Does the name Mark Hamill ring any bells? Maybe not. What about the name Luke Skywalker? Ah yes, that one might sound a little more familiar. Luke was the hero of that famous science fiction trilogy from the late ’70s and ’80s—“Star Wars,” was it? The hero was played by Mark Hamill, whose name, despite being the star of a film series that has garnered over $1.7 billion, remains somewhat obscure, even around here at Columbia.
This lack of name recognition, however, is merely a symptom of a much larger issue here on campus—the lack of appreciation for science fiction films, comic books, and related subject matter. And there is much to be appreciated in the science fiction genre. The genre has come to define generations of people who grew up listening to Master Yoda tell Luke not to try, but to do, or even hearing Capt. Jean-Luc Picard argue the meaning of being “alive” on an episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” While not infallible, science fiction provides a distinct perspective on morality, ethics and intellectual growth—staples of a Columbian education. The lack of appreciation on campus, however, can be observed on a wide scale across the student organizations on campus. It’s very easy—and often annoying—to walk around campus and see the multitudes of advertisements for so many clubs on the walls of our buildings. How many countless posters are needed to advertise political groups or international relations clubs or even preprofessional groups? Certainly not the same number of posters needed to advertise clubs devoted to the science fiction genre or its related fields—unless we count that one poster I saw last night heading into JJ’s Place advertising an upcoming StarCraft club. In fact, upon close inspection of the list of student organizations on the Columbia website, I could only find one with the specific intent of enjoying and promoting not only the science fiction genre, but also fiction, films, and books. There was another one that focused more on Japanese animation, some of which is science fiction and fantasy. That is two groups in the “special interest” category out of nearly 500 groups on campus. Assuming 500 as a base, that is less than 1 percent of the entire body of student organizations. An interest level of less than 1 percent for science fiction is ghastly, if not embarrassing.
What’s even more surprising is the fact that New York City is host to the biggest pop culture event on the East Coast: NYCC, or New York Comic Con. NYCC is an event that in 2010 gathered roughly 96,000 people and was named the second largest event in New York City. With such a huge opportunity happening on 34th Street in Midtown, why isn’t there a bigger commotion around campus? Possibly because the commotion is caused by only less than 1 percent of the student organizations. NYCC is arguably the Super Bowl of science fiction, comic books, popular culture, video games, and films, and it takes place a subway ride from Columbia’s campus. Perhaps the biggest part of NYCC, however, is its invitees, who this year range from Kevin Smith and Stephen Lang to Rose McGowan—and of course, Mark Hamill.
Maybe the name sounds more familiar now—or maybe it doesn’t—but it certainly would after experiencing NYCC from Oct. 13 to Oct. 16. Or perhaps it would if there were more clubs on campus devoted to the beauty and intricacy of a science fiction genre that includes a multifaceted team of films, comics, video games, and pop culture. While dedication to this genre might not always entail a trip to NYCC, the genre merits a bigger representation and appreciation on campus. It is time to foment a larger science fiction following at Columbia, from Butler to Pupin, and raise that 1 percent “to infinity and beyond!”
The author is a first-year in Columbia College. He is a member of CIRCA.