Do Some People Just Like to Watch the World Burn?
TV and film love to explore and imagine what the future might hold, but the future according to cinema isn’t always, well, rosy.
The trend is clear:
1973: Soylent Green
1982: Blade Runner
1995: 12 Monkeys
1999: The Matrix
2000: Battle Royale
2006: Children of Men
2012: The Hunger Games
The list goes on. So why do storytellers love telling of a dystopian, miserable future? And why do movie goers love seeing the same story of the end of Earth over and over?
Larry Page, CEO of Google had this to say recently:
I think there is a real bias, It's much easier to focus on the negative and stoke up fear — all the things that could go wrong with something you don't know what it is yet. It's very hard to find positive views of the future in general. I think that's been true for a long time
Page was discussing Google’s attempts to invent the future, included the recently canceled project Google Glass:
From a philosophical point of view, when is Google's mission done and what will that look like? Will it be Wall-E or the Matrix or something horrible like that? At the end of the day, 50, 100, 1000 years in the future: what will Google have created.
Optimism is a prerequisite if you are trying to design the future, but why is it so much more fun to watch things go bad? TV and film love describing the dangers of technology, but where are the success stories?
Perhaps it is simply more entertaining to watch if things go wrong, more fun to see how technology and the future can lead us to destruction and doom.
The movie “Tomorrowland” premiered to mixed reviews, perhaps due to it’s positive portrayal of the future. Page had some words about the film (during a shareholders meeting, no less):
The reason I went to the movie is because I was interested in a version of the future that would be positive because that is so seldom portrayed in science fiction, "I guess I came away from that saying it's not a very good story because it's not dark.
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Conflict is at the heart of any good story, but can’t we have a conflict rooted in our world, in a future where we haven’t gone and messed everything up?
Does that mean that positive Sci-Fi is inherently boring? We remain hopeful of the future, but demand that aliens, rouge AI, or futurist wars continue to doom our future on Earth.
According to Interstellar: "Mankind was born on earth. It was never meant to die here.” The film begins in the worst possible scenario on Earth, but quickly evolves into a message of exploration and hope.
We use a dramatized dystopian future to atone for our sins, past and current. Perhaps therein lies the key to our elusive, “positive” future. We need to continue to struggle in order to “earn” it. After all, how can the audience be satisfied with a happy ending if it didn’t come without a fight?