The future promises to be so wonderous and terrifying that it will exceed even the furthest reaches of the human imagination. Though this is not saying much, as the human imagination has really only been able to think up eight possible futures:
#8. An Oppressive Totalitarian State
Forcibly proscribed social roles and classes; a creepy, overbearing "beloved leader" and equally creepy propaganda posters on every wall; an ultra-brutal police force; the repression of all written communication and creativity; a huge underclass of drone-like proles paralyzed with paranoid anxiety; a moratorium on rainbows, strawberry ice cream and butterfly kisses. Basically, it's the Cold War-era Soviet Union.
George Orwell's 1984 laid the macabre groundwork for the Totalitarian State future vision, and while the actual year 1984 didn't pan out quite as he thought it would, you have to admit that Michael Jackson's hair catching on fire was pretty terrifying. Orwell also gets credit for creating newspeak, thereby giving nerds everywhere a new way to express their distaste for this week's double-plus, ungood episode of Heroes.
Aldous Huxley's Brave New World helped cement the Totalitarian State in the public's imagination. He added genetic modification and sanctioned drug use to the mix, at least one of which is a clear improvement over the present. Sylvester Stallone's 1995 brilliant masterwork Judge Dredd should also be mentioned, if only because it took the novel stance of making a member of the ultra-brutal police force its hero, while simultaneously stripping out the ironic undertones of the British comic on which it was based. Way to go, America!
V for Vendetta, Brazil, Fahrenheit 451, The Handmaid's Tale, The Giver, Gattaca, Soylent Green.
Why It Will Never Happen:
Governments have been evolved and advanced to achieve stunning levels of incompetence that Orwell could hardly have imagined. Sure, we did wind up with wall monitors in our homes, but they display mostly porn and advertisements.
Besides, the entire reason the Orwellian future genre survives is because it scares the crap out of people. It's what gets the ACLU and Libertarians out of bed in the morning. Sure, the president would probably like to make himself Lord Protectorate and live in a giant crystal tower, but these days he would have to ask permission of several multinational corporations first.
#7. A Retro-Futuristic Utopia
A complete obliteration of all littering and public nudity; food-mo-trons, laser showers and other assorted impossibly useful machines; miracle trains that require only one rail; happily hetero- and socio-normative nuclear family units; an all-powerful but inexplicably benevolent government; spandex clothing with no pockets whatsoever; robots that do all the work now performed by illegal immigrants; a dearth of illegal immigrants; a statistically perfect assortment of pure-bred ethnicities to distract from how staggeringly white everyone has become; flying cars.
With its robot maid, its four-hour workdays and its unseen, but surely starving surface-world population, The Jetsons perfectly sums up the nave, unbridled optimism we once showed for technology. It's hard to out optimism, a future vision that has us all living on mile-long poles, flying to disco dance clubs, taking field trips to the moon, and siring sons who routinely invent devices Stephen Hawking would lunge out of his chair to get his hands on. If only Mr. Spacely wasn't such a flaming asshole.
Disneyland's House of the Future, Metropolis, Back to the Future II, Star Trek: The Next Generation (when they go to Earth), Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Demolition Man.
Why It Will Never Happen:
Utopian writers always seem to be working with a completely different species of humanity than exists now. Bug-free technology? Streets free of filth? It's less like a possible future and more like an alternate universe, a place where somehow 100 percent of both the politicians and citizens actually give a shit (a 97 percent increase over the rate).
Sure, we'd like a flying car. Until, that is, we imagine our drunken uncle, passed out behind the stick, hurtling toward some high-tension power lines at 300 miles an hour.
#6. A Sprawling Urban Hell-Slum
A crime rate so high that if you're not currently being robbed, it's only because you're robbing someone else; a beseiged police force desperate to keep the scum under control; rampant drug use to escape the harsh reality of living in a genre stereotype; corrupt businessmen feeding off the suffering of the poor; living spaces that make New York studio apartments look like the Louvre; subtle signs of globalization's aftermath (i.e., lots of Asian food and possibly gigantic advertisements featuring Asian women).
At the center of this particular vision of the future is the gruff, tough, futuristic-cigarette-equivalent-smoking badass. We're talking Kurt Russel, Bruce Willis, Harrison Ford, Sean Connery and Clive Owen. With movies like Blade Runner and Children of Men, the optimism of earlier eras had been replaced with a gruff cynicism and a genetic predisposition to cleft chins, a world where electric razor technology has devolved to the point that every shave leaves one-eigth inch of stubble behind.
Twelve Monkeys, A Clockwork Orange, The Fifth Element, Robocop, Escape From New York, Total Recall, Outland, Snow Crash, Land of the Dead, Shadowrun.
Why it Will Never Happen:
The Gillette Fusion, through its innovative five-blade technology and aloe strip, guarantees a close, smooth, sexy shave every time. Gillette: the best a man can get! (Gillette executives: Please make all checks payable to Michael "The Danger Zone" Swaim).
#5. An Invasion by Hostile Aliens
Aliens that look like reptiles or insects; aliens that look exactly like humans, but turn out to be reptiles or insects in disguise; slime, goo and/or sludge; an unstoppable powerful extraterrestrial force whose scientific knowledge and military strength surpasses ours thousands of times over; the human race succeeding through sheer pluck, moxie, or dumb luck; the aliens either having a single glaring weakness, soft spot or incredibly imbecilic understanding of their own fundamental biology; an important lesson about the resilience of the human spirit.
H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds first brought violent alien invasion into the minds and nightmares of children around the world, along with the guarantee that any such aliens would have some incredibly stupid weakness. Despite crashing down on Earth with super-robo octopi that shot heat lasers and just generally wrecked all our shit, the poor bastards were eventually done in by the common cold.
Wells set the stage for future lame alien weaknesses like water in Signs and the screaming vacuum of space in Alien.
Battlefield Earth, V, The Arrival, Ender's Game.
Why it Will Never Happen:
Because so far the only aliens technologically advanced enough to visit Earth seem primarily interested in abducting hicks and probing anuses. These poor creatures cross the vast emptiness of space only to crash their saucers in New Mexico and have no technology to avoid detection by farm folk with disposable cameras. The chances for a successful full-scale invasion do not appear to be strong.
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