Plenty of articles have regarded the dystopian landscape of futuristic films as a pessimistic portrayal. They claim that modern science fiction all too often represents mankind’s eventual inability to coexist with advanced technology. And it’s a fair assertion.
For decades, science fiction was largely optimistic, not pessimistic. It showcased the wondrous hopes of technological possibilities. The mere concept of intergalactic space travel is, in and of itself, optimistically imaginative: if our reaches are truly endless, then so are the possibilities.
But then technology began to really show us what it was capable of. Rather than make something a bit more convenient or display beautiful images from the comforts of home, it was beginning to take over industries. It became such an integral part of our society, we stopped noticing it. And we started to rely on it.
Birthday cards that play music when you open them have more computing power than all the Allied Forces during WWII combined.
It wasn’t much of a jump to imagine our reaction to technology’s sudden disappearance. Would we, as a developed society, even be able to cope? At this point, are hardware and software the only things stopping us from turning on each other?
As the earth warms and becomes extraordinarily susceptible to natural disasters and humanitarian crises, will technology’s most sustainable purpose be to keep out all but the rich and the powerful? Have we begun to give up on the notion that our global connectivity is a path to peace on earth, embracing instead the reality that our world leaders could publicize a worldview that leads to nuclear annihilation?
Will we see a nuclear winter? Zombies? Mass drought and flooding? Robot takeover? A dinosaur-erasing asteroid? A government produced disease? A violent takeover that leads to generations of constant bloodshed wherein peace is literally nowhere to be found?
Is our existence so woefully fragile that a week-long internet interruption would spark total and utter chaos?
Maybe, but probably not. Think of the depictions of the turn of the century as portrayed by creatives three, four, five decades prior. Even if it was optimistic, it was downright inaccurate, and it missed some crucial aspects of the modern day that slowly but surely are gaining prominence. Social progress and progressive awareness are being spread at the fastest and most optimistic rate in human history (in spite of the most recent political developments). It’s impossible to see it now, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we look back to see that we took two steps forward for every step back.
A true utopian society is one where racial injustice is truly overcome; machines do all non-creative, non-service-based work; prisons and law enforcement are all but abolished; no one is hungry or thirsty, cold or hot, suffering or wanting.
But what would the plot be? Where’s the conflict? Are futuristic movies really more pessimistic than they ought to be? Or are they as fun as they should be.
Of course, we want to see vicious zombies. When we actually become zombies, we’ll be as docile as lambs, perpetual entertainment sponges basking in lifelong comforts.
Of course, we want to see machines rise up and destroy us. It’s not very interesting to watch them repair roads, or drive us around on those roads, or build the things that drive us around on those roads.
Of course, we want to see aliens land here to destroy us, or an unfeeling asteroid to blast through space in our direction to wipe us out in a blink. It gives us a chance to save the day, the entire world a valid reason to come together as one. It’s not fun to imagine that it’s impossible for anything to go faster than the speed of light, or that avoiding an asteroid would just be a bunch of brilliant nerds figuring out how to best push it gently off course, the rest of us left to continue our petty tribalism uninterrupted.
Think of yesteryear’s inaccurate depiction of our present day. What’s to say our prediction of tomorrow will be any more accurate? And what’s to say the depictions of hellish circumstances aren’t subtle calls to action?
“Elon Musk leads 116 experts calling for an outright ban of killer robots.” You’re telling me science fiction had nothing to do with that overt call to action?
So, science fiction writers, I encourage you to ignore the calls for optimism and continue showing us the potential of our own brutality, arrogance, and/or ignorance. Best case scenario, we’ll be living out a utopian world of unimaginable comfort. Hell, we’ll probably be enjoying dystopian science fiction while living out a utopian scientific reality.
The worst case scenario is, of course, the descent into a panoramic landscape of horrors. But then you can say, “I told you so.”
See? No matter what, we can call the glass half full.