slaves (read Chinese) would inherit a completely devastated world. But despite its patriotic value, the movie propagates the old stock themes.
The American scientific fantasy was caught in a bind. Its aversion to growing technology and fear of nuclear warfare was matched only by its aversions to the Russians. It was Sputnik that tilted the balance in favor of technological advancement, but only for as long as it took to outdo the Russians in space and win all that propaganda value.
How long till the next battle, when Earth goes against the demonic centipede men from the distant reaches of galactic space?