Your Dystopian Future Will Be Canceled
Last weekend was Thanksgiving weekend. For those of you that don’t live in the United States, Thanksgiving is a long holiday weekend filled with lots of eating, and time with family. As is traditional on the Thanksgiving holiday, many families often travel great distances to visit one another for the long holiday weekend.
This means there’s plenty of opportunities for grandparents to watch the grandkids, while exhausted parents take a well-deserved night-off… and this is exactly what we did last Saturday night.
Mrs. Tako and I met up with another couple for a peaceful night-out on the town. We had dinner at a nice Thai restaurant, and also went to see a movie at the theater. These two activities are both exceedingly rare for us (We rarely eat-out or go to the movie theater), but they’re not actually the point of the story.
This is just the setup for how I got to thinking about a dystopian future.
Anway, so we went to the movie. Anyone who’s gone to a movie recently knows that new movies have A TON of previews before the actual movie starts. Roughly 20 – 30 minutes of previews. Typically those previews are for upcoming big budget films.
So I was watching the previews (wondering if the movie was ever going to start), and it struck me how EVERY Sci-Fi movie trailer presented a depressing post-apocalyptic dystopian future.
One film in particular, Mortal Engines, (which opens in a couple of weeks) looked particularly bleak. The movie, based on the novel by Philip Reeve, tells the tale of “tractions cities” that EAT other cities for resources and people. You can watch the trailer for the film here.
I haven’t read the book, but based on the trailer it looks like Mortal Engines is going to a popular film. With a $100 million dollar budget, this film seems destined to attract a huge audience this holiday season.
This got me thinking — Why are ALL the recent big budget Sci-Fi movies tales of a dystopian future? Why is this negative concept so popular?
Reality Needs Escaping
The most likely answer that comes to mind, is that these post-apocalyptic visions of the future are simply tales of escapism, transporting us to other worlds and other lives very different from our own.
Which begs the question — Is modern life so terrible that we need to escape from it?
With full bellies, hot showers, plenty of consumer goods to consume, and spare cash to entertain ourselves, you’d think the world would be pretty happy with the state of things. Not something that needs escaping from.
Yet in these dystopian futures, people usually have to fight over the few scraps of resources that remain. Instead of dreaming about a better future, we seem to be inventing new ways for it to end. It paints a bleak picture for the future.
How is this better than what we have today?
Clearly it isn’t. Most people wouldn’t willingly want to live in a world like that, but they’re still attracted to these stories… I believe because of the incredible freedom they represent.
The World Wants Freedom
What kind of freedom? Freedom from monetary burdens, and debt. Freedom from a life that’s scheduled down to the minute. Freedom from an endless commute, and the drudgery of job that seems to consist entirely of meetings.
That kind of freedom.
You never see the characters in these “end of the world” stories worrying about paying the mortgage or student loans. If you think of the typical Mad-Max style dystopian future, the characters are completely free to adventure and explore the world. Everything is DIY. Money doesn’t exist, but they still manage to find enough to eat.
Instead, the characters adventure around without needing to hold down a job. Sound familiar?
To me, it sounds a lot like a life of Financial Independence… except we don’t live in a wasteland populated by ravenous and violent scavengers. Once you’ve reached Financial Independence, you’re completely free to do whatever you want. You can adventure and explore the world without the burden of debt and a job.
Money doesn’t really have a lot of meaning anymore either. Once you have enough money to suit your basic needs, you hardly ever need to think about it.
In fact, Financial Independence might just be the not-so-dystopian future everyone is dreaming of.
What About Environmental Destruction?
I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the themes of environmental destruction that are all to common in popular dystopian movies and books. In most of these stories, humanity wreaks incredible havoc on the environment to the point where the Earth is barely livable.
This rather closely reflects current real-world scientific predictions of environmental destruction brought about by global warming. I see these predictions in the news almost every day.
Yes, it’s true that environmental change is happening. There’s no doubt about it. But I’m optimistic that it won’t be the end of the world. In fact, it could end-up being a good kick-in-the-ass for humanity.
Let me explain…
Stress Means Change
If we look back a few thousand years, for the longest time planet Earth had resources that were easy to extract. People could literally poke a hole in the ground and a fountain of hydrocarbons would come spewing forth like a geyser. Huge forests were available for harvesting. Animal life was plentiful. Land was cheap, empty, and uncomplicated to farm.
Eventually though, the giant geysers of oil dried-up and the old growth forests disappeared. The planet got more crowded and resources got scarce. Mankind needed to get smarter and more efficient with its resources. Eventually we even realized that humans even needed to be proper stewards of the planet.
All this took time, but in response to the challenges mankind developed better technology. Without those challenges and stresses, we wouldn’t have advanced.
