The Great Storefront of American Nationalism:
Narratives of Mars and the Outerspatial Frontier

Americana: The Journal of American Popular Culture (1900-present), Fall 2002, Volume 1, Issue 2
http://www.americanpopularculture.com/journal/articles/fall_2002/gouge.htm

Catherine Gouge

West Virginia University


[Americans have a] continuing urge to chart new paths and explore the unknown. That instinct drove Lewis and Clark to press across the uncharted continent. . .[It] sustained twelve Americans as they walked on the moon.

—James Beggs, NASA Administrator, 23 June 1982

From the voyages of Columbus-to the Oregon Trail —to the journey to the Moon itself —history proves that we have never lost by pressing the limits of our frontiers.

—George Bush, 20 July 1989

A deep-space mission to Mars is a focus for the new century. It's like westward expansion —the effort and journey will spark creativity and imagination.

—Dr. Jon Bowersox, consultant for the National
Space Biomedical Research Institute, 14 February 2000


Some very powerful claims have been made about the frontier-like qualities of outer space and, therefore, its liberating promise for the currently earth-bound. Indeed, most Americans are familiar with Star Trek's Captain James Kirk's famous words, "Space: The Final Frontier." As the epigraphs of Bowersox and others demonstrate, Americans have frequently drawn analogies between the outer-spatial frontier and the North American frontier, often in an effort to motivate the public to support the exploration and colonization of Mars. "The frontier that was opened by the voyage of Christopher Columbus is now closed," astronautical engineer Robert Zubrin has argued,

If the era of Western humanist society is not to be seen by future historians as some kind of transitory golden age, a brief shining moment in an otherwise endless chronicle of human misery, then a new frontier must be opened. Humanity needs Mars. An open frontier on Mars will allow for the preservation of cultural diversity . . . [and] will create a strong driver for technological progress. (Entering Space 123)

 

In 1982, during his announcement of NASA's intention to gather political support for a new space station, James Beggs made a similar argument for the consequences of not exploring outer space: "If we ever lose this urge to know the unknown, we would no longer be a great nation." 1. In addition to invoking the frontier myth as a justification for sociopolitical and economic expansion which allegedly needs no explanation (a tendency not specific to the Cold War era), the tendency to link, implicitly or explicitly, exploration of the outer-spatial frontier with issues of national security was common among politicians of the Cold War era. In 1958, then Senate majority leader Lyndon Johnson boldly positioned space as the primary concern of the Senate agenda. Borrowing language that had been used by scientists such as Wernher Von Braun and invoking the imperialist discourse of command and control, Johnson argued before a congregation of Democratic senators that "control of space means control of the world." 2. Delivered in the aftermath of Sputnik, Johnson's argument was clearly militaristic; however, he was also playing into popular notions that 1) resources are limited, 2) space is a new frontier which will ultimately provide the nation which controls it with a great deal of socioeconomic and political power, and 3) an increase in one nation's power can only occur at the expense of another nation's power (a zero sum game). Indeed, these were fairly safe assumptions to make, and his Cold War era audience found the discourse of control motivating in the ways he hoped they would.

Other Democratic senators like Stuart Symington of Missouri, who declared at a 1957 Veterans' Day celebration that "the race for the conquest of space is today's major engagement in technological war," joined Johnson in this approach: "We must win it, because the nation which dominates spaces [sic] will be in a position to dominate the world." 3. As Symington's address emphasizes, however, before this country or any other could "control space," it needed to develop and control technologies for exploring outer-spatial frontiers. As a result, many American space boosters worked to find a way to conjoin the desire for access to outer space to the desire for frontier technologies. 4. This was, and continues to be, accomplished in the United States by representing the purchase and consumption of "everyday" frontier-related technologies like Teflon and Tang as ways for the average citizen to participate in a humans-to-Mars mission. Cold War Americans were accordingly encouraged to demonstrate that they were productive citizens by consuming the technology associated with this "new" frontier. That is, through their buying activity, twentieth-century Americans could allegedly demonstrate their active involvement in pursuing another "American" frontier and, in so doing, could help to keep active the frontier-seeking "American spirit," in a sense performing their patriotism.

"American" coherence and power, according to this structure, are "things" to be acquired. Furthermore, they are both the motivation for exploring and conquering frontiers and, ultimately, that in which, on an individual level, U.S. citizens are expected to invest in order to support frontier exploration. That is, as a nation, we desire to explore the frontier because we believe that we must do so to secure the sociopolitical power and control of the American nation-state; however, individually, most Americans must demonstrate their civic loyalty and desire for powerful subjectivity by admitting both that they fail to occupy the powerful and coherent subject position they seek to secure and that they will never be able to acquire the coherence and power of whole citizenship. This is characteristic of most American national myths which, as Donald Pease writes, "presuppose a realm of pure possibility where a whole self internalized the norms of American history in a language and series of actions that corroborated American exceptionalism" (24). The myth of the American frontier similarly presupposes just such a realm of pure possibility to support a fiction of American exceptionalism and, in so doing, sutures over our individual identities with a fiction of a collective, national identity.

In his popular book The Case for Mars (1996), Zubrin invokes Frederick Jackson Turner's notion of the role of the originary American frontier in the creation of a distinctly American national identity and expresses anxiety about the future of American exceptionalism. He argues that contemporary society faces the same set of questions that Frederick Jackson Turner posed in his speech lamenting the closing of the originary "American" frontier before the members of the American Historical Association in 1893: "What if the frontier is truly gone? What happens to America and all it has stood for? Can a free, egalitarian, innovating society survive in the absence of room to grow?" (Case for Mars 296). 5 For Zubrin, like Turner and others before him, frontier-exploration is the foundation of American exceptionalism; therefore, a lack of a "new" frontier is serious grounds for concern. In an interview I conducted with him in 1996, Zubrin offered what he called the "oppression of the uncertified" as an example of one of the negative consequences of not having "room to grow." Colonizing the Martian frontier, Zubrin argues, is the answer to such oppression because in a frontier (or, "open") society every life is valued for the labor that it contributes:

A frontier society, rather than a society in which the script has been written and the parts are assigned. . .It's an improvisational theater, okay, where people can write their own parts, and in which any who can play a useful part, whether conceived by someone else or by himself or anyone else, can play. So, it's a very liberating thing and, ah, I think that's what we'll create on Mars, by doing this. . .It is a very progressive branch of human culture that will both produce conventions that will be very useful on Earth as the inventions of the Yankee ingenuity were useful in Europe, but also as an example of a society that places a higher value on each and every person because each and every person is precious.

