Space Oddity

In 1969 David Bowie caught his first big break when the release of Space Oddity coincided with the Apollo 11 space mission and subsequent moon landing. That event was greeted with worldwide celebration and optimism about our impending Utopian technofuture. What Bowie tapped into was the opposite of that, the creeping suspicion that all that technological innovation would bring nothing but sorrow. Every step of human progress, of course, has always been shadowed by the fear that technological dehumanization. The introduction of the printed word led to fierce debates about how all that pesky knowledge would cause widespread delinquency and endanger people’s souls by leading them away from God. Or whatever. The tech may change but the conversation is always the same: the availability of new gadgets will destroy human empathy, reasoning ability, social circles and fine motor skills, creating a society of mindless sad robot-people adrift with no sense of purpose or ability to form meaningful connections with one another. Space travel is that, placing quite literally alienated humans alone in an environment where they have no business ever existing. The image of the lone astronaut floating through the void has been as haunting and disturbing as the idea of colonizing new worlds is gung-ho and exciting. It also makes a powerful metaphor for the various alienations we experience in normal life; the office cubicle, the MRi machine, the commuter vehicle, the empty McMansion, the prison cell, the nuclear submarine – they’re all symbols of untethered lonely lives lived by people who might as well be in outer space.