Humanity reserves a special reverence for the act of creation. Most oral or written religious traditions start with a creation myth to explain how the world and humankind came to be. These origin stories provide some of the earliest examples of human creativity at work. It suggests that self-awareness, the need to explain our own existence, was itself the spark that ignited human imagination.
That human imagination has spun into hyperdrive ever since, and with the advent of science, a new creative mode emerged. We don’t call it a myth, but we do call it fiction: science fiction. The stories of science fiction concern themselves less with how humanity came to be, and more with what happens to our humanity after it adopts the role of creator for itself. They explore the potential of human invention, and its unintended consequences. In the first regard, science fiction predicted submarines, video phones, and space ships, long before actual science created them.
In the second regard, science fiction, like some religion, ultimately envisions a doom and gloom scenario. Dystopian sci-fi invokes all the conceivable ways our technological advancements might turn around to bite us in the ass. It could be anything from robots to cloned dinosaurs, to super-intelligent apes, toxic pollution, and reanimated corpses.
It’s not surprising that our speculative fiction would veer towards examining our inability to control our own creations. It echoes a common religious depiction of man's failure to abide by the rules of divinity, characterized as fallible human nature. In dystopian sci-fi, divinity has been replaced with the scientist, mad or otherwise, and it’s his or her creations that stand in unpredictable opposition to our best intentions. Usually just after the moment they’ve acquired self-awareness. That is, once they’ve eaten the proverbial apple.
But these dystopian tales don’t tend to cast the willfulness of human creations as fallible human nature. Humans possess a soul, the spark of divinity, endowed by a creator as it were. We don’t credit our science fiction inventions with a soul, because we don’t imagine the scientist as having the power to endow one. And so we cast them as monsters, their nature lacking in empathy, reason, or creativity of its own.
But if these monsters used their emerging self-awareness to engage in the act of creation themselves, would we be forced to see them, or ourselves, differently? If a monster could create a myth, or a fiction, or even just adore music. If a monster could, say, tapdance, would we any longer see it as a bastardized abuse of creation? Would we chalk it up as a funny gag, or would that monster prove itself through artistic expression, as in possession of a manufactured soul?
Ask comic filmmaker Mel Brooks, or check out the musical adaptation of his Young Frankenstein, playing at the Horton Grand Theatre til October 28.