Celluloid Scientists: Futures Visualised

  • Roslynn D. Haynes


Roland Barthes maintained that all human creations are, in a sense, media, since they are encoded with latent messages. In this chapter I want to consider the latent messages about society’s attitudes to scientists that are encoded in the particular creative medium of film and to suggest some of the cultural background for these projections. Film-makers in several genres frequently draw on contemporary scientific discoveries or, more exactly, on popular beliefs about the interface between the technologically known and a hypothesised future knowledge; but even documentary films are never innocent of ideological, political and social overtones. In particular, they are social texts in which sub-rational hopes and fears of change, whether Utopian or dystopian, of progress, of powerful factions and of the unknown, are visualised, explored and dealt with in a cathartic way. These ‘landscapes of fear’, to use Yi-Fu Tuan’s evocative phrase, incorporate both the universal terrors that have been a cumulative part of our cultural myths over centuries, and the particular contemporary anxieties elicited by the half-formulated realisation that technological triumphs inevitably bring socio-moral consequences in their wake.


Marie Curie Alien Invasion Female Scientist Star Trek Latent Message 
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2000

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  • Roslynn D. Haynes

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