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.

The Martian

At the urging of my dad I recently read Andy Weir’s The Martian. His recommendation was well deserved. It is a great book – not a great ‘sci-fi’ book, but a great book period. It’s a little geeky and a whole lot of human.

Lost on Mars, astronaut Mark Watney struggles for survival with limited resources and unlimited imagination. The character is sharp, funny, and witty. The book has an interesting narrative as most of the action is from report logs Watney is leaving after doing something. Watney tells you his plan and then in the next section tells you what happened. With every turn you’re left asking “Will he make it?” It’s a cliché description, but apt in this case – a total page turner.

Ridley Scott is making a film starring pretty much everyone in Hollywood. It looks great and, like the book, the technology is near-future and very believable. I can’t wait to see this one in theaters.

“My set is my office, because that’s where I work.”

Professional interviewer of current presidents, Hank Green, talks about legitimacy in media.

Walter Cronkite wasn’t representing a political ideology, or even discussing politics when my father watched the news as a teenager. He was discussing the news. Cable news today uses the residual legitimacy of that bygone era (that they are simultaneously destroying) to degrade the legitimacy of their political opponents.

Man, the ‘news’ is really crap isn’t it? I think younger people 1 – with easy access to information covering multiple viewpoints – have a lower tolerance for bullshit and a higher propensity to detecting it.

Hank talks about authenticity and honesty in his essay, elements that traditional news is lacking. That lack of trust is something that news 2 once had, but is sorely missing. Younger people are often labeled as cynics when we balk at the junk ‘news’ they’re throwing out. We’re considered disinterested or disconnected when we tell folks we don’t watch the 9 o’clock news. When in reality, we can see through their dishonesty and are insulted.

Will that trust and authenticity come back to traditional media? I say no. I think folks like Hank are the future of news creation. That’s what their audience wants (and expects). Folks with access to more information want honesty and trust in who is telling them the news.

You can watch the interview with the President on YouTube. Hank even shares a few thoughts about the experience on the vlogbrothers channel.


  1. I think people of any age can get information from multiple viewpoints and have an open mind, but habits are deeply embedded the older you become. I’m 33, and I sometimes have a hard time keeping an open mind about things. I fight against that fossilization.

  2. Journalism in general.