If it makes any sense to draw an analogy between the originary American frontier and the Martian frontier, however, then the "script," in many respects, has indeed been written. For the same reason that one might expect a certain promise from Mars as a frontier, one might expect to find certain familiar roles and/or replicate certain familiar dynamics on this "new" frontier. If Mars is like the "Wild West," who will provide the cheap, exploited labor to make resource extraction possible (as the Chinese did in the building of the transcontinental railroad) and who will profit from the venture?

Zubrin's account of a frontier free-labor utopia, where "each and every person is precious," recalls a conventional colonial dynamic in which, of course, labor is most certainly in high demand. In this dynamic, people willing and able to do the back-breaking, "unskilled" labor or brave the "wild," "untamed" frontier environment are indeed "precious." Those who find it "useful" have always valued indentured servitude, and even chattel slavery. This does not mean, however, that the roles of laborers and settlers are unscripted. Indeed, scientific and science-fictional texts about the Martian frontier are similar in at least one significant way: they similarly invite our imaginative participation, and they often operate with the same set of ideological presuppositions. Set on the Martian frontier, for example, Phillip K. Dick's Martian Time-Slip (1964) addresses the frontier labor shortage. In Dick's novel

the ad [calling for people to emigrate to Mars] listed all the skills in demand on Mars, and it was a long list, excluding only canary raiser and proctologist, if that. It pointed out how hard it was now for a person with only a master's degree to get a job on Earth, and how on Mars there were good-paying jobs for people with only B.A.'s [sic]. (19)

Likewise, according to Zubrin's depiction, individual roles are unscripted and there are jobs for just about everyone. 6. Moreover, in Zubrin's account each individual has the freedom to "play" any part he or she desires, so long as it is "useful."

This improvisational theater as a metaphor for frontier labor "freedom" avoids the issue of efficiency that would certainly need to be a consideration in a life-threatening Martian environment that would be very difficult and expensive to access. Indeed, as I have already suggested, only those "actors," to use Zubrin's metaphor, who were deemed useful would likely be invited to "improvise," and even then only within certain limits. Arnie, the creator of the ad in Time-Slip, is quite pleased with the advertisement he creates: "Surely it would attract people, he thought to himself, if they had any guts at all and a sincere desire for adventure, as the ad said. . .There were no opportunities on Earth. You have to come to Mars, Arnie said to himself. We can use you here" (19). And this is precisely what Zubrin's utopian portrait of the Martian improvisational theater implies: we (read: those of us in charge, we who own the theater) can use you (read: our improv actors, our inexpensive labor). In a recent edition of Space News, Zubrin encourages volunteers to apply to live in the Mars simulated research center for the summer: "Exploration is something all human beings should be engaged in. There are experiments and activities that require specialists, there are other activities that can be performed simply by motivated people" (8). To be fair, the motivation to which Zubrin refers with regard to the Mars Arctic Research Station will have to be that of those who are enthusiastic, as Zubrin is, about exploration. They will not be paid. However, the move he makes to align the "uncertified" with the "motivated" is a significant one historically, since the exploitation of allegedly "unskilled" labor has often been justified by "motivation."

The Chinese were similarly constructed by the Big Four in the building of the transcontinental railroad in the originary American frontier. In fact, they were valued because 1) they were cheap labor, 2) they were reliable labor, and 3) they were willing and able to do dangerous work with explosives in some of the most treacherous mountain passes, work that simply would not have been completed without them. This did not mean, however, that they were compensated fairly for their labor, nor does it mean that they had any control over their wages. They were "used," quite simply, because they had very little employment choice as a group considered to be racially "other" in nineteenth-century America. In fact, their willingness to work for less, and work hard for it, was explained away by their "Celestial" motivation. Their motivation was both that which made them valuable and that which defined them as racially "other." Consequently, they could improvise on the railroad by doing work so risky others would never dream of doing it, but only to the benefit of those investors (white men) in the Central Pacific Railroad Company.

In his eagerness to generate enthusiasm and support for a humans-to-Mars mission, in fact, Zubrin transposes the very hierarchy of power he claims will be absent on the Martian frontier. In so doing, he creates an image of the Martian frontier that contradicts his notion of it as an improvisational theater. He demonstrates that, as Baudrillard writes of the simulacrum, "it's the map that precedes the territory. It's the map that engenders the territory." In this case, the "map" is a figurative socioeconomic one that engenders the capitalist desires of the implicitly non-frontier-like American culture on the Martian frontier. Indeed, in an effort to address the money-making potential of space exploration, Zubrin devotes an entire chapter to the topic, entitled "Doing Business in Orbit," in his most recent book on Mars, Entering Space (1999). In this chapter, he plays with the idea that "on-orbit hotels" might be a large source of revenue for investors and imagines the social potential of such a place. "In between bouts in the bedroom," he writes, a honey-mooning

couple could enjoy unique zero gravity activity sports. . . .[and] to increase the variety offered by the hotel's primary attraction, a matchmaking service could be provided. This would be especially valuable, since in addition to being fun-loving and adventurous, most of the people you would meet at the hotel would undoubtedly be rich. (63)

But this new frontier cannot be "opened" by entrepreneurial business, Zubrin acknowledges. Terrestrial frontiers have almost universally been opened with the support of government subsidies and only later have entrepreneurs developed them. "Developing new frontiers for profit," he writes, "has occurred only after such regions have been explored and pioneered at considerable risk and cost by individuals possessing rather different motives" (75).

