The Planet Mongo Project

The Planet Mongo Project (TPMP) is an online project in interdisciplinary cultural studies. It aims to present ideas from academic research about the intersection of science and technology, social dynamics, such as ethnicity and race–particularly involving Asian/Americans–and expressive culture to a broader audience. Its contributors believe that public engagement and discussion is vital to intellectual work; they hope the thoughts and ideas raised here prove useful in people’s everyday lives and experiences.

The planet Mongo was the setting for the Flash Gordon comic strip, which began in 1930 and enjoyed several decades of popularity. In the science fiction serial, Flash, Dale Arden, and Dr. Hans Zarkov faced and fought Mongo’s ruler, Ming the Merciless, and others of his race, alien Orientals with advanced technology and a cold and ruthless lack of humanity. Over the course of their adventures, however, the Earth trio discovered the planet’s greater diversity, encountering, contesting, and occasionally allying with its various and varied denizens. In this sense, while its name expressed race’s blatant and overdetermined categories, the planet Mongo itself presented the potential and possibility–as well as contradiction–within them.

The rants, ruminations, and other random thoughts here seek to address cultural studies in the same vein. If we can understand how Planet Mongo was, always and already, more than a Planet of Doom, we can apply that approach to other forms of culture and their expression of social concerns about race, science, and technology within an increasingly interconnected global society.

Culture, particularly popular culture, does not ignore nor underestimate the importance of politics and power; it illustrates their extent and influence. Hegemony is an imperialism that denies the power it achieves. Culture, moreover, is fluid and often contradictory, produced by and entangled within commercial as well as aesthetic considerations and mixed nationalist–and in the case of Asian/Americans, Orientalist assumptions.

Rather than displacing or discrediting those assumptions toward an unattainable and perhaps all too serious authenticity, we acknowledge them instead in their fullest capacity, to look for the humor in their situation. With a good laugh often comes clarity. Contradiction becomes complexity, and like the Planet Mongo, reveals potential and possibility. To chuckle at culture’s unintended humor is the first, if hopefully not last, step to changing the conditions that produce it.