We Can Define the Future We Want

AKA Why Tomorrowland is an underrated film.

Since the election season started last year I’ve been in a constant state of low-idle anxiety and depression punctuated by spikes of “What is the world coming to?” and “Everything is going to be OK!”. Keeping up felt stressful and zoning out felt irresponsible. I was thinking things would have subsided after the general election, but hey what do you know. It hasn’t. ಠ_ಠ

So, this is one of those pithy blog posts where we take a step back and over-analyze a medium – in this case science fiction film – as a signpost of, “WE WERE WARNED”.

Science fiction has always been rich with possible futures for humanity. Some plausible, others far into the realm of the bizarre. One thing all science fiction attempts to do is provide a mirror on humanity and our choices and present possible futures. Most fictional universes, like our own reality, contain the potential for good, but are blocked or marred by some form of evil or wrongness.

So, what does science fiction have to do with our current state? Well, for one if we had all watched Tomorrowland we’d all be more informed and prepared for this crap. 1 Presented as a science fiction film, it provides a dark potential future.

Recently, Lizzie O’Leary from Marketplace interviewed Robert Capps, the Senior Editor at Wired to discuss their recent Sci-fi issue.

Lizzie O’Leary: Many of the visions in here are pretty dark. Why do you think that happened?

Capps: I think there’s a couple of reasons. We started doing this issue a good eight months ago and we actually were approaching writers six months ago. But I think that going back six months we had a very bitter election. We had a mass shooting at a nightclub in Florida. Really, it’s not so much dark, or even pessimism, but uncertainty. There is some warnings of, we should think about how we want to go forward and what we want our society and our planet to look like.

Again, this is what science fiction does best. Presenting us with possible futures – ones with uncertainty, and making us reflect upon the reality we face. That’s where Tomorrowland comes in.

Set in an alternate reality where the brightest minds attempt to make a Utopia for all mankind, things go to pot. The cynical “maybe a good guy at the beginning, but really a bad guy” Nix, played by Hugh Laurie, reveals that an invention has been influencing the thoughts of civilization for the last 50 years – feeding negative thoughts and ideas about the end of the world into the minds of everyone on Earth.

Nix, has a great monologue toward the end of the film,

“Let’s imagine… if you glimpsed the future, you were frightened by what you saw, what would you do with that information? You would go to… the politicians, captains of industry? And how would you convince them? Data? Facts? Good luck! The only facts they won’t challenge are the ones that keep the wheels greased and the dollars rolling in. But what if… what if there was a way of skipping the middle man and putting the critical news directly into everyone’s head? The probability of wide-spread annihilation kept going up. The only way to stop it was to show it. To scare people straight. Because, what reasonable human being wouldn’t be galvanized by the potential destruction of everything they’ve ever known or loved? To save civilization, I would show its collapse. But, how do you think this vision was received? How do you think people responded to the prospect of imminent doom? They gobbled it up like a chocolate eclair! They didn’t fear their demise, they re-packaged it. It could be enjoyed as video-games, as TV shows, books, movies, the entire world wholeheartedly embraced the apocalypse and sprinted towards it with gleeful abandon. Meanwhile, your Earth was crumbling all around you. You’ve got simultaneous epidemics of obesity and starvation. Explain that one! Bees and butterflies start to disappear, the glaciers melt, algae blooms. All around you the coal mine canaries are dropping dead and you won’t take the hint! In every moment there’s the possibility of a better future, but you people won’t believe it. And because you won’t believe it you won’t do what is necessary to make it a reality. So, you dwell on this terrible future. You resign yourselves to it for one reason, because *that* future does not ask anything of you today. So yes, we saw the iceberg and warned the Titanic. But you all just steered for it anyway, full steam ahead. Why? Because you want to sink! You gave up! That’s not the monitor’s fault. That’s yours.”

Emphasis mine.

Good science fiction should inspire us. We can use its shiny surface to reflect the future we want.

We have to fight against uncertainty, to not give in. Consuming the 24 hour news cycle, social media, and so much angst everywhere we turn is not healthy for us as individuals. It does not make the uncertain more certain. Action does. I’m encouraged and embolden by the people marching, protesting, calling representatives, donating, and talking about these issues. I hope it continues.

One more bit of appropriate dialog, from again a film I think is undervalued. This time between the protagonist and her father.