Again, the construction of the transcontinental railroad in North America is a good example of this. Theodore Judah, who Stephen Ambrose and others credit with getting the construction going earlier than it would have been without his participation, made a number of trips by boat to the West Coast and back again to find a passable route for the road. Accompanied by his wife in some cases (she made drawings which were fundamental to Theodore's presentations in Washington), he took small expeditions into the Sierra Nevadas to respond to government officials who were concerned that the railroad could not be built through the mountains. Theodore fell ill on his last trip and did not live to see the driving of the Golden Spike.

Zubrin's allegedly "rather different motives" with regard to exploring Mars are relatively simple: as an astronautical engineer, he desires the opportunity to develop the technologies that can accomplish a humans-on-Mars objective; and as the founder of a company called Pioneer Astronautics, he probably wants to make some money from the intellectual exercise. He wants access to the frontier, but he knows very well that access costs money, and the way to get the money he needs is to convince policy-makers and the public of the promise of the Martian frontier to feed the "American" spirit so that he can secure government funding. In short, he knows that in order to have access to the Martian frontier, he needs intellectual, financial, and political support.

These resources, if they will be collected, will come—in large part—from convincing the public that a humans-to-Mars expedition is necessary to its socioeconomic well-being. And this will happen when the public can imagine itself, and desire to be in, the outer-spatial frontier. For this reason, the space program in this country is predicated on a very close relationship between "science," "science-fiction," and popular culture. In March of 1955, Walt Disney aired a program entitled "Man in Space," the first installment of a series designed to help promote his grand new theme park: Disneyland. In a move that would later prove fortuitous for both of their projects, Wernher Von Braun agreed to be a part of Disney's first episode so that he could promote manned space exploration. 7. "Man in Space" began with the following nostalgic invocation:

One of man's oldest dreams has been the desire for space travel—to travel to other worlds. Until recently, this seemed to be an impossibility, but great new discoveries have brought us to the threshold of a new frontier—the frontier of interplanetary science.

In this introduction to the program, Disney engineered the powerful convergence of science, science fiction, and the American fantasy of the frontier to appropriate "one of man's oldest dreams." As Paul Carter notes in his history of magazine science-fiction (1972), the Martian landscape in much Mars science-fiction resembles the Arizona-like 8. landscape Edgar Rice Burroughs depicted beginning with The Princess of Mars (1912). 9. "When Americans land on another world," Carter writes, "it seems they expect it to resemble the American West" (62). Indeed, the relationship among these three proved to be so powerful in the early period of the "space race" that, as one historian of the space race has written, "the [American] public had difficulty imagining it [the space race] any other way" (McCurdy 47)—other than as a race to a new frontier. This was due, in large part, to the history of constructing "American" frontier exploration as races. Indeed, the U.S. government has configured processes of developing major frontier technologies as "races" since the project of building the transcontinental railroad began in the middle part of the nineteenth century. As Stephen Ambrose writes in Nothing Like It in the World, "Urgency was the dominant emotion" in the construction of the railroad, in part because "the government set it up as a race. The company that built more would get more. This was typically American and democratic" (20).

The science-fictional qualities of frontier mythology have been made explicit in the emphasis on "fantastic" frontier technologies in narratives of new or prospective frontiers, and nowhere more so than in narratives of the exploration and colonization of outer space. 10. Even narratives of the originary frontier often included transportation and communication technologies which were either relatively unknown to, unnecessary to, or uncommon in the non-frontier society. A 1956 episode of Annie Oakley with Gail Davis, entitled "Annie Gets the First Phone," valorizes the telephone as the new, divine technology which will intervene in and rescue the ranchers from the threat of Indian raids in the frontier town of Diablo. "Before long," Oakley boasts, "we'll have wire hanging all over the valley!" "Oui," Mr. Renault (the French man who brings phone service to the town and desires to be American) responds, "We'll have the best valley in the world!" Indeed, the frontier/ science-fictional narrative aesthetic has always enjoyed the juxtaposition of "new" technologies and a relatively crude wilderness environment characterized by the threat of lawlessness.

Just as science fiction can be viewed as a thought experiment, so the fantasy of the frontier in American culture presents a socioeconomic thought experiment potentially reproducible in other spaces. Like the science fiction alluded to in Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968), the mythology of the frontier is an historically grounded story which will repeatedly define our expectations for future frontiers and, ultimately, leave us unfulfilled. Indeed, Dick's novels are responding to a tradition of frontierism/consumerism, which became an institution in what Carter calls "Martian Westerns" (62), developed in the earlier part of the twentieth-century. Different from Time-Slip, Androids is not set on the frontier; rather, the frontier is elsewhere and our vision of it is mediated through others' experiences of it. In fact, in Androids, the everyday life on the Martian frontier is particularly disappointing to those who have read the "pre-colonial fiction" because such stories are more satisfying than the real thing. For this reason,

There's a fortune to be made in smuggling pre-colonial fiction, the old magazines and books and films, to Mars. Nothing is as exciting. To read about cities and huge industrial enterprises, and really successful colonization. You can imagine what it might have been like. What Mars ought to be like. (151)

Indeed, as this excerpt suggests, since most people do not pioneer frontiers, frontier literature, like science-fiction, has primarily been written for and consumed by an audience not of the spatial or temporal frontier—that is, not of the place or time that is the setting of the fiction. In Androids, the utopian science fiction written before Mars had been colonized is a desirable diversion or distraction from the real thing for those of the time and place that form the setting of the narrative. "No one wants to be a cowboy," one specialist on employment in the originary American frontier remarked: "It's hard work, it's dirty work, it's round-the-clock-work." 11. In spite of their gestures towards and claims of realism, most of the literature of the American frontier West and shows like "Buffalo Bill's Wild West," for example, provided those east of the frontier line with a safe, virtual frontier experience that would prove unmatched, for the average audience member, by the "real" thing. 12. Indeed, "really successful colonization," Dick's Androids tells us, is only possible in utopian science-fictional frontier fiction; real frontiers are not so simple or easy.

From the perspective of those moving in to explore and colonize, prospective frontiers are, on the other hand, a space of unfulfilled hopes and dreams, a fantasy space of unlimited socioeconomic potential. And it is this potential which marketers of frontier technologies and proponents of frontier exploration often exploit to secure public support. Accordingly, the twentieth-century American public was encouraged to associate a desire to explore outer space, in which media representations and science fiction invested so deeply, with two things: citizenship and products they could buy.

