Janelle Monáe and Science Fiction: Metropolis, Freedom, and the Other

I like finding science fiction in odd places.   Janelle Monáe is a genius.  Think if the Archies had been a ska band with a funk lead singer.  But she’s more than that.  She’s also a brilliant storyteller.  Her “Many Moons” reimagines the beginnings of science fiction cinema, Metropolis.  She gives the silent film Metropolis the soundtrack it needed.  For Janelle, Metropolis is about many androids now…and there are comments on slave auctions, blaxploitation, and the lack of freedom–for anyone.  For women, for minorities, for humans in a world overcome by technology.  There is no fear of androids in “Many Moons”—but even I would think that at the corners of the movie Monae makes, there is jealousy at the perfection of the androids, and even a bit of jealousy when Cindy Mayweather erupts in a spasm of freedom, or is it a spasm of realization that she is not free…. all I know is that she breaks loose and begins to dance, dance so high, that she short circuits.  But the crowd is in ecstasy with her.

Monae has certainly looked here at humanity as commodity.  She’s done it with brass.  And artistry.  She’s even mixed in a bit of Sesame Street.

I like finding science fiction in odd places.  And this small film is beautiful.    It’s got solid worldbuilding where she’s imagined, in one scene, the state of society.  The characters all have the hint of well-developed backstories; they have desires, weaknesses, past confrontations.  Cindy Mayweather grows as an android/character.  Her growth, perhaps, comes from her realizations–of the names that keep her as Other.  The names are not androidish—they are names leveled at minorities.  Check out the Cybernetic Chantdown after the break.

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Rocket Men: “Lonely” Astronauts in Popular Music

Hey, The American Astronaut, a film-noir musical about a steampunk astronaut, isn’t the most widely known astronaut in music. I got to feeling nostalgic about Major Tom and other Musical Odes to Astronauts and found a few that I thought you might enjoy.

Most of these songs characterize the astronaut as lonely and eventually disconnected–disconnected from family as he leaves, disconnected from Earth, and in a few of the songs, disconnected from the spaceship as well, as he floats out into the nothing of space. Bowie’s song was in 1969, timed to coincide with the first moon landing; Elton John’s in 1972 and Peter Schilling’s in 1983. I add Duran Duran’s Astronaut as a contrast–he’s “leaving with an astronaut” which makes the song much more about coupling than de-coupling. And then, the opening to “Enterprise”–“Faith of the Heart” that celebrates astronauts as parts of teams.

I think the lonely/together idea is interesting when you talk about astronauts. Are we starting to see astronauts not as those who leave community, but those who are creating community? The first three songs are about leaving, about separating, and about not trusting Ground Control and where they might be sending humans. The other two, perhaps, are seeing the adventurous side of being an astronaut again, certainly about being part of a larger community which connects all the aviation pioneers in a long line of exploration and pushing out into space–which according to Star Trek– is densely populated.

Welcome, “lonely” astronaut!

Below: David Bowie “Space Oddity”; Elton John, “Rocket Man”; Peter Schilling “Major Tom”; Duran Duran “Astronaut” and Russell Watson’s “Faith of the Heart,” the opening to the TV series “Enterprise.”

For more on the story of Major Tom and the first three songs, try this link to the Straight Dope on Was there really a Major Tom?