Technology helped us solve A TON of problems, and it’s still helping us today. It’s because of our ability to develop new technology that I don’t believe the world isn’t just going to roll over and die because of global warming.
Yes, there will definitely be new problems to solve. Certain resources are going become more precious. Extreme weather will probably cause issues. Life might get a little harder until the problems are overcome. Yet it’s these stresses that will almost certainly bring about change in our society.
I’m hopeful that mankind will continue to become smarter, more efficient, and become even better stewards of our planet as a result.
It’s this hopeful message that I want to pass onto my kids one day. Ultimately it’s the individuals that are the most efficient with resources that are going to be rewarded with wealth and prosperity. Financial Independence is just another form of this efficiency reward at work.
Dream A Better Dream
Frankly, I love a good story as much as the next person, but we really shouldn’t be dreaming of a world that’s covered in sand, sadness, and savages.
Instead, we should be dreaming of a better world. One where we learn to use far less energy per person, yet still live modern comfortable lives. A world where the energy we use comes entirely from renewable sources. A world where efficient electric cars, buses, planes and trains have completely replaced inefficient hydrocarbon burning versions of these vehicles. A world where people take the time to recycle almost everything, instead of throwing it into a landfill. A world where forest preserves have been expanded.
That’s a future I’d like to live in.
Maybe this is a little bit too “Star Trek” for people just looking for a couple hours of escape from the daily grind, but I believe we first have to dream of a better world before we can build it.
[Image Credit: Flickr]
26 thoughts on “Your Dystopian Future Will Be Canceled”
Mr. Tako, this post is so timely. I just read Matt Ridley’s “The Rational Optimist” and he makes many of the same arguments for the future. And I’d never thought about it before, but I think you’re right–people want escape from the crushing time demands of the lives they’ve created–commute to a job with long hours, endless practices/sports games/lessons for their kids, etc.
I’m more and more optimistic about my future and my family’s future, and hopeful they’ll be able to enjoy the freedoms their parents have enjoyed by paring life down and living more lightly than we “could.”
I haven’t read The Rational Optimist, but I’ll check it out. Thanks for the suggestion!
Great point, I actually think the fact that Americans watch about 5 hours of TV every day is that they want to escape. Sure, they want to forget about how bad the working day was, but as you put it also escape from reality. So much of that TV is fiction – it doesn’t have to be dystopian sci-fi – silly sitcoms do the same thing really. They help people escape. Perhaps they wouldn’t need as much escape if they didn’t have to de-stress and detox from the job every night.
Since early man learned to tell stories around a campfire people have found pleasure in heroic tales of struggle and victory. I think dystopian futures just provide a convenient way to isolate a truly good protagonist and an absurdly evil antagonist and to have a good old melodrama. And dystopian landscape are great for computer graphic effects. I don’t think it represents a real pessimism about the future. It just sells tickets.
Maybe so. Super hero movies are really popular right now and they’re at least more positive fare with lots of special effects. Negativity might sell newspapers but it won’t move mountains.
Superhero movies are super boring. So predictable and the bad guy boss is always too powerful. They’re pretty silly. The Deadpool movies are hilarious, though. 😀
You are way more optimistic than me about the fate of the planet in terms of environmental terms, but as I write about it a lot (and live and breathe sustainability in general), apparently I don’t feel that all is lost. The rest of this post though, I’m with you 100%.
The moment we stop caring and give up hope is the moment we’ve lost. Keep your optimism!
I love dystopian stories. They’re a lot of fun. I want to read about resourceful characters making it work however they can. That’s my favorite genres for a long time now.
IRL, I don’t think we’ll have a problem in our lifetime. The earth is strong enough to absorb our crap for 40 more years. I’m not so sure about our kids, though. Climate change is a huge problem. Insects are dying out in great numbers. How will human cope if the insect population really collapse? That’s real and sounds pretty scary to me.
Also, the Cascadian big one will hit at some point. That’ll be apocalyptic for the PNW. Hopefully, we’ll be somewhere else when that happens.
Who knows what the future may bring! I certainly can’t predict what will happen, but I choose to remain hopeful for the future.
There are clearly issues that need to be addressed, and i hope that the next generation will be the step change to addressing the environment as clearly ours doesn’t seem to be. However the world is safer and healthier than it has ever been despite what 24 hour news might lead us to believe.
It’s very true! Somehow the nightly news finds a way to sell pessimism even though we’re living in an amazing time right now. So many people believe we’re headed for doom and destruction despite the fact that people live longer, the world is safer, babies have a better chance at living, and education levels continue to improve.
Yes, bad things still happen, but I hope I’m not alone in believing the world doesn’t have to be worse!
Dystopian futures seem to be a common thought topic this week. Did you catch my guest post over at Tread Lightly, Retire Early?