In the 1920s, American market specialists learned that by altering the packaging and appearance of a product, they could increase public desire for it (McCurdy 209). Consequently, especially in the years following the Great Depression, product designers manipulated product sizes, shapes, and colors to mimic the sleek, aerodynamic lines and polished finishes of various "frontier technologies": trains, airplanes, and, eventually, rockets. The average American citizen, or so the logic went, could participate in the frontier, the great storefront of American nationalism, by buying things. Owning Teflon frying pans and consuming products like Tang were markers of good citizenship. And planned obsolescence, primarily in technology markets, became a strategy for smart business, a strategy further fueled by the pattern of the early space program, which frequently substituted rockets and spacecraft with newer models.

The official website for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory continues the project of conveying an intimacy between the development of outer-spatial frontier technologies and the United States economy. In fact, one section of the site devoted to NASA's official "U.S. Commercial Technology Policy," formulated in 1995, includes portions of Bill Clinton's 1993 U.S. Technology Policy that ask NASA to foster its involvement in the "progress of the nation" by developing "new ways of doing business." 13. "Since 1958," the policy reads, "NASA has been an important source of much of the nation's new technology." The site proceeds to explain that in "today's increasingly competitive global economic climate, the U.S. must ensure that its technological resources are fully utilized throughout the economy." And this means, according to the site, that NASA must accept a "new, broader role" in the future of this nation: "While meeting its unique mission goals, NASA Research and Development must also enhance overall U.S. economic security." The site imagines this dynamic as one in which NASA essentially feeds its "technological assets and know-how" into U.S. economic growth. This should be done, the site maintains, by "quickly and effectively translat[ing]" NASA's assets and know-how "into improved production processes and marketable, innovative products." In order to accomplish this, the agency must find "new ways of doing business and new ways of measuring progress." Indeed, as this NASA policy makes clear, there is no such thing as a purely scientific project. NASA's current official technology policy is, thus, on one level, a utopian projection or science fiction that imagines the productive power of NASA technologies to "enhance overall U.S. economic security."

Indeed, NASA's policy demonstrates that the application of the frontier myth to other "spaces" not only attempts to transpose the "frontier values" of "Yankee ingenuity" and democracy, as Zubrin argues; the transposition of the frontier myth brings with it a warehouse of historical contexts, one of which is the conflation of the science of exploring space, the science-fiction of Mars as a "final frontier," the fiction of American citizenship, and consumer culture. This conflation bears the burden of all sorts of forms of socioeconomic oppression, the least of which may be the "oppression of the uncertified." Indeed, in spite of the best efforts of Zubrin and others to proclaim the promise of the frontier for those uncertified but motivated to improve their lot in life, the socioeconomically disadvantaged have not, historically, been the strongest supporters of frontier exploration. African American newspapers during the early part of the space race often expressed skepticism about funding exploration of new spaces when many minority groups on this continent were struggling to get by.

By aligning NASA's scientific and technological goals with U.S. economic and national security and progress, NASA's current, post-Cold War, official technology policy replicates arguments made by Cold War politicians in favor of funding the development of space technologies. 14. Disney and his corporate sponsors made similar claims in the 1950s about the power of the theme park to promote new technologies in a projected landscape of the future. With reference to the "Tomorrowland" section of the "Magic Kingdom," one of the sponsors proclaimed, "Progress is our most important product." 15. Contrast this to dystopic science fiction of the Cold War Era that anticipates unsuccessful futures. As Ray Bradbury told a New York Times reporter recently, his "business" as an author of primarily dystopic fiction has been not to see the technologies in his writings contribute to "new ways of doing business and new ways of measuring progress" but to "prevent the future." 16. Of course, Bradbury is not unique in this regard, argue Soviet writers E. Brandis and V. Dmitrevsky in a 1965 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Brandis and Dmistrevsky reason that American science-fiction in the 1960s 17. conceives of futures that, because of their "anti-Utopian" qualities, are anything but progressive. Consequently,

the characteristic aspect of contemporary science fiction by Anglo-American bourgeois writers is the projection into the future of present state relations, social problems, and events and conflicts inherent in modern capitalism. These writers transfer imperialist contradictions to imaginary space worlds, supposing that they will be dominated by the old master-servant relations, by colonialism and the wolfish laws of plunder and profit. (63)

These "bourgeois writers," Brandis and Dmistrevsky explain, "regard history as a never ending cycle: what has been will be again" (63). Perhaps this explains the distress of an American reporter visiting Mars in a story called "No Jokes on Mars," included in the same 1965 issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction. After having just witnessed a Colonel kill for sport a Martian dune-cat—an animal who is thought in the story to be the descendant of the "long-extinct Canal-Masons of Mars,"—the female reporter calls out in horror: "It's the Spaniards and the Incas all over again! Are we spending billions to reach the planets, just to export the same old crimes against the natives?" (77). James Blish, the author of the story, is careful not to implicate Anglos directly here; nonetheless, "No Jokes on Mars," fairly neatly encapsulates the dangers of a national narrative that "transfer[s] imperialist contradictions to imaginary space worlds" (72). Those in charge continue to "use" others, often natives, at any cost; and those with social consciences, like another reporter in the story who is stationed permanently on Mars, begin to show "signs of cynicism about the whole Mars venture" (72).

