I’m going to tackle some stereotypes present in modern fiction that I think are dangerous when used irresponsibly. Any entries part of this series will be labeled as “Dangerous Stereotypes.” The next entry on this topic is about the Bad Boys stereotype, which can be read here.
There is a nasty and detrimental stereotype in fiction: the depiction of scientists.
In most instances, scientists are portrayed as too smart for their own good, too naive for their own good, or outright diabolical. The threat in the story often arises from the hubris of scientists messing with something they either don’t fully understand or think they can control. In such cases they are often called “mad” or “obsessed,” driven to complete their work, no matter the cost to themselves or to others.
Or, if the scientists aren’t deliberately malicious, they end up being naive to the extreme, not understanding how their research or experiments could be used to malicious ends. Even if the scientist realizes his mistake (for they are almost always male), he tends to keep going “in the name of science” or is totally ineffectual at stopping the misuse of his work. And if the scientist himself is absent from the story, the technology he created, often a robot with artificial intelligence, remains a danger, such as Superman’s foe Brainiac or HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The examples of the evil/mad scientist stereotype are myriad: Hojo from the video game Final Fantasy VII. Rotwang from the movie Metropolis. Victor Frankenstein, creator of the quintessential monster in Mary Shelley’s masterpiece. Almost any antagonist in superhero comics. Pick a 1940s or 1950s horror or science fiction film and you’ll find that the monster or threat is, more often than not, the result of science gone wrong.
Even real people, including teens and children, who are not certified scientists, but who have an interest in that direction are often stereotyped as strange, anti-social, unattractive, and ultimately dangerous individuals. They are often marginalized or bullied until, in a fit of childish pique (or well-planned retribution), they fight back the only way they know how: with science and technology. And in the end it’s up to the handsome, charming, muscle-bound male hero to save the day by blowing things up. Seems like a bit of a cheap shot to me. But why haven’t we moved beyond this rather lazy piece of character creation?