NPF: WE WERE PROMISED FLYING CARS

Posted in No Politics Friday on July 2nd, 2010 by Ed

Retro style generally has very little appeal to me. It's what becomes trendy whenever we are totally out of ideas as a society. Hey, let's start wearing 1980s Jazzercise outfits again! Why? Because it's time for a change and this is easier than thinking of something new! Let's watch Mad Men. Being a woman in the 1950s must have been so cool – look at those amazing dresses! What lovely kitchens!

On the other hand, I do have a strong affinity for history. One thing that never fails to fascinate me is the way that Americans of the past saw their future / our present. The 1950s were the height of the naive sense of wonder at the unlimited power of science and technology. Science would bring a future free of diseases and positively laden with bubble- or dome-shaped houses, space tourism, and flying cars to American kids of the Eisenhower era (Disney's Tomorrowland is a particularly famous example of this spirit).

Of course by 1960 the visions of the future had taken a slightly darker turn on account of the ICBM, thermonuclear bomb, and bombers with global range. The nuclear apocalypse became one of the most common themes in fiction, film, and art. Nonetheless, the positive depictions of the future didn't disappear. We were still going to beat the Commies, take vacations to dome cities on the moon, and have robot servants washing our astro-dishes. And of course there would still be flying cars.

Whenever I read about retro-futurism I am struck by the joylessness of our current futurism. I mean, does anyone actually think things are going to get better? Who looks forward to 2050 (or even 2030) as a time of technological wonders improving humanity's lot? We don't seem to think we have much to look forward to anymore – environmental catastrophes, mass extinctions, vanishing resources, political instability, economic collapse, critical overpopulation, and a soulless existence as cogs in a society that is little more than an enormous, filthy, and cold machine.

What optimism we have anymore is short-term; such-and-such will make things better now or in the next few years. No one even pretends anymore that things are looking up in the long term. We know that the melting icecaps, rising oceans, food shortages, wars over oil or fresh water, Great Depression III, and Grey Goo are right around the corner. It's optimistic just to think that the U.S. will still be a functioning society in 30 years let alone one kissed by the wonders of science or experiencing any kind of prosperity.

I have no doubt that my own pessimism colors the way I interpret the social consensus. Am I way off base here? Is there anyone out there writing Disney Tomorrowland versions of America 2050? Do any of you think that things are lookin' up? That 2030 will be a glorious time to be alive?

At least we finally have our goddamn flying cars – albeit $200,000 ones that can only operate from airports, which largely defeats the purpose, guys.

Can I at least get a jet pack? Man, this future sucks.