Future imperfect

Continuing from yesterday’s post, what is it, exactly, that caused the shift in our science fiction view of the future from optimism to pessimism and even paranoia? When, exactly, did we go from white mirror to black mirror?

From the perspective of the U.S., my best guess is the general response to our nation’s involvement in the Vietnam conflict, compounded by the Watergate scandal. That was a time when a large swatch of the citizenry rapidly grew distrustful of their federal government.

This seems to be supported by the timing of various science fiction offerings in popular culture. For example, when Star Trek came out in 1966, the nation was, for the most part, blissfully unaware of anything to do with the Vietnam conflict other than what their own government was telling them.

By 1968, the debut of two far more dystopian films — 2001, A Space Odyssey and Planet of the Apes — the cracks in our sunny narrative of the future were starting to burst open.

By 1973, in the wake of both Vietnam and the Watergate scandal, we had Soylent Green and Westworld, two films as paranoid as it gets. The tide had decisively turned, never again to turn back.

4 thoughts on “Future imperfect”

  1. I grew up reading SciFi novels about space travel. Watching the Challenger blow up in 1986 definitely dimmed my view of a space-faring future. It was clear we weren’t travelling to other planets like the novels described anytime soon.

    On the other hand, watching the the two SpaceX boosters land together in perfect formation a few years ago made me feel hopeful again.

  2. I think a large part of the pessimistic attitude comes from the surge of political conflict over the years. Our social media consumption, then, further divides us because of how it feeds us posts that align with our interests and ideologies.

    It seems like we have shifted our focus more on political problems, which, in turn, narrows our view towards the present instead of the future. With so many problems that we hear about, we begin to view the future more pessimistically.

  3. I’m surprised you consider 2001 “dystopian”. Particularly in the novel version, Clarke alludes the transcendent human does return to help us out.

  4. I found the Kubrick film to be far darker and more pessimistic than A.C. Clarke’s novelization. Clarke’s original short story The Sentinal was indeed more optimistic.

    Where Clarke seemed to be suggesting that we were going to “level up” and evolve to be better versions of ourselves, I felt that the film put more emphasis on the concept humankind is a failed species, which needs to be replaced. Definitely open to interpretation though.

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