Perhaps in response to a tradition of "transferring imperialist contradictions" in so many utopian frontierist thought experiments about Mars, Kim Stanley Robinson's Martian trilogy (Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars) revisits the complex relationship between history and future frontier ventures. Indeed, in an interview I conducted with him, Robinson explains why he takes issue with the comparison of Mars to the originary American frontier West and challenges Zubrin's notion that the Martian frontier will provide Earth-bound society with an escape from the oppression of the uncertified. Quite the contrary, Robinson argues that historical analogies "actually deceive people more than they illuminate people. . . .all that does is muddy the waters and make you understand less-well what's going on in the present or what might go on in the future." 18 Furthermore, Robinson argues that

Mars is not, in fact, like the American frontier. It's 150 million miles away, it's an atmosphere . . . that is 7 milli-bars of CO2 so that once you arrive there you would die instantly on the surface. It doesn't have any of the qualities that the American frontier had, of individuals deciding, say, in the Old World, "I'm fed up here. I'm going to sell everything that I own. I'm going to jump on a boat. I'm going to be a poor person in America because this will be better than what I had before." This is the quality of the frontier that I think [Zubrin's] talking about that Mars has not at all. (personal interview)

The reason Mars is not like the American frontier in this regard, according to Robinson, is that in order to get to Mars, one is going to have to "devote your career to an extremely expensive education. . .The people who go there are going to have to live in bomb shelters and be obsessive compulsives" (personal interview). Zubrin's plan to build a station on Mars is a good one, Robinson says, but the historical analogy of the frontier, however, is just "obscuring why we should do this" (Interview). Indeed, as Robinson suggests, we do need to be careful about "muddying the [proverbial] waters" as we come to the end of a century of proliferating physical and figurative frontiers. We should be careful, as Robinson suggests, because the historical analogy of the originary American frontier is often invoked—in the service of a notion of frontierist American exceptionalism—as a utopian fiction of "really successful colonization" in which a harsh environment forces colonizers to develop new technologies which can be used to exploit the territory's money-making potential. The historical analogy is, essentially, a fantasy that can be manipulated to emphasize or de-emphasize whatever one needs it to. The application of such an analogy, then, becomes its own fantasy or utopian fiction.

One of the "First Hundred" colonists in Robinson's Red Mars, John Boone (whose name seems to recall somewhat ironically the mythical American, Daniel Boone), calls the transposition of the American frontier analogy to the Martian frontier a "false analogy":

Oh come on [...] You all have to get it through your heads that this whole [Martian] revolution scenario is nothing but a fantasia on the American Revolution, you know, the great frontier, the hardy pioneer colonists exploited by the imperial power, the revolt to go from colony to sovereign state—it's all just false analogy! (348)

The historical analogy breaks down, according to Boone, because the "fantasia" is not "real," and the characters to whom Boone is speaking are merely transposing their fantasy of American history onto the very real Martian frontier experience. In so doing, these characters narrativize their experience such that they become the underdog heroes of history: the exploited pioneers who eventually gain autonomy and power. The trilogy suggests that if we project such a fantasy onto the Martian frontier, if we treat the fantasy as if it were reality, no matter how long one may have been there, Mars will remain, "the place you have never seen" (Green Mars 189). Indeed, "seeing" Mars is key to surviving there since, as Boone explains later in the passage, one of the key differences between Mars and the originary American frontier is that, without a long process of terraformation, the Martian terrain cannot sustain colonists as he imagines the originary American frontier did. Robert Markley notes that the necessity of terraformation is represented by the trilogy as fundamental to the transformation of the frontier subject: "The impossibility of fitting Mars into paradigms imported from Earth forces characters to move beyond false historical analogies and, consequently, to take moral responsibility for the complex changes—social as well as biospheric—initiated by terraformation" (787). The ecology of Mars both forces Robinson's characters to take "moral responsibility" and is responsible, according to the trilogy, for teaching colonists to be more humble about their place in history, to accept responsibility for their actions and yet to resist the impulse to stake too large a claim for themselves in history books.

When we transpose a fantasy of the originary frontier onto other spaces, we become so convinced of the utopian promise of frontiers, for example, by minimizing or romanticizing the suffering and loss of the originary frontier, that we forget, like some of Robinson's "First Hundred," that our referent for the frontier is as much a fiction, a simulacrum, as the science fiction which imagines future frontiers. This fiction is a capitalist one as Molly Rothenburg, cultural critic and psychoanalyst, argues:

The fantasy of the frontier as [Zubrin] expresses it is coincident with the fantasy of capitalism—that there's always a place beyond where things are available with relatively little effort. . . . Ultimately for him it's a place of freedom. . . . . What I hear Zubrin talking about is creating essentially the conditions for capitalism to flourish on Mars. (personal interview)

As "No More Jokes on Mars" warns, in reproducing the capitalist fantasy of the frontier, we train ourselves to imagine the frontier primarily from the perspective of the colonizer and contribute to the replication of a colonial dynamic predicated on the subjugation of the many for the profit of the few—"An imaginary relationship to a real situation" (Green Mars 235), one of Robinson's characters notes, a relationship the Martian ecology cures colonists of since Mars itself resists the easy application of historical paradigms. 19.

Nonetheless, American culture is filled with images of "new" and "final" frontiers in outer space and cyberspace and other, even more loosely defined, figurative frontier "spaces." As a result, claims are being made which have so saturated our culture that our popular culture has, as Brandis and Dmistrevsky argued about American science fiction, imported many of the contradictions that come with frontier narratives: liberating communal rhetoric vs. self-aggrandizing desires. And when we draw on an American fantasy of the frontier to promote the exploration and, significantly, consumption of new "spaces," we are, indeed, muddying the waters and, in effect, living in a world of our own creation, creating new spaces in the image of the originary frontier. In so doing, we are investing in a notion of unified subjectivity and power that never existed for most of us in the real, non-frontier world. This unified subjectivity is aligned with the default subjectivity of the frontier-seeking American citizen, an implicitly white, masculine subject.

Robinson notwithstanding, most American cultural narratives of the frontier teach us that by participating in the exploration of new frontiers through our activity as consumers of new frontier technologies, we can become tourists, or temporary inhabitants, of a more powerful subjectivity. Moreover, these fictions suggest that on the "new" frontier we can be who we were not on previous frontiers. The frontier fantasy is, thus, a prosthetic psychic fantasy of wholeness and power that promises to render us psychically complete. The power the frontier affords us by rejuvenating our spirit or making us more "American" also promises to free us from our incompleteness. The reproduction of such a capitalist fantasy of the frontier is necessarily a process which is predicated on the proliferation of utopian frontier narratives like those that Zubrin offers. This process is, of course, as Edward Soja argues about the reproduction of capitalist spatiality, "a continuing source of conflict and crisis" (129). And it is around such crises that frontierism reconfigures and modernizes itself.

