It’s Life, Jim
One of the more interesting things that’s happened over the last 40 years or so (I can’t reliably go back far beyond that, what with not really taking notice of these things before I was about 10) is the way SF and Fantasy memes have crept into the mainstream.
Classic Star Trek episodes have been rerun so many times that an awful lot of people who were too young to see them the first (or second, or third) time around still recognize them, and know what it means to be a red shirt. The first set of Star Wars movies have also been rerun endlessly – and of course video rentals followed by Netflix and Amazon on demand mean anyone can watch them any time, so much so that “I’ve got a bad feeling about this” practically telegraphs that all heck is about to break lose.
I can’t say for sure just how far genre tropes have found their way into mainstream culture, but the mere existence of the TV Tropes site suggests the answer is somewhere between “a lot” and “everywhere”. Why else would there be bumper stickers reading “Come to the Dark Side. We have cookies.”? (The cookies, much like the cake, are lies).
The thing about tropes and their shorter, more colorful cousins memes is that when they reflect something fundamentally real, they can spread fast. The meme becomes a hook into the trope which in turn describes something that should be known – namely that the reason many of these things turn into clichés is that they were accurate and powerful when they first made an appearance.
Now people laugh at the choreographed flinging selves around the set used in classic Star Trek – but when the show was being filmed, and with the budget said show had, it was an innovative way to simulate the possible effect of an impact. If only they’d thrown themselves around in different directions each time to simulate an impact from a different direction… Or used props a little more sturdy so that the actors didn’t have to fling themselves on it quite so cautiously that it was kind of… obvious. Still, grabbing something and shaking yourself does give a really good impression of everything around you being jostled and buffeted.
There are plenty of other examples, other ways that science fiction particularly has become mainstream, aside from the technology we use every day. Mobile phones might not look like a Star Trek device, but they’re at least as powerful as long as you’re within range of a transmitter. We routinely carry around more computing power than was used in the moon landings. Heck, the first space shuttle was named the Enterprise in homage to Star Trek (and probably also the vision that we could one day be routinely flying around the universe – something that alas seems a fair way off yet). We have video phones and call them Skype. Cruise control in cars is good enough to automatically maintain a safe distance behind the car in front, and self-driving cars are coming along nicely.
All of this got imagined in SF, often pulpy SF, then other people worked out how to make it happen. Without the dream, the initial idea, there wouldn’t be the impetus to try to make it happen, so the innovations wouldn’t happen either. All it takes is for someone to have the courage to look at the world a little differently – Star Trek imagined a future where the global pissing match that “everyone knew” would end in nukes had become so much a thing of the past nobody cared whether a crewman was Russian or American. The makers also imagined instant communication that wasn’t tethered to wires, easy diagnosis of injury or disease, and many other things, some less feasible than others.
Quite a few of their ideas have found life, just not the sort of life the makers of the show imagined back when they were filming. And that is the way it should be.