Culture is always looking forward.
The year is 2015. Flying cars dart like shooting stars across motorways in the clouds. Nike trainers have replaced normal laces with electronic “power laces”. Jackets automatically adjust to the measurements of their wearer. The criminal justice system can sentence people within a matter of hours, owing to the abolition of lawyers. Jaws 19 is in cinemas. And of course, your average “sk8ter boi” or “sk8ter gal” can bin the wheels, and glide through town on the latest hoverboard. “Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads”.
Of course, if my memory serves me right, in reality the real 2015 was far duller. The 2015 envisioned by Bob Gale in his 1989 sci-fi romp Back to the Future II was positively futuristic, owing to the utopian optimism of the computer age. Indeed, you can go as far back as you like into our history and you will find that collective imaginings of the future, or futures, have always permeated our cultures and societies.
From the sci-fi novels of Wells, Orwell, Huxley, and Yevgeny Zamyatin to the Afrofuturism of Sun Ra and Black Panther; from 2001: A Space Odyssey, Ex Machina, and Interstellar to hyperpop artists such as Charli XCX and Dorian Electra; from the pioneering Futurist artists Boccioni and Malevich to Jacques Derrida and his theory of hauntology.
Looking to the future and imagining its possibilities or its horrors are cornerstones of modern culture. The advent of the industrial revolution - its technological advancements and its grand, domineering machines – made us dream of a world without work and made us fear it. We still live in that world, uncertain about what technology holds in store for us. Are we the masters? Or one day, will sci-fi become our lived reality – as slaves to our AI overlords?
The ability to travel through time – to see and experience the past and future – has always been the superpower of choice for me. Childhood years watching and re-watching Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant as the swashbuckling Doctor Who may have helped me arrive at that decision. Or is it an intrinsic or innate facet of our human nature? We are constantly on a quest for knowledge, a desire to know. Surely knowing what the future holds for us all is the ultimate knowledge? Unattainable, yet the one true desire of the human race. And so, we imagine.
One thing is for sure - the future sells; 15 of the top 25 highest-grossing films of all time are sci-fi films, imagining futures of technological mastery, with heroes and villains to match. Similarly, many of the most successful and influential tv shows, musicians, and artists embrace an imagined future and embody them in their work. Nina Simone once said of David Bowie that “David ain’t from here”, owing to his out-of-this-world Ziggy Stardust persona that transfixed our screens from the early 1970s onwards. He was “man who fell to earth”, on-screen and off, inspiring future generations to embrace the future and all it holds.
Our obsession with the future can be defined by those anticipating dystopian, anarchical or apocalyptic visions, giving them comfort in the present or even a desire to return to a real or imagined past – a longing for yesterday. Others imagine a future of abundance, advancement and progress to escape the dreariness and melancholy of modern life – the hope for a better tomorrow.
Something within tells me that when the day of flying cars, Jaws 19, and real hoverboards (not the lame ones from the actual 2015) finally comes, those yearning for both yesterday and tomorrow will continue to imagine the pasts and futures of their dreams, waiting for the day that may never come.
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