Some time ago Serdar and I were discussing the revival of Omni and the loss of Cool Futurism. I had noted that Cool futurism’s ideas of unity were lost (or not practical), we missed the need for ourselves to evolve, and of course consumerism which made it easy to seem to buy the future. Of course there are other issues I still want to address because I feel there are distinct patterns we should study.
Another factor in the decline of Cool Fururism is it’s dark sibling, a form of Apocalyptic Futurism.
Now Apocalyptic Futurism as we know it today, which is usually some kind of Mad Maxian leather festival or Cyberpunk Dystopia of mirror shades and cool jackets isn’t something that is particularly old. There’s plenty of apocalyptic horror stories out there, from the Twilight Zone, to a “Canticle For Leibowitz,” and so on. Even Seigel and Shuster were playing with a future of an oppressive “Superman” in their younger days (which apparently were less innocent).
Many Apocalyptic stories were straight out warnings. I recall one of my family that had trouble stomaching “A Canticle For Leibowitz.”
However I think Apocalyptic Futurism began to become part of public consciousness, and frankly, played a role in crowding out Cool Futurism and even seeing, well, Cool. Let us call it the Cool Apocalypse
I mainly recall the rise of Cool Apocalypse around the time the second Mad Max movie came out. Soon every half-baked ripoff was appearing on direct to video, and it usually involved a large group of people that appeared to be the love children of Cirque Du Solei and a biker gang killing each other. There was blood, grunting, leather, and . . . well that’s what I remember.
Now it’s not surprising to see the rise of Apocalyptic thought in American culture. We were in a nasty Cold War with the USSR and the threat of nuclear annihilation was all too real. If anyone recalls the gut-wrenching “The Day After” there was definite, painful awareness of what could happen. If you lived through those times you know – and if you didn’t, then trust me, it wasn’t fun, especially if you were a news junkie.
But somehow, the apocalypse became cool. It became iconic. It became almost . . . desirable. Sounds strange? It wasn’t the only apocalypse that was popular.
There was also in time the rise of Cyberpunk. Though I’ll argue it came before “Neuromancer” (we can argue over that in time), it extended on not so much a meltdown due to weapons, but socioeconomic meltdown. It was apocalypse in slow motion. It too seemed believable to many who’d watched technology and rapacious economic interests changed the world.
Of course it too became cool. There were RPGs and bad movies and fashion (and moments to try and reclaim the name from its darker connotations). It became cool. But there was one more popular Apocalypse.
Finally, there was the religious fiction and ideas, mostly embodied in the Left Behind series, but also in your assorted cheesy movies and books and games. In this case it was “Real Wrath of God Type Stuff” where you got to see people weather the Book of Revelations ala Michael Bay. Of course the heroes were usually the people who managed to get away due to some kind of blessing or being the right religious persuasion (though where this merged with horror, not always).
It of course, was also kind of cool. Certainly the fiction of religious Apocalypse fiction merged with political paranoia and the “regular” nuclear/political apocalypse into a heady brew.
What do all of these Apocalypses have in common? What made them Cool Apocalypses of desert bikers, super-hackers, and the religiously blessed?
The Cool Apocalypse appealed to rather individualistic/egocentric fantasies. Wether you were the leader of the Badass Bikers, the Coolest Hacker on the planet, or one of the Blessed Followers, they pandered to the fantasy of the Winner. It was easy to dispose of any subtlety or deep considerations, and just basically make everything as Not Quite Conan; the tale of the victor.
The Cool Apocalypses were easy to market because no matter what you dressed it up as, it was blood and guts (even if at times it was of the virtual variety) and bad guys being destroyed. In short, most of these quickly became fantasy wearing the clothes of SF and/or religion, and at times in a poorly dressed manner.
So first of all, frankly, they sold. They were also a lot less effort than Cool Futurism (which itself was often simplistic and naive enough anyway). In fact they were often anti-effort – “Let society collapse and then survive with your muscles/guns/computer skills/God.”
The dismal warnings of the Apocalypse as a genre weren’t really popular in mainstream culture, but the rest of it was apparently fine. And easy to sell.
Finally, I think the Apocalypses appealed to cynicism – and again to laziness. You don’t have to work to build a future if it’s all going to go to hell.
So another blow to Cool Futurism, was its snazzier, more violent, easier-to-sell brother, the Cool Apocalypse. It’s still a viable genre, and alive in fiction, and even our politics.
And too many times? Still involves those ridiculous damn outfits.
Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach. He blogs on careers at http://www.musehack.com/, nerd and geek culture at http://www.nerdcaliber.com/, and does a site of creative tools at http://www.seventhsanctum.com/. He can be reached at https://www.stevensavage.com/.