As a theoretical intervention in debates about the promise of Mars as a new frontier and, therefore, the potential for the reproduction of capitalist spatiality, Robinson's trilogy at once rejects the productivity of historical analogy and testifies to its power in our imaginative paradigms. Indeed, often recalling historical moments of the American frontier West in spite of the fact that the colonists are explicitly not all American, a frontierist mentality derived from experiences with Terran frontiers emerges frequently in the trilogy, represented and critiqued as if it were an inevitable response to the new frontier environment, the consequence of the ideological training of a predominantly imperialist, capitalist Terran. Consequently, Sax Russell (another of the First Hundred) observes in Green Mars after watching the evening news,

It was strange how many people seemed to feel the lure of prospecting. That was Mars as the twenty-second century began; with the elevator returned they were back to the old gold-rush mentality, it seemed, as if it really were manifest destiny, out on the frontier with great tools wielded left and right: cosmic engineers, mining and building. (218)

Offered as support for one character's prior assertion that "Colonialism had never died [...] We are all colonies of the transnats [transnational corporations originating in wealthy industrial nations]" (Green Mars 223), Sax's comment draws our attention to the ways in which frontier subjects must struggle to overcome the expansionist and often violent (to both the environment and other settlers) tendencies instilled in us by an imperialist, industrial "old world."

Struggling with this past experience and ideological baggage, many of the trilogy's characters repeatedly insist that the unique ecological conditions on Mars should mean that the new world and its settlers will indeed be "new": "The point is not to make another Earth," the opening of Green Mars asserts. "The terrain is Martian. And terrain is a powerful genetic engineer, determining what flourishes and what doesn't, pushing along progressive differentiation, and thus the evolution of a new species" (13). This "evolution of a new species," according to the trilogy, happens as a consequence of the mutual inflection of environment and the subjects of that environment and, to a large extent, recalls Turner's formulation that "to the frontier the American intellect owes its striking characteristics" (36). For Robinson, however, the mutual inflection is most interesting for the ways in which it results in empathy on the part of the subject for the "new" land while Turner seems more interested in formation of a "new" national subjectivity. Nonetheless, the blurring of boundaries between space and self are evident in the trilogy to the extent that occasionally characters are not even sure if their desires are their own or if they are the desires of the planet. Indeed, Red Mars' Maya considers whether or not she and John Boone would have become intimate on Earth: "It was as if she were acting in response to imperatives stronger than her own desires, acting out the desires of some larger force. Of, perhaps, Mars itself" (78). Maya's desire to "have" Boone are confused with what she imagines may be Mars' desire for him, and this confusion is suggestive of the ways in which the trilogy stages an ironic inversion of capitalist acquisition and consumption. Maya imagines that her own desire has been overwhelmed by the desires of the land, that she has become a vehicle for the consuming desires of Mars.

Dick's novels also enact a blurring of boundaries between self and environment to critique capitalist fantasies of consumption. When Richard Kongrosian of The Simulacra (1964), for example, begins to suspect that the figure head for the government, the woman to which he moored his fragile psyche, is not who he thinks she is, he announces, "'I no longer can keep myself and my environment separate [...] I'm turning inside out! [...] Pretty soon if this keeps up I'm going to have to envelope the entire universe and everything in it. . .then most likely I'll die'" (201). Katherine Hayles notes that such boundary blurring in Dick's fiction, especially with regard to the figure of the android, is suggestive of the ways in which commodities become fetishized under capitalism: "Once objects are imbued with exchange value, they seem to absorb themselves in the vitality of the human relations that created them as commodities" (How We Became Posthuman 168). Hayles notes that this dynamic surfaces again in another Dick novel, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1965), in which characters who have been drafted to colonize Mars take a drug called Chew-Z because they think that it will provide them with an escape from the tedium of life on Mars and allow them an eternity of god-like omnipotence; however, as Hayles notes,

The eternity delivered here is precisely not the apotheosis of the liberal autonomous subject capable of free thought and action but is the subject as pawn in a capitalist's [Eldritch's] game, imprisoned for eons in a universe that a terrifying and menacing alien other has created to increase his profits [. . . .] Rather than taking the product inside him, he has been taken inside the product [. . . .] Capitalism encourages the inflation of desire, marketing its products by seducing the consumer with other fantasies. (170)

Dick's critique of a capitalist dynamic, staged through the mutual inflection of place and identity and a suggestive loss of control over that same dynamic, is furthermore marked by a distinct sense of alienation and disorientation, from both self and place. Not only will the subject not get the power she is encouraged to believe she should according to a late-capitalist consumption model but the more she consumes, the more deeply embedded in the system she becomes, and the more power, the more potential to be a liberal autonomous subject, she sacrifices. Like Maya's experiences in Robinson's Red Mars, experiences with the Martian frontier in Dick's fiction, often become metaphors for the dynamic of capitalist consumption whereby the subject desiring power over the system becomes the subject of the system.

Indeed, in Dick's novels the logical consequence of a people moving into a frontier because they believe that it will bring them socioeconomic freedoms and liberal autonomy is a world where even the most "successful" pioneers (in terms of fulfilling the exploitative material promise of the frontier) are fragmented, "obsessive compulsive" as Robinson says, or, as Dick says, schizophrenic. As one recent article ("Can We Go to Mars without Going Crazy?" May 2001) in Discover magazine argues,

the right stuff is not what we thought it was. Designing and building a sophisticated spacecraft capable of getting to Mars is just the beginning. The ultimate challenge NASA faces may be building a tiny computer that can psychoanalyze astronauts and keep them from going nuts. (Weed 38)

"Going nuts," due in large part according to psychologists quoted in the article to our crippling fear of death, is the ultimate challenge our society must face if we want to send humans to the Martian frontier. By exploring the psychic effects of transposing the logic of frontierism onto a frontierist Martian society, Dick's Time-Slip satirizes this proverbial "right stuff"—the "frontier spirit," which Zubrin and Turner, among others, argue was borne out of our engagement with the originary American frontier.