I applaud your optimism. I wish I could agree. I think what you’re hoping for IS achievable, but humans just don’t seem to be able to act for the greater good/planetary good independently. Even those of who try could always be doing more, and certainly not enough to make up for those who don’t care or actively seek to increase their stature in spite of sustainability principles.
The part that scares me is that for a Star Trek esque future to happen, world governments are going to have to step in, and in that case, we’ll be looking at major imposed austerity measures. I think a Soylent Green type future (PERHAPS minus the “soylent green is people” part.. PERHAPS) isn’t really that unlikely. But, it could be much more authoritarian to control the masses ensuring we don’t kill our selves and the planet. I’m not looking forward to that for future generations, despite some feeling in my part that I don’t really see any other way given our lack of ability to cooperate independently for the greater good.
Even Star Trek had the Eugenics wars and the resulting World War III and nuclear destruction, millions dying and destruction of the world governments and most major world cities… Only then did they see the error of their ways and try to come together in peace.
I agree with That Frugal Pharmacist that it’s likely we’ll need to have governments step in with austerity measures to avoid the ‘tragedy of the commons’ — all of us destroying our common assets (the environment) by each chasing individual interest. This is why we can’t have nice things…
I believe that the frugal FIRE tribe is well-equipped to handle when these measures come into play. We are typically adaptable, resourceful, often living lean and making do on less than we earn.
I welcome tighter measures to protect our environment. Being from South Australia, our community quickly became accustomed to the single-use plastic bags ban, water restrictions during droughts, and surcharges on drink cans/bottles to encourage recycling through refundable deposits. I wish our world’s leaders would move ahead with initiatives that adequately limit the effects of the climate change we’re facing, and trust that populations will adapt. If smaller, bold changes NOW mean that we can avoid drastic, significantly life-altering responses to the crisis later, I’m all for it.
I’m an English teacher in a secondary school and most of the Young Adult fiction that’s popular with the young folk at the moment is dystopian future-based.
Twinkly vampire boyfriends have slipped from view – FINALLY!
I understand the appeal – I love some dystopian future action myself. I’ve never really thought about it from your angle though. I like your thinking!
For a bit more optimistic view on the environment in the future, I think that L.E. Modesitt’s sci fi books are very good. Of course he has some where earth is bonked, too. But over all, he suggests that a very very strong policy against “personal vehicles” and waste are what helps out. He was an ecologist, I believe, before starting writing.
Thanks for the recommendation CCS.
Thanks frogdancer! I really wonder where the positive sci-fi books are anymore. The current round of post-apocalyptic dystopian future novels is really depressing, but it’s better than shiny vampires I guess.
Kids need to have hope that the future can be better. It’s theirs to build afterall.
I do think there is some selection bias in these sci-fi movies.
I doubt a 2 hour movie about everything is going swimmingly well for the entire time would make any money. We need action, conflict, hardship and hopefully a feel good moment at the end for us to feel like the money we fork over is well spent.
Speaking of money, man going out to the movies has gotten incredibly expensive these days. Of course I am now going to those higher end movie theater set ups where the chairs are like big comfy lazy boys with reclining option and you actually reserve your seat ahead of time. Throw in candy and drinks and 3 or more Andrew Jacksons have vanished.
Star Trek used to be about a Utopian future. Even it has grown militaristic since the passing of Rodenberry. I’m going to have to re-read some of my David Brin!
Totally agree. I watched a couple episodes of the latest Star Trek, and I wasn’t very impressed. Mostly about war, and fighting, not so much making the world a better place and trying to do the right thing.
Can’t believe you went to the movies and sat through 30 minutes of basically commercials! I always get to the movies and look at the ticket prices, and turn around and go home! Last time I saw a movie in the theater was Capt. america Winter Soldier. Because a friend dragged me. Which, BTW- isn’t a great way to hang out, to me- not allowed to talk, the popcorn is abysmally expensive, and the seats aren’t as comfy as a couch. Last couple times I visited that friend, we did a Lord of the Rings marathon at her house instead, and had a fantastic time. Apparently talking loudly and yelling at the movie is frowned upon at the theater.
Our friends bought the movie tickets Cathleen. We purchased the dinner. Seemed like a fair way to split things.
Mr. Tako- fair enough! Once in a while is great- meet up with friends, have a good dinner, watch a movie, and then talk about the movie after…what a pleasant evening. (i like to watch the “honest trailer” and “how it should have ended” before i watch the movie…it somehow makes it more entertaining for me).
Sadly, a part of me thinks that humans won’t try to fix this planet and will just find a whole new planet to destroy. Of course that’s the pessimistic part. The optimistic part thinks we’re going to use our ingenuity to fix the global warming problems we’ve caused. But human nature tends to procrastinate on it until it’s absolutely impossible to ignore. With all the scary forest fires, heat waves, and freak storms, maybe that procrastination is coming to an end–but who knows…