A time to travel forward

By Jonathan Jones
0 CommentsPrint E-mail China.org.cn, April 29, 2011
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For westerners the recent debate about time travel-based literature and films seems more than a little surreal.

Brought up on a staple diet of science fiction since an early age, anyone under the age of seventy could able relate to the genre.

Some undoubtedly hate it, seeing the plot lines as juvenile, irrational and unrealistic. But others are smitten. Young and old alike can easily regurgitate their favorite passages from classics penned by the likes of H.G. Wells, mimic Arnold Schwarzenegger lines from movies such as the Terminator and laughingly reminisce about the antics of Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future.

Whether they love or loath the concept of time travel, I have not yet come across a single person who believes such stories should be regulated. We are familiar enough with the subject to determine the level of realism for ourselves. No outside guidance is required.

Of course, this wasn’t always the case. Science fiction has trod a rocky road in the past. A 1938 adaption of War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells drew widespread consternation when it was broadcast on American radio.

First published in 1898, the story was already well-known as a piece of science fiction literature when Columbia Broadcasting Systems (CBS) decided to adapt it for radio. But the innovative narration of CBS’s Martian invasion changed everything. Instead of simply reading the text as a story, the station dramatized it as a real-life, real-time event. The program’s use of simulated news bulletins to relay the dramatic plot twists fooled many into believing aliens had actually landed.

The level of panic that followed is open to debate, but genuine public alarm and calls for censure following the show were considerable. The reality of a second world war was on the horizon, and talk of invasion by any type of foreign force was likely to spark hysteria, especially when presented as a breaking news story.

Despite a public outcry, CBS Radio escaped serious punishment for broadcasting the program. Rather, it was deemed to have acted responsibly by regularly announcing the event was a drama, not a real life crisis. As a forerunner to the blockbuster movies of today, the show was required to reveal its true nature to an audience unfamiliar with the subtlety of sci-fi programming.

Times have changed. Western rules on classifications and censorship have all but faded away, and sci-fi has been allowed to flourish. So, why the outcry in China now?

It comes down to the individual perceptions of reality.

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