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Superheroes in a White Coat

FELIP PINEDA. 29/05/2013 Science's salvific mission according to The Flaming Lips

The Flaming Lips shows stand out for their spectacular nature. The band uses spatial exploration and other scientifics motifs in their shows. A spacecraft landing on the stage in the picture

VALENCIA. The image of the scientist in a white coat is deep rooted in our collective imagination, just as many other stereotypes Hollywood spreads in its films. Just in case, I'll make an obvious remark: outside Hollywood's fantasy world, most scientists do not wear white coats -why should a mathematician or an astronomer?

Therefore, it is an unrealistic misconception. This stereotype is closely linked to yet another misconception: scientists live on a different level -a higher level- of reality, their knowledge is unreachable for the rest of mortals, and their purpose in life is saving the world -or destroying it, depending on who is telling the story.

The Flaming Lips, the extravagant Oklahoma band, opted for the former and bestowed upon science a salvific mission in their song Race for the Prize, included in their ninth album The Soft Bulletin (Warner Bros, 1999). In this song, two scientists face great dangers in an under pressure environment «for the good of all mankind». A kind of superhero who -I'd bet my life on it- wear white coats even at the super market.

Race for the Prize depicts an idealised science, guided by hope and goodness and, therefore, aseptic, neutral and altruistic. Its main characters («They're just humans/ With wives and children») let themselves be carried away by an unselfish attitude and an absolute dedication while their fate is to shape the future beyond their will. This is a clichéd perspective we need to be careful with, especially taking into account the band's career.

The song had some important repercussions at the time, and this is why the band La Costa Brava decided to translate it into Spanish and include it in their album Déjese querer por una loca (Grabaciones en el Mar, 2003) and named it Dos científicos (Carrera por el premio) (Two scientists (Race for the Prize)). The Spanish version still has an epic vibe about it, however, it shows a bitter face: the titanic task carried out by the two scientists won't be acknowledged in their lifetime («They'll reach the top when they are dead, far away»).

An observation that, sadly, matches reality more accurately and leads us to think about other super heroes that, with or without white coats, work for a better future while official science seems to be taking different directions.

Full text available at Mètode's website.


Felip Pineda. Editor at Mètode, University of Valencia
Foto: Wikimedia Commons


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