Time-Slip opens with Silvia Bohlen being awakened "from the depths of a Phenobarbital slumber," an awakening which "damages her perfect state of non-self" (3). Were she to forgo taking the drugs, we are told, she would be allowing herself to "succumb to the schizophrenic process" and, in so doing, "join the rest of the world" (3). That a drug-induced slumber—an escape from her "self"—is Silvia's refuge from the reality of schizophrenic colonial life on Mars is a keen illustration of the ways in which the frontier subject is a split subject. 20. Silvia's husband, Jack, reports that while he is able to manage his schizophrenia, he has had some episodes:

I emigrated to Mars because of my schizophrenic episode when I was twenty-two and worked for Corona Corporation. I was cracking up. I had to move out of a complex urban environment and into a simpler one, a primitive frontier environment with more freedom. The pressure was too great for me. It was emigrate or go mad. (85)

Indeed, as the novel progresses, the reader learns that most of the emigrants to Mars are either schizophrenic or holding the schizophrenic process at bay by medicating themselves. We might gather from this that, like Jack, those schizophrenics who have emigrated to Mars have done so to get away from the "complex urban environment," the root cause of the schizophrenia. We might assume that the "rest of the [Martian] world" is schizophrenic because they, too, had to "emigrate or go mad." We might safely make these assumptions were it not for the fact that Mars does not, in Time-Slip, cure subjects of their schizophrenic episodes.

In fact, according to Time-Slip, schizophrenia is "a major illness which touches sooner or later almost every family. It meant, simply, a person who could not live out the drives implanted in him by society" (72). That Mars does not resolve the split in the frontier-seeking subject suggests that the "drive" which inspired them to "flee," a desire "to go" which some have claimed is inherent in the "American spirit," is unrealizable. The frontier drive is similarly unrealizable. Indeed, as Lacan has proposed, we can never have what we desire; ultimately, then, our cultural narratives of conquering the frontier can be seen as projections of our symptoms, our responses to un-fulfillable desires. "Emigrate or degenerate!" ads proclaim in Androids, "The choice is yours!" (8). However, since emigrating is shown to be roughly equivalent to degenerating, Androids suggests there is no easy solution. The future is all about desire, and the absence of desire is a "burden which close[s] off the future and any possibilities which it might have contained" (239). Perhaps this illuminates why, as Zizek has written, "anxiety is brought on by the disappearance of desire" (8). If the emigration to Mars is in some sense "the future," and this future is potentially degenerative rather than progressive, our desire for Mars exploration, or any other frontier for that matter, is a prescription for anxiety. Our desire for the frontier is both deconstructive and self-destructive.

Even for Arnie (maybe especially for Arnie), who at the start of the Time-Slip appears to be among the most successful emigrants to Mars—"He had come to Mars as nothing but a union plumber and in a few years, look at him" (19) —there is no simple choice. Indeed, in the process of pursuing one of his capitalist, acquisitive schemes he finds himself in search of schizophrenic subjectivity (in the form of a small child), and the conclusion of the novel has Arnie dying believing that he's in a schizoid fantasy. And, of course, he is indeed in such a fantasy, and has been since he left Earth, because the fantasy of the frontier is, in effect, a schizoid fantasy of wholeness. The "whole point," Dick writes, of a schizoid fantasy is "to make you flee" (113). Indeed, schizophrenics in Dick's novel are spatiotemporally separate from others because they suffer from a "nearness fear" (242) and have difficulty remaining in the present. "It's the schizophrenic confusion," Arnie laments as he slips in and out of reality during his final moments. "My sense of time is all fouled up. . . .It's basically a breakdown in time-sense" (243).

Those on Time-Slip's Martian frontier are determined to keep this dark reality of the frontier from the masses in the Earth-bound non-frontier, so children afflicted with schizophrenia are called "autistic" and "anomalous" and sent away from their families to live in special homes:

They're afraid—well, they don't want to see what they call "defective stock" appearing on colonial planets. They want to keep the race pure. . .They're not worried about the anomalous children at Home, because they don't have the aspirations for themselves that they do for us. You have to understand idealism and anxiety which they have about us. . . .Do you remember how you felt before you emigrated here with your family? Back Home they see the existence of anomalous children on Mars as a sign that one of Earth's major problems has been transplanted into the future, because we are the future, to them. (ellipses Dick's 40)

The anxiety motivating the fantasy of the frontier is, thus, to hide the future from the present and, further, to create an alternate future for the spatiotemporal here and now. Were the present, or non-frontier, to find out that the future, or frontier, were troubled by the same conflict and crisis of the present, the fantasy would crumble and with it the promise of "really successful colonization." The "defective stock" must not be allowed to contaminate the present's vision of the future; they must not be allowed to surface like the return of the repressed, symptoms of the present that are capable of unveiling the fantasy. Indeed, the central question of Androids—"Do androids dream?" (184) —seems really to be a way of asking, "If the future knows that it is non-identical to our present expectations of it, what does it dream of?" The answer of course, according to Androids, is that andys dream of the same alternate vision of the future, the vision of frontier fantasies, that the Earth-bound present dreams of. Andys, like humans on Earth, dream of a virtual future, accessed through images of "really successful colonization." Androids and Time-Slip thus illustrate the inherent psychically imperialist structure underlying the frontier drive. Those of the frontier or future are merely "stock" or "labor" to the non-frontier present. They are material for science-fiction and other thought experiments, fantasy characters who are projected as improvisational actors without scripts.

School, in Time-Slip, is evidence of the ways in which the script has, indeed, been written for frontier "actors" since school's purpose is to indoctrinate another generation of colonial subjects. "The school was not there to inform or educate," Dick writes; rather, like recorded history, its job was "to mold, and along severely limited lines. It was the link to their inherited culture, and it peddled that culture, in its entirety, to the young" (72). Indeed, autism, one character reflects, "had become a self-serving concept for the authorities who governed Mars" (73). Jack, whose schizoid tendencies allow him to see through the fantasy, tells one teaching machine about the dangers of projecting the fantasies as if they were reality:

Public School and you teaching machines are going to rear another generation of schizophrenics, the descendants of people like me who are making a fine adaptation to this new planet. You're going to split the psyches of these children because you're teaching them to expect an environment which doesn't exist for them. (85)

Similarly, "American" psyches are split because our histories, our cultural narratives, teach us to expect a figurative climate of frontier freedoms which does not exist for us.

