4 Pop Culture Predictions from the Past About 2013: Graded
This is the time of year when all of the smart writers and thinkers look at the economy, global cultural trends, and just the general tone of society and decide what the last 12 months meant. They put on their sociology top hats, do a lot of research, and write articles explaining to us why, with total certainty, "2013 was the year of ."
Loyal readers will know that I am not one of the smart writers and thinkers. I am, on my best day, a stuttering goon who focuses the majority of his day-to-day energy on not farting in front of women and adults. I can't really speak to what happened to the world in 2013, because I wasn't exactly paying attention (a LOT of movies came out this year). What I can do is remember popular movies and TV shows from the past that were set in 2013 and compare them to the world around me to see how they stack up against reality.
(It's not a very useful skill.)
(As wrong as people can be about the future, a lot of people are even more wrong about the past. The De-Textbook has the true, awesome story of stuff like Aztec sports, Napoleon's height, and (potential) Pilgrim orgies.)
Escape from L.A.
In between the 1997-set events of John Carpenter's Escape from New York and the 2013-set events of his sequel Escape from L.A., a lot of things happened. A massive earthquake hit, sending Los Angeles into the sea to function as its own island. Then we elected a new president who promptly appointed himself president for life and made a bunch of moral laws that outlawed, among other things, profanity, tobacco, alcohol, red meat, and the public expression of any views that didn't fit into his aggressively Christian agenda. Anyone who broke these laws would be sent to the island of Los Angeles, now a filthy, dangerous prison island.
However, they did accurately predict the 2013 Lakers season.
In 2013, the president's daughter, Utopia, gets brainwashed by a dangerous revolutionary and taken to Los Angeles. The president decides to send Snake Plissken, a very cool guy with an eye patch, into LA to retrieve her. Snake would, in exchange, be granted immunity for all of his many, many crimes. As if Snake needed MORE incentive, he gets injected with a deadly poison that will kill him within 10 hours unless he gets the antidote, which the president will only give him if he rescues Utopia. There's also a remote control that can render all of the world completely powerless, and everyone's trying to get their hands on it.
(To sum it up, the president's daughter has been kidnapped and Snake is the only man for the job to save her. I swear to God, '90s action movies have hands down the most convoluted and inefficient plots ever.)
What They Got Right
Los Angeles is indeed very dirty and shitty. And the aggressively Christian president in the movie was elected in 2000, the year George W. Bush, who was also known for his strong religious views, took office. Carpenter was prophetic enough to know that America in 2000 would be craving a down-home, "country boy" president to take America back to a simpler time where folks knew their manners; he just assumed we'd want one as a response to a massive earthquake instead of a few harmless White House blow jobs.
What They Got Wrong
There are some sci-fi and speculative fiction books and movies that really try to anticipate what the future will look like. The original Star Trek got quite a bit right, as far as day-to-day technology goes. Even if writers miss the mark more often than they hit it, they at least try.
Escape from L.A. didn't come close. To anything. I mean, Carpenter has insanely advanced technology, like holograms and power-dampening remote controls, but everyone still shoots regular pistols and dresses like they live in the '80s, and they surf out their problems, apparently.
The biggest issue is that Carpenter refused to commit to where he thought America was going morally. The whole country was being consumed by sin and excess, but we still inexplicably elected a strict, hyper-moral dictator-president for life. Leather-clad gangs roamed the streets, but we still wanted our man in office to think eating red meat was a crime punishable by exile. Maybe Carpenter was predicting how divided our nation was going to be in the 2000s, but it seems more likely to me that he's just a child who likes leather jackets.
X-Men: Days of Future Past
One of the most beloved X-Men sagas ever takes place in 2013 ... sort of. The comic, written in 1980, starts in 2013 (the future), where we learn that the X-Men and all other mutants are being hunted down and murdered by giant robots called Sentinels. Evidently, Charles Xavier, his friend Moira, and a politician named Robert Kelly were assassinated back in 1980, and that assassination started a series of events that culminated in an anti-mutant, dystopian future under robotic control. All mutants that managed to stay alive are kept in concentration camps, and life in the future is generally pretty terrible. Everything's dark and people dress funny. I think everybody dies. Can that be right?
When it becomes clear that the Sentinels are going to broaden their reach and take over the whole world, the remaining X-Men decide to transport the brain of Future Kitty Pryde into the body of Past (1980) Kitty Pryde. Future-Kitty-brained/Past-Kitty-bodied Kitty will have to apply her knowledge of the future to the world of 1980 in order to save it. Her goal is to prevent the assassination and save the future. (This plot involving time travel and multiple dimensions is STILL less convoluted than Escape from L.A.)
The mutants of the past/present are ultimately successful (probably). They prevent Robert Kelly's assassination, thereby stalling the reign of the Sentinels, for a while at least.
What They Got Wrong
Here are the most advanced robots we currently have:
Of course you are, little man. Of course you are.
Look at how non-violent they are. Look at how not-giant they are. Look at how not-being-attacked-by-Wolverine they are. Worthless. If the mutants of the Marvel universe were truly wiped out by the most sophisticated robots of 2013, they goddamned deserve to be extinct.
Wow, he's so lifelike, I almost forgot that he looks like C-3PO's ghost and can't go upstairs. Watch out, Nightcrawler!
The overwhelming shittiness of today's robots tells me that Marvel really overshot our technological capabilities. Sorry to disappoint you, Marvel. We spent all of our science money on dumb fucking Internet glasses that no one wants. You got everything wrong.
