Whether you know it or not, or want to admit it, that little cinematic 1980s romp, Revenge Of The Nerds, has come all too true. Geek culture has risen to prominence, even dominance in our culture. Tech is our global kingdom—and the tech titans like Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates are the governing monarchs. The nerd or geek vibe surrounds us on every level imaginable. And it doesn’t stop at the office or in our pockets with our mobile devices. Science fiction is sort of the geek genre of choice, and now all those movies are springboarding courses at the university.
Each month, sci-fi films crowd the cineplex. They compete for space on streaming platforms. Sci-fi is now such a part of our social and pop culture landscape that it’s also a force to be reckoned with in high education. Pick a college—the Ivy League ones too—and you’ll probably find a course delving into the fun and finer points of science fiction. And don’t forget comic books. They may deal more in fantasy at times, but their sci-fi cred isn’t too shabby. And although there’s much sci-fi to choose from, the biggies like Star Trek, Star Wars, and the Marvel and DC super powered universe tend to go to the front of the registrar line.
Would you register for a college class if Captain Kirk was your professor, lecturing on the Prime Directive of Starfleet? What if Yoda, respected Jedi master and trainer, was guest speaker on a regular basis? How about ruthless Agent Smith and valiant Neo engaged in frequent mind games—leading up to a cyber confrontation in which your analysis—or even tech connected participation—earned you your grade for the semester? If you’re studying literature, the wondrous classics such as Frankenstein, War of The Worlds, or Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are familiar old school favorites, but now a new breed of sci-fi mythology invades the university curriculum. Jedi knights and superheroes trade blows and trade in fascinating philosophy and instruct college students on how these fictional groups and societies cope and prosper in their fictional environments.
Is sci-fi fodder only for paperback novels, Kindle downloads, comic books, video games, and big budget movies? We watch The Matrix, Star Wars, The Avengers, Star Trek, and so many other big sci-fi films up on the big screen and on our tablets and smartphones—should we leave them there? Is there room for serious sci-fi study and discussion in the classroom?
Do science fiction novelists, comic book creators, and Hollywood screenwriters have more influence in the college classroom than many other forms of literature? Classics such as Journey To The Center of The Earth, Facts In The Case Of M. Valdemar, and 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea are powerful stories—and all science fiction tales at their narrative core. But, let's make intellectual way for the new starships and cyber heroes on the block. New modern fables like Star Wars, Star Trek, Marvel and DC superheroes, and The Matrix are now being focused on in universities and used as part of the curriculum. Dr. Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyl have given way to new flights of fancy focusing on Captain Kirk, Superman, Wonder Woman, Neo, and Yoda.
Science and technology impact our modern lives—from digital cradle to cyber grave. The great classics of Western literature have been taught and discussed by academia in classrooms for centuries. One of the most powerful and popular remains the novel Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by the Scottish author, Robert Louis Stevenson.
The story is well known and favored for a shocking and compelling narrative. It’s been adapted for dozens of filmed incarnations for cinema and television. Perhaps in our age of the lighting fast digital app and vibe, it’s more powerful and timely than ever. We may not be downing a chemical potion—a noxious brew to release our inner demon to ravish the civility of society. However, we all drink from the potent concoction of technology. Has the tech, siren song transformed us? Like the good doctor in the novel, have we become addicted and forever chained to the Hyde like transformation? Granted, the tech transforming of our world can also be for the benefit of society, but the chains (mental though they may be) may nonetheless be present. Of course, that "Hyde potion" isn’t so quick to wear off when it’s digital streaming bits of wi-fi and the like.
Religions of Star Trek—Muhlenberg College
The crews manning the various starships on Star Trek encounter all sorts of aliens throughout the galaxy—but what if, in their incredible travels, they actually met the creator of the cosmos? Or, as the case may be, the creators? Chariots of The Gods?
Dr. Susan Schwartz teaches her course, Religions of Star Trek, at Muhlenberg College—so to enable her students to study Earth’s own theology. Just as in that great literary construct, Gulliver’s Travels, cloaking the religious tenets from human belief systems with aliens from Trek allows students to be more welcoming or analytic when discussing them. Plus, as in any good course, the fun factor surrounding the academic exploration exists in spades. Live Long and Prosper!
Myth and Science Fiction—Centre College
Centre College in Danville, Kentucky is a small, liberal arts college where you can enter The Matrix or hang out with Jedi Knights.
The myth of old meets the new mythology of Hollywood as the students enrolled in this course are encouraged to study classic myths such as The Iliad or The Egyptian Book of The Dead. In examining the classics, the student finds that much of the same core stories and plots are alive in the big popcorn blockbusters like Star Wars or The Matrix or hit TV shows such as The X-Files, Doctor Who, and Babylon 5.
Science from Superheroes to Global Warming—University of California, Irvine
Are you the ever curious comic book fan? Are you always wondering just how a man can fly or crawl up a wall? Superman and Spider-Man fans will find much to like by attending this course, taught by Professor Michael Dennin.
By exploring the scientific details of just how Peter Parker spins his web or manages to sprint across the Empire State Building in no time at all, students can appreciate more of how real science works and gain more respect for the scientific method. As for Superman, well all loyal fans know that Kal-El hails from Krypton—and all they need is our yellow sun. Yep, it’s that easy. Solar energy is remarkable!
Train the Jedi Way — Queen’s University Belfast
Use The Force, Luke and ace your midterm!
Since this is a one day only course, there actually won’t be a midterm, but you can still ace a good grade by getting into the spirit of the Jedi study. Topics of course focus include: balance, destiny, fatherhood and fascism. Taught my Jedi master, Allen Baird, the Yoda disciple wanted to encourage younger people to open themselves up to learning in general - not just Star Wars and its wide ranging, sci-fi mythology.
Daryl Frazetti Teaches The Anthropology of Star Trek
Astronomy, physics, biology, meteorology, and geology are all handy disciplines used throughout the Star Trek universe for exploration and discovery. However, perhaps the most useful and illuminating real life discipline to make Gene Roddenberry’s epic more accessible is the studying of anthropology.
Frazetti is the author of Anthropology of Star Trek: Exploring Core Cultural Concepts. From the author’s Amazon Page:
Explore the world of cultural anthropology through the lens of Star Trek. Star Trek acts as both cultural mirror and cultural teacher through its role as contemporary mythos. Chapters range from exploring the Prime Directive to Languages, Economics, and Political Ideologies. Get to know the rich diversity of the fandom culture that has persevered for the past 50 years, and why it is indeed a valid cultural entity.
Daryl G. Frazetti is an anthropologist and independent researcher studying fandom cultures and the cultural themes and mythos of science fiction and comics. He has been involved in such research since 2006 and is a regular speaker at comic and science fiction conventions and schools.