Where will the elevator door open next?

Science fiction can have a profound impact on a person’s outlook on the world. As a good illustration of this, I found the below on Neil Gaiman’s blog a while ago, on the effects of watching Dr. Who as a child:

These days, as a middle-aged and respectable author, I still feel a sense of indeterminate but infinite possibility on entering a lift, particularly a small one with white walls. That to date the doors that have opened have always done so in the same time, and world, and even the same building in which I started out seems merely fortuitous – evidence only of a lack of imagination on the part of the rest of the universe.

This made me smile, and how could it not? It’s evidence of an adult still taking a great deal of pleasure in finding wonder in the world that started when he was a child. I’ve found that science fiction and fantasy encourage that mindset, and I don’t really understand people who don’t like the genre.

Sci-fi/fan lets us stretch our imaginations to explore all those “what if” scenarios we come up with, particularly the ones that aren’t remotely possible now, and what could be cooler than that? It represents writing and creation in the mindset of discovery, a willingness to go beyond the known and into something new. Hmmm, now that I think about it, maybe all of my reading about such foreign cultures prepared me to later be more ready to explore the more immediate foreign cultures here in our current terrestrial plane of existence.

I admit, I didn’t have as much of a life-changing experience with Dr. Who as Neil Gaiman did. I remember watching it during my preschool years, and have only vague memories of it. Bizarrely, it came on right before The Dukes of Hazzard, and my recollections of the two shows are interestingly paired as a result.

However, long before I started reading huge amounts of sci-fi/fan novels, I watched Star Trek: The Next Generation. This has had profound effects on my philosophy, as I wrote about on my old blog here, in which I recorded the following conversation:

Dana: I wonder how much of my feeling that we shouldn’t really be trying to run other countries and interfering with their attempts to set up govts of their own has been influenced by growing up watching Star Trek, with its Prime Directive.
Will: Except they totally interfered all the time
Dana: I know, but at least they felt kind of bad about it and tried to minimize the damage.
Dana: I think the main difference is that they started from the premise that it was a bad idea, rather than a God-given right.

So I have two fun exercises for people to ponder:

1) What childhood TV experiences still affect your thinking about the world, and how?

2) The next time you’re in an elevator, try to imagine what world the doors might open into.

-posted by Dana

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4 Responses to Where will the elevator door open next?

  1. Matthew says:

    Doctor Who was without a reasonable doubt the most influential television show on my young life. Going anywhere in time and space and saving the day not by dint of superior power or the ability to blast or slash ones opponents into atoms, but simply by being terribly clever. It’s the story of the Trickster God, most ingenious and most fallible of the deities.

    I think that’s what does it for me for both science fiction and really for any kind of fiction. Well structured stories that hit you properly. Doctor Who is in a lot of ways a very old story, but has the potential to be new and fresh every new story. I’ve read a lot of science fiction that starts off with a marvelous premise, but then degenerates into what I call Dragonball Z syndrome, where the power level of the protaganists and antagonists escalates into meaningless levels and it becomes more about how much damage you’re doing than about the story.

    For me, Star Trek in its first couple of incarnations was a story of hope. Mankind eventually gets its act together and heads out to find out new and interesting things. While some unfortunate episodes ended up with male posturing about the superiority of the Federation, some others really explored what happened when you encountered something alien and you tried to understand each other. Those tended to be my favorites. I especially liked the Next Gen episode where they encountered the race that only spoke in metaphor, using a body of story as their actual language, which made the literal translation of the Universal Translator unuseful. Picard and the alien captain work together to overcome a trial and defeat a terrible beast – and fail. But they succeeded in the more important task of achieving a rapport. They might not understand what the other said or believed, but they could understand and respect each other as individuals.

  2. Dana says:

    Matthew: Here is an in-depth review of that exact TNG episode, from Tenser, said the Tensor, a sci-fi fan and linguist.

  3. TheGnat says:

    I also have fond memories of Dr. Who. And also The Red Green Show, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, M*A*S*H, Red Dwarf and yes, Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.
    I think they all educated me about the world, in different ways. I am forever expecting something truly bizarre to happen, which I attribute mostly to Monty Python. And then I realize something bizarre is always happening, if you stop to think a minute. These shows taught me that life is always wonderful, and always fun, if you let it be so.

    Also, did anyone in their 20s in the United States not watch TNG?

  4. akdmyers says:

    Monty Python has gotten me in trouble on several occasions (for inappropriate laughter in the face of something Monty Python-esque) and I think it has made me far more aware of the bizarre and unexpected. I did watch some TNG, but I don’t think it had any profound effect on me. I only saw Dr. Who once as a kid, and it scared the pants off me (now I love it).

    What did have an effect on me most was probably Sesame Street and Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. I still sing “One of these things is not like the others” when it seems appropriate, and who couldn’t love Mr. Rogers? Of course, these shows and other educational shows on PBS like Newton’s Apple and Wild America were the only things I was allowed to watch for a long time. They definitely helped develop my amateurish love of science and nature.

    I love the idea of the potential for the elevator doors to open anywhere. ‘Round here, there aren’t very many buildings that are tall enough to even have an elevator, but back in Madison the staff elevator in the library was often persnickety, and you could never be sure which floor it would open on. I remember the first time it decided I should go to the basement instead of the 4th floor, and I’d never been in the basement of the library before. It was delightfully disconcerting.

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