What They Got Right
Or did they?
In Marvel's version of 2013, almost all of the world's mutants have been driven to extinction. I look around my world and note that it is ALSO surprisingly bereft of mutants, so I've no choice but to conclude that Marvel's writers are, on that score at least, prescient.
Additionally, while we have absolutely nothing that even comes close to approaching how cool Marvel's Sentinels are, it's not completely unreasonable to say that modern North Americans are completely managed by machines:
True, we're not being rounded up in concentration camps or forced to wear brands that signify us as either mutant, human, or human-with-special-but-non-mutant powers, but I am entirely dependent on the machines in my life. I once had an incredible memory, but now I need Siri to remind me to update my fantasy football app on Sunday mornings because otherwise I'd have no idea what day it was. I used to know how to navigate from Point A to Point B based on landmarks, but now my smartphone gives me directions after, of course, it pulls my planned destination from a text message conversation without even asking me if that's where I wanted to go. Sometimes I get so busy that I wouldn't know to get up from in front of my work computer if my iPad didn't beep and remind me it was time to feed my dog. We're not being rounded up and murdered by Sentinels, but I ask you: Are we not still slaves to sophisticated machines?
(No. We're not. Obviously. That's absurd. X-Men got it wrong AGAIN.)
The Postman is one of two Kevin Costner movies set in a post-apocalyptic throwback world (the other being Waterworld). A non-specific nuclear war occurs at some point between 1997, when the movie was written, and 2013, when the movie was set, and people are forced to ride around on horseback and relearn how to be shitty to each other all over again. Kevin Costner travels around the world trading performances of Shakespeare's plays for food and water. When that stops working, he decides to become a postman. He ends up pissing off some evil ruling faction because he's delivering too much mail (or he's delivering the mail too good, I can't quite remember), and a mini war breaks out.
"Looks like I just became the postmaster general." -line that is sorely missing from this film
Also, Costner ends up meeting another character played by Tom Petty, and while it's never explicitly said that Tom Petty is playing "Tom Petty," he is playing someone who looks and sounds like Tom Petty and who is a celebrity who was "famous once before." And Tom Petty is without question the Tom Pettiest-looking motherfucker we have, so he was probably playing Tom Petty. So this movie assumes that even though a nuclear war wiped out most of humanity, Tom Petty survived, and we still respect him very much.
What They Got Right
One of the characters is named "Ford Lincoln-Mercury." That's absurd, but I don't see how that name is in any way different from Miley, Jaden, North, or Brooklyn, so I'm forced to conclude that the screenwriter of The Postman is a genius.
"Guess where I was conceived! Come on, guess!"
In 1997's The Postman, a person who looks like Tom Petty is inexplicably still alive. In 2013, Tom Petty is ALSO still alive, even though he is largely ratlike in mannerisms and appearance. That's two for two, The Postman.
What They Got Wrong
The biggest difference is in the amount of respect that everyone in that movie shows for postmen. It's such a sacred job there, almost akin to being a reverend or something. Meanwhile, I would personally describe my relationship with my postman as "I couldn't pick him out of a lineup if you had a gun shoved down my throat." And I'm not alone. The only major postal development of 2013 in real America was when the U.S. Postal Service, facing budgetary concerns (and out of a passive-aggressive desire to make the American people suffer for opting to use email instead of snail mail), planned to stop delivering mail on Saturdays. And what did the public at large do? Did we respect their wishes, holding them up as important, letter-wielding saviors, like The Postman would suggest? No, of course not. The Postal Service said, "We're not delivering on Saturday anymore because you don't appreciate us," and we said, "Hey, fuck you, you'll deliver mail whenever we say." And they did. We won, because we were dicks, and we don't care what the post office wants.
An Episode of Rocko's Modern Life
Rocko's Modern Life is a '90s cartoon about a wallaby and his friends, a cow and a turtle. One episode titled "Future Schlock" is set in 2013 and depicts a world where cars can fly, dogs have jet packs, and bananas have gone extinct.
Edible bananas are extinct, that is. There IS a superior race of sophisticated talking bananas. They've mastered space travel and visit Earth to retrieve their missing queen, which was left in a refrigerator for almost 20 years. It probably sounds like I'm leaving out some crucial plot points, but I swear I'm not. Nickelodeon cartoons in the '90s were fucking insane.
The resolution is that an elderly Bighead is arrested by an undercover monkey astronaut/space cop and put on trial by a sentient banana legal system for the crime of bananapping their monarch. This is happens in 30 seconds.
What They Got Right
It's not just bananas that are scarce in O-Town's future: Virtually all plant life and vegetation have been wiped out. We also see Rocko's old house, which has since been abandoned, boarded up, and left to decay.
In this way, Rocko's 2013 reflects our 2013 more accurately than any other entry on this list. The writers, sensing the looming threat of global warming even back in the '90s, depicted a future with virtually no plant life and a total lack of natural resources. The inclusion of the abandoned and boarded-up house mirrors the growing problem of "zombie neighborhoods" that currently plagues our neighborhoods, where homeowners, feeling the impact of the 2008 economic collapse, flee their houses, turning once-thriving suburbs into ghost towns. Truly the writers of Rocko's Modern Life knew how bleak the future looked.
What They Got Wrong
According to my extensive research, we're still about six months away from having dog jet packs available on the commercial market.