Liberals and Libertarians at the Movies


IBD has an article that asks the question "why are so many sci-fi films left-wing?" and goes on to look at a number of science fiction movies and TV shows with a lefty bent:

Hollywood films tend to be liberal, sure. But science fiction in particular lends itself to utopian visions that the world's problems can be solved once and for all. It's the future, it's fantasy. And the left is more apt to believe human nature itself can be improved and perfected. "Star Trek" is a prime example. More on that below.

Likewise, dystopian sci-fi films often involve an all-powerful corporation or an environmental disaster (frequently caused by an evil corporation). "Blade Runner", the "Resident Evil" films, "The Day After Tomorrow", "Johnny Mnemonic" and "Wall-E" all share some of these characteristics.

Science fiction movies, as opposed to novels, must explain their futuristic worlds ASAP so they can move on to the plot. In this context, socialism is very efficient: It takes hardly any time to simply assume that all decisions, political and economic, are in the hands of a unified government. When sci-fi films try to be complex, it can come off as simplistic, confusing and boring.

My quick answer to that question is that it's probably a historical byproduct of the fact that a lot of the foundational voices in science fiction leaned left — think of Isaac Asimov and the hyper-regulated, centrally planned future he created for the robot books. When you factor in the liberal politics of the majority of creative types in Hollywood, it's not hard to see why science fiction has frequently been used to in service of left-wing ideas.

But it doesn't have to be. There's an obvious libertarian strain in science fiction too — most obviously in the work of one of Asimov's contemporaries, Robert Heinlein, but also in high-school lit standards like Brave New World and 1984. And from time to time, Hollywood has picked up on that strain too. While I hesitate to label anything "libertarian sci-fi," there are certainly a number of science fiction movies and TV shows that deal in ideas that appeal to many libertarians. The article mentions Firefly as an exception, but there are others, too. Here's my short list:

Ghostbusters: Slightly nutty small businessmen calling themselves "The Ghostbusters" put together an innovative service ridding homes and businesses of troublesome ghosts. Smarmy, overzealous environmental regulator shuts them down, causing city-wide disaster. After making their case to the mayor, The Ghostbusters are allowed to resume business, and they save the city.

Brazil: Arguably a better adaptation of Orwell's 1984 than the actual adaptation of 1984 (at least in spirit), this brilliant, bleak satire is probably cinema's greatest depiction of an individual struggling against the inscrutable machinations of the state.

The Prisoner: Trapped in hidden, nonsense-filled community where every individual is assigned a number, Patrick McGoohan fights against state-mandated conformity while trying to escape from a giant white security blob.

Fight Club: Not exactly sci-fi, but definitely dystopian, it's a movie that many see as having a strong anti-corporate bent. But it's also a movie about the seductions and dangers of radical groupthink — and one in which the protagonist "wins" by taking personal responsibility for his actions.

Dark City: In a secretive society of psychic aliens manipulates time and identity in a mysterious city where it's always night, one individual struggles to reclaim his agency and identity.

I'm sure there are others. What am I missing?

More from Reason on movies here.