Anthropologist and English lecturer comment on popularity, cultural themes of ‘Planet of the Apes’

Paul Mullins 1227544_w296INDIANAPOLIS — Why does the idea of a dystopian world ruled by apes continue to pique moviegoers’ interest nearly five decades after the original “Planet of the Apes” debuted?

With the newest installment of the franchise, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” opening in theaters this weekend, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis anthropology professor Paul R. Mullins and IUPUI English lecturer Michal Hughes are available for comment on the popularity and cultural themes of the movie series.

The original series — a five-film saga — began in 1968 with Charlton Heston as astronaut George Taylor marooned on an ape-ruled planet. This year’s film follows the 2011 “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” a reboot of the original series.

On the big screen, we’ve had seven films, with a third in the reboot series announced earlier this year. What piques our fascination and keeps us coming back for more?

Mullins: “The fundamental attraction of the series remains its dystopian narrative of the price of human folly and the potential that the meek may inherit the earth; in much of the ‘Apes’ franchise, we root for the apes and are indifferent to (if not actively rooting against) the humans.”

Hughes: “A large part is the desire for answers to our questions. Why do the apes hate humans so much? What did the humans do to stir that hatred? When did the animosity between the species of apes start? How and why did it start? What caused the apocalypse? How did the humans lose speech after the apocalypse? Ad infinitum. As a prequel to the original series, viewers are hoping to discover some of the answers to these and other questions.”

There has been a change of themes in the movies, reflecting changes in society, according to Mullins and Hughes.

Mullins: “The franchise was a bit more focused on race in the ’60s and ’70s and now addresses somewhat different costs of human agency (e.g., genetic engineering, environmental impacts, etc.).”

Given that “Planet of the Apes” debuted during the civil rights era, can we expect this movie to carry the same weight as a commentary on American culture and/or history?

Hughes: “To some degree. It should show us how the seeds of hatred were sown for both the hatred between apes and humans and the class struggle between the species of apes. (Science fiction) often masks subjects like this and is able to present it to a far larger audience than other genres of film or literature. I expect the film to distinguish the subtle differences and keep these issues in the background of the story.”

Michal Hughes teaches science fiction literature in the Department of English in the School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI. His academic interests include science fiction and fantasy. Hughes’ writings include “The Confessions of a Science Fiction Reader: Notes upon values taught by Science Fiction and Fantasy” in “Reaching Young People Through Media.”

Paul Mullins, chair of the Department of Anthropology in the School of Liberal Arts and a popular culture expert, has taught a class that includes “Planet of the Apes as American Myth: Race and Politics in the Films and Television Series” as a required textbook.

 

To arrange an interview with Mullins or Hughes, contact Diane Brown at 317-274-2195 (office), 317-371-0437 (cell) or habrown@iupui.edu.

 

 

Ray Bradbury biographer to present lecture in the humanities

Legendary American science-fiction and fantasy writer Ray Bradbury will be the subject of the 2012 John D. Barlow Lecture in the Humanities at IUPUI on Nov. 8.

“Becoming Ray Bradbury” author Jonathan R. Eller, professor of English and director of the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies in the Institute for American Thought, a research component of the IU School of Liberal Arts, will present the illustrated lecture, “Cry the Cosmos: Ray Bradbury and the American Imagination.”

The lecture will begin at 6:15 p.m. in the IUPUI Campus Center Theater, 420 University Blvd. A reception precedes the lecture in the Campus Center atrium at 5 p.m.

“For more than 60 years, Ray Bradbury has been one of the most recognized figures in American literature and popular culture,” Eller says. “Between 1950 and 1962, he captured the American imagination with such enduring titles as ‘The Martian Chronicles,’ ‘The Illustrated Man,’ ‘Fahrenheit 451,’ ‘The October Country,’ ‘Dandelion Wine’ and ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes.’ His increasing commitments to film, television and stage adaptations of his work led inevitably to his decline as a storywriter, but his early tales and media work soon combined to make him the nation’s most prominent public advocate of the Space Age — a role he fulfilled for the rest of his long life.”

Eller co-founded the Bradbury Center within the Institute for American Thought in 2007, and he became the center’s director in August 2011. He first met Ray Bradbury in 1989, eventually developing a working relationship that lasted until Bradbury’s death in June 2012. Since 2000, Eller has edited or co-edited several limited-press editions of Bradbury’s works, including “The Halloween Tree” (2005), “Dandelion Wine” (2007) and two collections of stories and precursors related to Bradbury’s publication of “Fahrenheit 451: Match to Flame” (2006) and “A Pleasure to Burn” (2010).

The IU School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI hosts the Barlow Lecture in the Humanities in honor of Liberal Arts Dean and Professor Emeritus John D. Barlow. The lecture is free and open to the public, but seating is limited. To RSVP, email LibaRSVP@iupui.edu with “Bradbury” in the subject line.

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