Friday, December 2, 2011

Seeing Through Science Fiction Eyes

Chances are most of you have seen Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980), the biopic in which Sissy Spacek played country music legend Loretta Lynn. Country music is an enduring part of American culture, and yet both the music and the movie would seem to have as little to do with my favorite reading, science fiction, as anything possibly could. And yet there is a peculiar resonance for me in an early scene from the movie, because I see it through science fiction eyes.

It’s 1947, when Loretta is only 13 years old; she will soon marry “Mooney” Lynn. But here she is at home with her family, and as they listen to Grand Ol’ Opry on the radio, her mother does a clog dance:

Here’s the thing. We go into the movie knowing the future of that 13-year old girl. In those days, country music was much more a regional thing than it would later become. Chances are that most people outside the South hadn’t even heard of Grand Ol’ Opry, although they might be familiar with singing “cowboys” like Gene Autry. Yet country music was nothing new; it had evolved for more than two centuries, and the clog dance – which originated in England and Wales and is said by Wikipedia to have assimilated elements of African and Cherokee dance, was the social dance of Appalachia as early as the 18th Century.

Science fiction deals with, among other things, cultural evolution. And in that one scene from Coal Miner’s Daughter, from the perspective of 1947, and through the eyes of science fiction, I feel a simultaneous consciousness of the past, present and future of the country music culture.

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