Remember in Jurassic Park, when Jeff Goldblum explained chaos theory while trying to seduce Laura Dern in the back seat of a Ford Explorer? As a kid, this was the first time in my life I realized that adults flirted with each other, and the awkward shock of it has stuck with me ever since.
Think back to the last time you saw the movie: Goldblum leaned in, tugged gently on Laura’s hair, and deposited droplets of water onto the back of her hand. Then he rubbed the skin between her thumb and pointer finger sensually while staring into her eyes. Even worse, in a low voice, Goldblum negged her that any imperfections in her skin were only “microscopic.” To further clarify the bold strangeness of this act, our clueless hero Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neil) sat less than a foot away―staring out the window at a dinosaur.
I’m basically Dr. Grant here, and I’ve only recently come to terms with the fact that I write in the genre of Jeff Goldblum. Because even if I never really noticed sex in science-fiction growing up, it was always there―from Metropolis all the way to Ex Machina. And sometimes, it’s the only way the writers felt comfortable selling the science that made the story possible.
Perhaps this is too obvious; you’ve already lost interest. You can think of a dozen different examples of how sci-fi uses sex to move/explain the more technical aspects of the plot (Brave New World, 1984, Hyperion). Well, for those that are still with me, I’d like to present Jeff Goldblum example number two:
In The Fly (1986), Goldblum woos Geena Davis back to his apartment with promises of a professional-grade cappuccino maker and an idea that will change the world. Then, while walking the audience through the idea of the telepod, the scene is interspersed with a sexual tension that culminates in Davis sensuously stripping a single nylon stocking as the first item to be teleported. While Goldblum’s hopes of getting laid are dashed by the presence of her tape recorder, his success in the sack remains a key driver of the movie’s plot.
This formula of [ flirt + explain = scientific plot development] is so popular that sometimes authors can’t help but feel like it takes over the entire story.
Stanislaw Lem once commented, regarding the over-sexualization of the filmed versions of Solaris, “that is why the book is called Solaris, and not Love in Outer-Space.” His book, which is mostly about the unknowability of a conscious planet, was co-opted to become a story about love and loss, with a healthy dose of space station shags.
This strikes at the heart of the grand debate between the Goldblum’s and the Grants. While the Goldblums are constantly sexualizing the experience, the Grants are staring out the windows at the dinosaurs. I can’t help but think that most of us here are a bit more Grant-ish. We’re the type of people that, when being seduced by a Cylon in Battlestar Galactica, would be prone to ask, “But wait, why is your spine glowing?”
Let’s just admit that we didn’t get laid in high school and call it good.
For a long time growing up, I loathed these scenes. They were a frivolous invasion into a sacred territory: the battleground of ideas. Science-Fiction was about how any invention or advancement, be it human or alien, could twist and alter humanity in a myriad of unforeseeable ways. Sci-fi was more than all those soap operas with spaceships; it was an exploration into brave new worlds.
After all, to quote Aldous Huxley: “An intellectual is a person who has found something more interesting than sex.”
Later, I came to realize that this marriage of sex and science had basically always been there (even quite prominently in Brave New World). In Metropolis, 1927, the gynoid enters the world not as a pure concept, but as a stripper at a giant nightclub. In Star Trek, hardly an episode goes by without a doe-eyed, bikini-clad alien girl explaining the terrible situation to Captain Kirk. In Hyperion, Kassad’s sex scenes with Moneta are a symbol of his love of violence and war. Even the Voight-Kampff test in Blade Runner is blended with this coquettish badinage:
Deckard: “You’re reading a magazine, you come across a full-page nude photo of a girl…”
Rachael (cigarette held elegantly): “Is this testing whether I’m a replicant or a lesbian?”
Yeah, they totally bang.
A big part of science-fiction is asking the question of what makes us human, and you really can’t fully tackle that question without including some sex scenes, even uncomfortable, awkward ones that push your personal boundaries. In fact, even for a non-sexual person or character, sex still imposes as one of the most defining features of their life (hence, asexual, a term as unfair as an atheist in terms of entrapping the labeled).
Just like a third grader gets grossed out by a kissing scene, there was a big part of me that was exasperated for longer than most people by the constant injection of sex into science fiction. If I’m being honest, books were usually where I went to escape this aspect of life. It was only after I realized that this was a natural, honest an necessary part of the genre that I realized that for most of us, it’s a pretty natural, honest and necessary part of life.
Even if we can’t all quite measure up to Jeff Goldblum.