The Threat of Cannibalism and Wakanda’s Place in the World

This is the newest post in our third week of our roundtable on science fiction and imperial history, co-edited by Marc-William Palen and Rachel Herrmann. You can read our call for posts here, and the other posts in the series here, here, here, here, and here. Posts will run twice a week until the second week in July. We look forward to hearing your thoughts!

Rachel B. Herrmann
Cardiff University

At a crucial point in the 2018 Marvel blockbuster Black Panther, geopolitical relationships are in flux. (Warning: spoilers) Erik Killmonger, the film’s main antagonist, has defeated King T’Challa (Black Panther). Left for dead, he is secretly taken to the Jabari stronghold in the mountains. T’Challa’s mother Ramonda, Queen Mother of Wakanda, his sister Shuri, Nakia, T’Challa’s ex and War Dog, and Everett Ross, a white CIA operative, have fled from Killmonger’s oppressive new reign and seek aid from M’Baku, leader of the Jabari. Once there, Ross attempts to speak to M’Baku to inquire about next steps. He is immediately silenced as the Jabari start barking at him. “You cannot talk,” says M’baku. “One more word and I’ll feed you to my children.” There is a tense silence, before M’baku breaks out laughing. “I am kidding; we are vegetarians.”[1]

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The threat of cannibalism works here on three levels in this Afrofuturist movie that blurs the line between the genres of science fiction and superhero films.[2]

First, it ensures Ross’s silence. Later in the scene, a revived T’Challa will ask M’Baku for the support of his army, which M’Baku refuses. This opening meeting, then, is a diplomatic negotiation between two men, one of whom once headed a four-alliance pact and the leader of the fifth tribe that refused to enter that alliance (and who later challenged T’Challa’s right to rule). Ross represents the white colonizer, whose intervention is inappropriate and irrelevant.

Second and relatedly, this scene works to reminder viewers that the character of T’Challa was imagined by white artists Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; as Sheena Howard argues, “white people created this character . . . gatekeeping our Black imagination and negotiating our sense of escapism from the real world.”[3] The moment suggests that behind the Black Panther cannon is a long history that has been mediated by white writers and artists for white consumers.

Third and most important here, the threat of cannibalism invokes the history of slavery and imperialism that undergird the history and rationale for Wakanda’s place as an isolationist country in the era during and after the transatlantic slave trade. Continue reading “The Threat of Cannibalism and Wakanda’s Place in the World”

“Going Native” with Dune’s Paul Atreides

This is the newest post kicking off the third week of our roundtable on science fiction and imperial history, co-edited by Marc-William Palen and Rachel Herrmann. You can read our call for posts here, and the other posts in the series here, here, here, and here. Posts will run twice a week until the second week in July. We look forward to hearing your thoughts!

Toby Harper
Arizona State University

During the day in the mid-2000s I took classes in imperial history. On Friday and Saturday nights I descended to the basement of the student center at the University of Auckland to take part in an intense, desperate, and sometimes violent feud with five friends over control of the planet of Arrakis through Avalon Hill’s legendary strategy board game, Dune.

The board game was released in 1979, the same year as Edward Said’s Orientalism. These sessions extended long into the night (the game can take ten hours to complete) and both tested and forged friendships as we schemed with, tricked, and betrayed each other. At the time, I didn’t consider any connection between my history classes (or even discussions about Said with the same friends) and these nocturnal contests. In hindsight, though, the source material for the game, Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel, Dune, built on nineteenth- and twentieth-century imperial fantasies of knowledge, control, and power.[1]

On the surface, the novel Dune fulfills a popular imperialist fantasy by granting its main character mastery over native “others” whose superstition and history makes them comprehensible and exploitable. However, it is also a book of schemes, assassination, betrayal, hidden motives, and unexpected consequences. Like the novel’s main antagonists, this fantasy ends stabbed and poisoned on the floor of a broken palace. In certain ways, Herbert’s embrace and subversion of orientalist tropes around knowledge even anticipated modern critiques of empire. Continue reading ““Going Native” with Dune’s Paul Atreides”

Talk by Markus Geisser, International Committee of the Red Cross

AHRC Care for the Future, in partnership with the University of Exeter, invite you to join us for an evening with Markus Geisser, Senior Humanitarian Policy Advisor at the International Committee of the Red Cross. Markus will be talking about his work with the International Committee of the Red Cross – a career that has seen him travel the globe and influence the development of humanitarian aid policy. There will be an opportunity at the end of Markus’ talk to ask questions. This will be followed by a wine reception with nibbles. All are welcome to attend.

 

When: Monday 9 July 2018, 17:45 – 19:55 BST

Where: Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery, Queen Street, Exeter, EX4 3RX

 

****Please register your attendance****

 

Doors at 17:45 for a 18:00 start.
Please use the garden entrance at RAMM for Gallery 20.