Indeed, the problem of the concept of the frontier is that it is, as Zizek writes of ideology, "a lie necessarily experienced as truth" (Mapping Ideology 13). American frontierist ideology encourages individuals to desire power and coherence as "Americans" by circulating the spectre of an originary frontier of American exceptionalism. This spectre, conjured by the desire for power and coherence, is a fantasy of a time and place always and already "beyond." Our investment in the promise of the frontier to make us whole and powerful citizens will, in fact, simply ensure that we remain split and inadequate. "It's the basic condition of life," Mercer tells Rick in Androids, "to be required to violate your own identity" (179). And in this way, when we buy into an allegedly a-historical fantasy of the frontier, we are like the androids of Dick's novel: somewhat "pathetic," "hoping to undergo an experience from which, due to a deliberately built-in defect, [we] remain excluded" (185).


Notes

1. Quoted in Howard E. McCurdy's Space and the American Imagination (1997): 143. The original is "Why the United States Needs a Space Station," remarks prepared for delivery at the Detroit Economic Club and Detroit Engineering Society, 23 June 1982, 2-3 NASA History Office; reprinted under the same title in Vital Speeches, 1 August 1982, 2-3, NASA.

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2. From "The Vision of a Greater America," General Electric Forum (July - September 1962): 7-9. In spite of the fact that the scientific community at the time was, by and large, somewhat skeptical of this viewpoint, Johnson continued to use such Cold War arguments to gain political advantage. As I will explore a bit later in this essay, appealing to issues of national security, in fact, became one of the primary ways of getting budget-conscious elected officials to support government funding of the emerging space program. For an in-depth account of the relationship between public opinion, public policy, science, and science-fiction, see Howard McCurdy's book-length treatment, Space and the American Imagination (1997).

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3. W. Stuart Symington, Address, Veteran's Day, Jefferson City, Missouri, 11 November 1957, from Lee Saegesser, "High-Ground Advantage," NASA History Office.

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4. By "frontier technologies," I mean the technologies developed for or in a frontier environment: food items, materials created specifically for the construction of outer-spatial vehicles and, of course, the transportation technologies that would enable a humans-to-Mars mission.

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5. These questions are Zubrin's version of questions he says that Turner asked. They are quoted directly from The Case for Mars.

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6. Indeed, it is possible that Zubrin's anticipation in this regard is modeled on Dick's fiction, that Zubrin read Dick in his younger years and has been influenced by it. It is equally possible that Zubrin was influenced by Total Recall. Unfortunately, we did not discuss this in the interview, so any conclusions to that end would be purely speculative.

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7. By most accounts, we didn't need men in space in the early stages of the space program; what we needed was public support to affect public policy and the public wanted to see itself in space. So, Von Braun promoted manned space exploration presumably hoping to get financial support. This issue is still being debated by Robert Zubrin and his team. As much as they want to go to Mars, they run tests to try to determine whether or not it would be cheaper to have robots continue to make the journey to Mars rather than humans.

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8. To clarify, Princess actually begins in Arizona, as a cowboy adventure in which John Carter is pursued by Apaches. Carter takes refuge in a cave, from whence he is inexplicably transported to Mars.

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9. This is especially true in science-fiction of the first third of the twentieth-century (before we discovered how thin the Martian atmosphere actually is); however, much science-fiction, and even more fantasy of course, ignored discoveries about the Martian atmosphere and biotic factors, or likely lack thereof. A 1948 story by Ray Bradbury (included in his 1950 collection called The Martian Chronicles), "June 2001: And the Moon Be Still as Bright," has its explorers building a fire the first night they arrive on Mars: "It was so cold," Bradbury writes "that when they first came from the ship into the night, Spender began to gather the dry Martian wood and build a small fire" (48).

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10. There are, of course, exceptions to this. Edgar Rice Burroughs, for example, chooses to leave out the journey to Mars and instead has John Carter in The Princess of Mars (1912) simply waking up on Mars.

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11. Quoted from Brian W. Dippie, "The Winning of the West Reconsidered," Wilson Quarterly 14 (Summer 1990): 73.

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12. This is why many heralded cyberspace as an ideal frontier: it is a space that has no explicit physicality and so can be argued to be purely imaginary or virtual. However, the dynamic in cyberspace presents us with a new form to negotiate, a form that does not ultimately allow us to transcend our physicality.

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13. The rhetoric is doubly interesting here since the Census Bureau titles the part of its report dedicated to explaining the changes it records the "Progress of the Nation."

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14. Zubrin writes in Entering Space that "Kennedy believed in the necessity of humanity, and in particular America, taking on the challenge of the space frontier and used the tension with the Russians as a tool to acquire political support for such an initiative" (11).

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15. Quoted in Howard E. McCurdy's Space and the American Imagination (1997). However, the conjoining of "business" and "progress" was not unique to the socioeconomic climate of the mid-twentieth century space race and NASA-developed technology. Rail technology of the nineteenth century was similarly viewed as a technology of progress for, among other things, its potential to create new markets in the waning originary frontier West.

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16. From an interview with Mary Roach in the New York Times Magazine on November 5, 2000.

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17. Their interest is in 1960s sci-fi; however, their analysis holds true for much of the science-fiction written between 1930 and 1970.

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18. Interestingly, the science-fiction author, Robinson, asserts in a later portion of the interview that the reason we should go to Mars is to study comparative planetology while his contemporary, Robert Zubrin, the scientist, foregrounds the powers of the frontier to rejuvenate the American spirit of exploration and innovation.

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19. This was a prominent theme in the Mars novels of the 40s and 50s. See Paul A. Carter's The Creation of Tomorrow: Fifty Years of Magazine Science Fiction (1972).

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20. As McHale notes, while "postmodernist fiction prefers to represent the disintegration of the self figuratively" (254), there are some exceptions. Dick may be one of these exceptions if we consider the psychic disintegration of his Martian settlers, while not a material disintegration, a "literal" disintegration nonetheless.

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