Analyzing the classism of sci-fi protagonists

Originally published at: Analyzing the classism of sci-fi protagonists | Boing Boing


Regardless the gender, I am always attracted to the “poor shlub” that gets accidentally drawn into the sci-fi melee despite their bombastic protestations.


PKD was noted for among other things, his use of working-class characters. When he was actively writing and publishing, this was seen as really unusual in the sf world.


I can’t say these results are unexpected. Fiction writing is a profession dominated by members of the college-credentialed upper middle class and middle class, who have the leisure time and flexibility to create. They’re going to write what they know, which means we’re going to see protagonists who aren’t constantly worried about whether or not they’ll be able to pay their monthly bills (mortgage on the starship [read: home] excepted) and who have the leisure time and flexibility to go out on adventures.

As for wealthy people, perhaps they’re too busy living in the future to write about it.


I can’t access the essay from work but I’m interested to see if it discusses the intersection with another major axis for protagonists that of criminals ← → law enforcement. A really high amount of sci-fi protagonists seem to fall in what might be considered a criminal category although given the level of dystopia you are dealing with being a criminal can mean almost anything, possibly even just being poor.


I was thinking the same thing. Also what’s the percentage/ratio of novel protagonists that happen to be authors compared to the percentage/ratio of authors to the general public?


This is obviously a real problem but I wonder if it’s especially pronounced in sci-fi or if it’s roughly the same for most protagonists throughout fiction.

Certainly in sitcoms, for example, most protagonists on popular shows seem solidly middle or upper-middle class. Even the ones who supposedly have regular jobs like coffee baristas seem to have no problem somehow affording a nice big home in major cities like LA, SF or NY.

I almost pine for the days of shows like The Honeymooners where pretty much the entire show took place in a single room of a very non-glamorous apartment, and stress from money problems was a constant presence that caused significant strain on the protagonists’ marriage. (But I could do without making light of threats of domestic violence.)


I mean, it is the future. Like in Star Trek, wouldn’t everyone be considered “wealthy” or “upper middle class” because there is no more scarcity and everyone has what they need to live?


superheros come to mind. for every peter parker, there seem like 20 richest men.

it seems to depend on the planet. even within the federation there are poor mining colonies. then there’s klingons who still seem in feudal mode, or bajor with farmers struggling to get access to technology, …

but yeah, earth and vulcan ( the non destroyed one ) seem almost without class. and no one on the enterprise ever talks about struggles with food or money as a kid


I like how in Star Trek: Lower Decks the lower-level crew has to sleep in beds along open hallways and have inferior food options available on their replicators.


Kenan Thompson Reaction GIF by Saturday Night Live

And that’s what made shows like Roseanne really stand out, as they were working class (at least in the first few seasons). Money troubles were a constant theme in that show.

If you stick with the Federation, then it’s post-scarcity. And despite being a very feudal society, i don’t know if anyone wants on Qo’noS, either. Or the Romulan homeworld. There is some want on Bajor, but primarily because of the occupation.


That’s what they claimed, but somehow they still had a pretty huge house:

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The utopian vision of a post-scarcity future is only one sub-genre of sci-fi. There are countless examples of futuristic sci-fi settings where scarcity and the wealth gap is even more pronounced than in our time, from Blade Runner to Soylent Green to The Hunger Games.


yeah, but look at their ceiling. no one who had the money to choose, would choose to live there :cat:


Yeah, because that’s sure as hell what I want to read about. :roll_eyes:


I guess the biggest drawback is the lack of a fourth wall. But that’s a problem they share with even the wealthiest sitcom protagonists.

But it’s not just the house (although that’s a big part of it.) even supposedly “poor,” “working class” sitcom protagonists seem to have enough spare time and money to do things like throw very elaborate Halloween parties every year, with professional-grade costumes. This is a far cry from the life that Ralph Kramden led.


Not much bigger than the house we rented when I was a kid, which was very large, and very poorly made (as it used to be housing for workers at the local mill). Cheap housing was much easier to find and buying a house was much easier to do even in the 80s and 90s than it is now. Note that the daughters shared a room, and that we don’t get a sense of how they bought the house. Like my family, did they luck out and get a cheap house because a friend of the family died? That’s how we ended up with the house we finally bought in the 1990s when I was in HS. Did they get a down payment from family members?

As someone who grew up working class, their circumstances very much rang true for me.

And, BTW, the NYC apartment that the honeymooners had would be a $3000 tiny apartment in Brooklyn today, wouldn’t it?


The outside is pretty average for a family of five (or was it more?) in the Midwest USA. It’s not exactly a prime neighborhood, although not “dangerous”, and the house isn’t new construction or trendy. The inside sets, of course, are what was needed for filming.

That said, yeah, available resources for a given class level on TV may not reflect reality in the same way that actual high school students are much younger than the actors that portray them.


It was five.


True, there are lots of dystopian sci-fi out there. And the examples you all listed you had working class/poor people unearthing the schemes of the elites.

I should have finished my thought better. Wouldn’t the class of the protagonist affected by the world the story takes place in. A dystopian future where most people are poor would lead to poor protagonist. A shining “silver towers in the sky” type world would lead to a wealthier protagonist. So when you look at the setting of sci-fi stories, do more of them take place in a future where people are generally more well off?