PRINT November 1990


the Potlatch Principle

THE U.S. [IS] BECOMING the greatest dispenser of science-fiction entertainments,” remarks a character in Saul Bellow’s 1970 bestseller, Mr. Sammler’s Planet. The speaker, who is a physicist, is specifically thinking of the Apollo moon mission, not sci-fi per se. Still, conversant as we are with the realm of the spectacular, why be literal in our notions of “science fiction” or “entertainment”?

The most other-directed of world powers, America has played to the grandstand at least since the end of World War II. It’s not just the space race and the missile race that were staged for an audience. Hiroshima/Nagasaki and the Vietnam War were the most drastic science-fiction extravaganzas ever devised, weakly echoed by the disaster movies of the early ’70s. So, too, the Reaganmania of the mid ’80s captivated much of the world—our national borrowing binge lit the skies with a display as incandescent,

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