Serdar and I were recently’ discussing the revival/return of Omni magazine. If you’re not familiar with Omni then you’re . . . probably younger than I am. So stop playing your music so loud and get off my lawn.
Anyway, Omni was one of those publications that had a theme of what I call “cool futurism”, of the amazing stuff we’d see, of soaring cities and great technology and a better world. It was hip and happening and often positive. Cool futurism is the kind of thing you see in Star Trek TOS, in speculations on future architecture, on imagining how we’ll solve disease or poverty – not naive, but, well, “Cool”.
It’s cool to make things better. Cool to imagine awesome things we can make.
It just doesn’t seem to be that popular anymore in America. So I began asking what happened, and you’ll be utterly shocked to hear there’s a blog post about it to follow. Probably several.
First of all, I think Cool Futurism is gone because there’s no sense of unity or potential unity.
We all remember SF of the 60’s and 70s where everyone lived in some happy unified world, or imagined futures where the cities were basically much cleaner New Yorks. Hell, Star Trek had a multiethnic cast and crew (and other stories of the time often did as well).
Now let us be honest, most of the American ideas of Cool Futurism were not necessarily multicultural or even what I call metacultural; they were the idea that all of us would live like generic pseudo-WASPs in many cases. Call it integrationalism, though it was still somewhat positive as we could visualize a future where we weren’t all busy killing each other.
Come to think of it, for people to even imagine this during the Cold War was pretty damn impressive. This is why fiction is important.
So what happened? Why do I think this idea of a relatively unified humanity is gone? I can put it simply: terrorism.
OK, it’s not that simple, so let’s go into detail.
The primary conflict of the 60’s and 70’s was the classic America versus the Communists. But in a lot of cases, there was the idea that the Communists would be decent people if they had a chance or knew how bad their system was. It was a mixture of humanizing, arrogance, national pride, and an odd kind of compassion.
(Of course you may remember how fear of Communism also led into race bating and the like – hang in there).
Of course then the wall came down, the Soviet Union fell apart, and America was left sort of in charge of the world. Really, I remember it, it was weird, and it was kind of science-fictional as well as something out of a Spy Thriller.
Then there came terrorism. Always a threat, but Americans and the world were devastated by the horrible 9/11 attacks. Terrorism had been something we’d thought of, but it was there in gruesome display for all to see in the wreckage of the towers. You want evil? You saw evil in the dust and wreckage of thousands of people killed because some fanatics decided to kill them.
However, terrorism was very “general,” far more general than communism. And terrorism was associated with specific religious groups and ethnicities in the American mind; in short, Muslims and people of Middle-eastern decent (and anyone that looked like it, sadly).
Suddenly the Big Enemy was not someone just like us. The Big Enemy was easier to label as completely alien, completely different, and completely irredeemable. The idea of some kind of world unity went far out the window of the American imagination.
Of course it didn’t help that pundits, preachers, and politicians looking for an angle jumped all over it. Suddenly terrorism was the enemy, not communism. Suddenly the next BS books on the apocalypse were about Muslims, not the Soviet Union.
It also didn’t help that it seems to have awakened or been part of other ethnic/religious tensions as well.
So right now I think the idea of a more unified, tolerant world seems very alien to a lot of Americans. The idea of Cool Futurism is hard to explain to people who assume assorted fanatic brown-skinned Muslim hordes will just blow it up. It’s hard to explain unity when there’s the idea of an irredeemable separate Other out there.
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/.