“The Martian” is superficially about space travel, but it is really about time travel. The plot may focus on characters leaving Earth to explore the red planet, but the strange world the movie depicts is really our own world just over 50 years ago. The can-do, optimistic liberalism it depicts is utterly alien to today’s sobby, whiny, excuse-laden version.
“The Martian” is about an exploration team forced to make a sudden emergency departure from Mars, resulting in inadvertently leaving behind astronaut Mike Watney (well-played by Matt Damon with notes of Richard Dreyfuss and Dennis Quaid). He quickly assesses the situation, inventories his resources and, without pausing for self-pity, begins to use all his scientific skills to figure out how to survive. Back on Earth, NASA figures out he’s still alive, and a large team of vivid characters starts working to solve the problem of how to rescue him before his food runs out.
In form, this is less a science-fiction film than a science procedural. The movie presents the characters with a constant series of challenges they solve through cleverly applying principles from mathematics, physics, chemistry, and biology. It’s an engaging movie, and shamelessly celebrates both intellectual curiosity and technical skill, as well as a stubborn refusal to give up in the face of adversity.
We’re Saving a Life Here; No Time for Navel-Gazing
It also shamelessly privileges meritocracy and is utterly oblivious to the ways race and gender inhabit and modulate every aspect of human experience. In other words, “The Martian” has no time for the kind of silly progressive crap that is ruining our society.
No one in the movie talks about the fact that white people fill most of the senior positions of authority. People of many races appear in the film, but their organic fit into the mission-focused milieu means their race is never mentioned. The grad student (“Community’s” quirky Donald Glover) who calculates an ingenious way to use gravity to compensate for a lack of fuel isn’t celebrated because of his diversity, he’s celebrated because he calculates an ingenious way to use gravity to compensate for a lack of fuel. This film is—trigger warning!—colorblind.
It’s also clear the majority of characters identify as “men,” but no one mentions the possibility that any of these astronauts, scientists, and engineers have self-identified beyond the cis-het limitations of “male” and “female.” There’s not a female-skewing, bi-curious genderqueer individual in sight, or if any are, they are too busy doing their jobs to babble on about their relative dissatisfaction with their birth genitals.
In short, “The Martian” totally ignores the issues of race and gender that fascinate and obsess today’s liberals. Instead, it champions the idea that individuals should be assessed based on merit as demonstrated through their individual skills and talents. Moreover, it champions judging people upon the content of their character. No one ever gives up, and the movie is very clear that it approves.
So, basically, these characters would be quite happy in the real NASA of 1962, slide-ruling their way toward the New Frontier with a portrait of President Kennedy smiling down from the wall. They don’t need to be told to ask what they can do for their country, and they ask not what their country can do for them in terms of special breaks based upon irrelevant personal characteristics.
NASA Isn’t a Hopeless Bureaucracy
Of course, this movie could only work in such a fictional universe. In the real world, with the real NASA, there would never be a mission to Mars in the first place, much less a gigantic effort and huge investment of resources to bring back one marooned (white, cisgendered male) astronaut. Just think of all the food-stamp cards that could be recharged if we only gave up on our silly striving toward the stars! Oh wait, we already have given up.
The NASA of “The Martian” works. None of the scientists are tweaking the data to goose the temperature trends out of their slump and fuel the global warming panic. No one is worried about whether the space agency is conducting enough outreach to the Muslim world. Movie NASA simply consists of brilliant people dedicated to using objective scientific data to solve real-life problems. There’s no place in their world for ruffled feathers and hurt feelings over innocuous microaggressions.
No, it’s a world that requires tangible, concrete results, and that’s the most problematic thing of all. You can either do math or you can’t. There are no participation trophies, and if you aren’t the best you need to move along and get out of the way so someone better than you can come along and do the job. This is not social science, it’s science science, and there is only one right answer.
Merit: The Antithesis of Equality
Of course, to liberals, the idea of merit that underlies the entire film is utterly expendable in real life, at least for other people. Standardized tests, we are told, don’t measure “the whole person” and are inherently biased against all who are neither white nor male. Of course, a calculus problem cares nothing about the whole person or the ancestry or the plumbing of the people solving it.
Liberals are suspicious of the idea of merit because to accept the concept of merit means accepting the fact that not everyone will achieve equally. Merit is the antithesis of equality; if everyone were the same, there would be no such thing as merit.
Moreover, discrepancies in merit raise other troubling questions, such as about how the liberal elite’s differing expectations play into outcomes. The liberal elite nearly vapor-locked on the report that someone Snapchatted Malia Obama playing beer pong, yet these same liberals happily rap along with Snoop Dogg about ghetto kids sippin’ on gin and juice. When poor minority kids do it, it’s cute, but the liberal elite knows their own brats won’t get into Ivy League schools being laid-back.
Of course, getting into a prestigious school gets you the resume notation, but does not necessarily mean you can actually do something useful. In fact, the whole bundle of weird obsessions and hysterical boogeymen that fall under the moniker of “political correctness” are the result of a calculated strategy by those incapable of concrete achievement to secure alternate power and prestige by donning the mantle of victimhood. Those who can, do. Those who can’t used to teach, but now they get on Twitter and complain that people who can land a rocket on a comet are wearing sexist shirts.
The beauty of “The Martian” is that for a couple hours the audience is whisked away back in time to a moment where anything was possible and nothing was problematic. Sadly, today, that world is even more alien to us than Mars.