Casey Newton: There are two wolves and they are always fighting. One is darkness and despair. The other is light and hope. Which wolf wins?
Eddie Newton: Come on, Casey.
Casey: Okay, fine. Don’t answer.
Eddie: Whichever one you feed.

 


  1. Tomorrowland is not the only or best representation of science fiction warning us of potential follies, but one of the more recent and straightforward examples. While flawed, it is a favorite film of mine. My biggest criticism is that the film supposes that the best people abandon Earth to make a utopia with plans to invite everyone later. That would never work, as many people would feel shunned for not being included in the creation of said utopia. In my opinion, the filmmakers should have framed the creation of Tomorrowland as less of a, “Hey let the smart people figure this out. We’ll call you when it’s ready.”, and more of an inclusive “Everyone can pitch in with their unique skills” sort of message. But I digress.

Neil Cicierega – XOXO

One of the most prolific creators of weird and wonderful internet, Neil Cicierega is an artist, comedian, filmmaker, musician, and game developer. His many, many projects include Potter Puppet Pals, Lemon Demon, and his stunning Mouth Sounds and Mouth Silence mashup albums.

If you’re a person of about my age you’ve undoubtedly witnessed one of Neil’s many creations. In the early days of the web, before social media, files were shared with what felt like more anonymity. Folks created multiple personas and tracing back the original was difficult. 1 I fondly recall discovering Neil’s Hyakugojyuuichi, a bizarre Flash animation juxtaposition, that even decades later is still enchanting – in a strange Niel Cicierega way. 🙂


  1. Not that any of this is not true in 2017, but it is far easier now.

Sammus – XOXO

“Balancing a full-time hip-hop career while pursuing her PhD in Science and Technology Studies at Cornell, Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo’s been producing beats and rapping under the moniker Sammus since 2009, a powerful voice at the intersection of music and technology, covering subjects as diverse as video games and cartoons to social justice and mental health.”

Oof. Sammus’ talk was really strong, and then she started performing and all the feels came out. Watching this again, on YouTube, at my computer, still gives me chills.

 

Talia Jane – XOXO

Another great talk from XOXO. The intrepid Talia Jane.

“After her open letter to Yelp’s CEO, writer and comedian Talia Jane was fired for blowing the whistle on the treatment of “lower tier” employees in Silicon Valley, and faced a non-stop barrage of personal attacks and accusations of “millennial entitlement.” Two months later, Yelp raised wages company-wide for the employees of their food delivery app who could barely afford to eat.”

I’ve been in sucky situations where I though a message to the higher, higher-ups would be A Good Idea, but I’ve been too fearful of the repercussions to actually carry it out. That’s as a straight white guy who’d probably get praised for speaking up and ‘being a leader’ or whatever biased BS other white dudes tell each other. 🙂

Talia is amazing because how brave she was in her convictions. She not only lost her job but received undue assault over the Internet.

There’s much to be said about the great things the interconnectedness the Internet has brought to the world. The shitty part is when people use that distance and anonymity to take out aggressions on other people instead of doing the right thing.

Talia made one hell of a positive change to other people that didn’t result in a direct benefit for herself. Not many people do that.

Take away for me: Don’t let yourself be taken advantage of. If you find yourself in this kind of situation, get out. Do it before you become unhealthy. Persevere through criticism. Be positive. Do the right thing.

 

 

Gaby Dunn – XOXO

The Andys have started to release the videos from this year’s XOXO festival.1 I’m going to share each here as they are released. First up, Gaby Dunn from the comedy channel Just Between Us.

“Gaby Dunn is one half of Just Between Us, her enormously popular comedy channel with Allison Raskin, and creator of Bad with Money, her new podcast about financial anxiety. After quitting BuzzFeed last year, she’s raised awareness of the challenges facing independent artists — the exploitation of marginalized creators and the sad economics of internet fame.”

Gaby’s talk is an interesting view into a world I don’t have much experience with. These sorts of concerns (while applicable to white dudes) are more severe for folks who more likely to be taken advantage of.

My young daughter Kari, who watches more YouTube than television, dreams of one day being a YouTuber for her profession (Between running a cat hotel and a cooking show). My wife and I encourage her to express her creativity, but remind her that not everyone with a popular channel is financially independent. That it is it hard to run a business and be independent. Not impossible, but a challenge. A concern Gaby points out with clarity. I’ll be sharing this one with Kari.


  1. You should read Andy Baio’s post announcing the videos in light of the recent election results.