Sunday, November 4, 2012

Enough of the Blade Runner Future Already!

by Aurelio O'Brien

Maybe it’s because I grew up in the 1950-60’s. I was 11 years old when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. I rode GE’s “Carousel of Progress” and Monsanto’s “Adventures through Inner Space” in Disneyland, humming along with it’s theme songs, “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” and “Miracles through Molecules.” The view of my future back then was bright and rosy, with the promise of abundant clean energy, candy-colored plastic everything, marvelous, genetically-enhanced foods, and the best thing of all, personal hovercrafts.
The future yesterday.

Of course, we were aware of smog, overpopulation, poverty (you know, those starving kids in name-the-country who would love to eat the vegetables on your plate), polluted waterways and limited natural resources, but it could all be solved in time, through science and technology and optimism. This seems silly and trite now, like an MGM musical version of life where everyone bursts into song on a whim without everyone else laughing at them. But we didn’t laugh at the time––it was our meme.

But, I wonder… hasn’t the current meme of our future become just as silly and trite too? The one with everyone dressed in black & gray, with towering slums and everyone armed to the teeth with weapons of death, with killer robots and nature obliterated to make room for impossibly high and sprawling cityscapes (and where, for some odd reason it’s always either dusk or night all day long). A world of deadly pollution, radioactive mutants, and no food or water (but somehow overpopulated just the same.)

The future today.

Neither of these versions of the future is accurate, I grant you, but if we look at my childhood meme and compare it to today’s reality, is it actually all that far off? We have smart phones, flat screen TV, personal computers, and access to an ample and unprecedented variety of fresh foods. Cars are more efficient and reliable and cleaner burning. Medical care is better and people are living longer than ever. We have robots on Mars and other satellites exploring the furthest reaches of our solar system. Access to information, to each other, anywhere in the world, is here to enjoy. Artificial intelligence is just around the corner.
Still no hovercrafts or jet packs though, darn it all.
And yes, we do now have killer robots, population has continued to run amok, global warming is upon us, and genetically altered foods are now viewed with a jaundiced eye. We have not solved our pollution problems, new and stronger diseases loom, we continue to deplete our natural resources, and the politics of it all has become dominated by amoral moneyed corporations. And New Yorkers all dress in black and gray.

I only wish to open up the possibility of new fictional visions of our future, ones where it is not all gloom and doom. Ones with new optimistic possibilities that stir our imaginations and inspire us to want to go there. That use our current positive scientific and technological advances to inspire more amazing steps beyond it. A place we might want to go rather than avoid.
Preferably ones with hovercrafts.

Aurelio O'Brien is the nom de plume of a certain art director.  His first novel, "Eve" was featured in the old format FLIP. 


  1. It looks like you want the Futrama future. In fact, Matt Groening's intent was to subvert both the Jetsons-era utopia and the Blade Runner-era dystopia by depicting the future as neither.