REGISTRATION: Eventbrite

Continue reading “Talk by Markus Geisser, International Committee of the Red Cross”

Star Trek’s United Federation of Planets: a far-future League of Nations?

This post is the third in a roundtable co-edited by Marc-William Palen and Rachel Herrmann on science fiction and imperial history. You can read our call for posts here, and the other posts in the series here, here, and here. Posts will run twice a week until the second week in July. We look forward to hearing your thoughts!

Ahmed R. Memon
University of Kent

Star trek Discovery—the new instalment to the Star Trek universe—only confirms what enthusiasts of the series have long said: that it is a science fiction show with unmistakable allusions to an international vision of a peaceful, cooperative world reflecting the liberal internationalism of the post-Second-World-War global legal order.[1]

The Charter of the United Federation of Planets is in fact based on the international vision of global order entrenched in the United Nations charter.[2] The text of the Federation’s charter was merely a rewording of the United Nations, wherein Earth-centric terms such as “people,” “human,” and “international community” have been replaced by inclusive and expansive “life forms,” “planetary communities,” and “sentient beings.” The main body of the text in the Federation charter even reproduces important phrases from the United Nations charter such as “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war,” “promote cooperation, maintain peace and security” based on values of “universal peace, liberty and equal rights,” “obligation to treaties,” and the “social progress and better standards to life.”

Yet despite these obvious allusions to the United Nations, the imperial history of the League of Nations is an even more apt historical parallel to Star Trek’s United Federation of Planets (the Federation). In understanding the ideological discourses of the League of Nations, we can thus see how the Federation is a far-future model of early-twentieth-century imperial internationalism. Continue reading “Star Trek’s United Federation of Planets: a far-future League of Nations?”

Deadlier than the male: The imperial designs of Le Guin, McCaffrey, and May

Ursula K. Le Guin (left, illustration by Essy May), Anne McCaffrey (middle, illustration by Linda Eicher), Julian May (right).

This post is the third in a roundtable co-edited by Marc-William Palen and Rachel Herrmann on science fiction and imperial history. You can read our call for posts here, and the other posts in the series here and here. Posts will run twice a week until the second week in July. We look forward to hearing your thoughts!

Tris Kerslake
Central Queensland University

For as long as the concept has existed, the struggle for empire has been seen as the most masculine of endeavours; strategic conflict, war and bloodshed on an industrial scale was not, apparently, for the ladies.

Of course, this attitude originated in the patriarchal headspace that considered women to be most useful as producers and nurturers of the next generation of soldiers, rather than as soldiers in their own right.

This mindset has never really been shaken off and wanders on even today in the realm of science fiction (SF), despite the best efforts of Black Widow in the latest DC marvel escapade (Infinity War, 2018). Publishers routinely advise women SF/Fantasy authors such as K. A. Stewart (Second Olympus, 2015), Rob Thurman (Everwar, 2016), and K. J. Taylor (The Last Guard, 2016) to avoid adopting a feminine authorial name as male readers tend not to read female writers of SF.

This is a shame for several reasons, not least of which being that any male readers who think this way are missing out on some of the best pulse-thumping action involving the violent ending of worlds, the annihilation of aggressive alien species and the unleashing of unspeakable doomsday weapons.

Imperialism flourishes in all its forms in SF and the spread of empire has formed the crux of stories written by the most respected names in the SF genre, not all of them men. To illustrate this point, I shall examine, in brief, a unique imperial concept from each of three past and much-lauded SF authors, all of whom shared the XX chromosome: Ursula K. Le Guin (1929-2018), Anne McCaffrey (1926-2011), and Julian May (1931-2017). Continue reading “Deadlier than the male: The imperial designs of Le Guin, McCaffrey, and May”

Is Theresa May the Next Harold Wilson?

Harold Wilson campaigned for a Yes vote in 1975, despite achieving office on a Eurosceptic manifesto the year before.

Josh Hockley-Still
University of Exeter

The Windrush scandal and the subsequent resignation of yet another Cabinet Minister, Amber Rudd, means that Theresa May’s continued occupancy of No. 10 Downing Street appears ever more insecure. Her political obituary has already been written on multiple occasions, and yet she continues to survive.

Has there ever been a British Prime Minister who has displayed such resilience when their odds of political survival looked so bleak?

Yes. His name is Harold Wilson.

These days Wilson is more commonly compared to David Cameron, as in 2016 when Cameron attempted without success to follow Wilson’s playbook on how to win a European referendum. However, in political style and temperament Wilson has far more in common with May than Cameron.

So what are the similarities between Wilson and May, and what does this mean for British politics? Continue reading “Is Theresa May the Next Harold Wilson?”

This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Europeans such as the Spanish explorers shown here brought germs, as well as slavery, to the Americas. Photograph: Rex

Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @MWPalen

From what happens when a bad-tempered, distractable doofus runs an empire to how our colonial past altered the ecobalance of an entire planet, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history. Continue reading “This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History”