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New Escapist Column! On the “Altered Carbon” and the Ghosts of Futures Past…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine this evening. With the release of the second season of Altered Carbon, I thought it was worth taking a look at the recent trend towards retro-futurism, how modern pop culture is haunted by the ghosts of futures past.

Altered Carbon works best as a celebration of the cyberpunk genre, drawing from a wealth of sources like Ghost in the Shell and Blade Runner, steeped in nostalgia for a particular kind of future that was very popular during the eighties. It is not alone; after all, the first season was released after the Ghost in the Shell remake and Blade Runner 2049. However, it isn’t just cyberpunk that informs such nostalgia. Franchises like Star Wars and Star Trek have taken to looking backwards, while it’s hard to think of a modern piece of science-fiction that suggests a novel vision of the future.

It’s an interesting and unsettling trend, as if pop culture has given up on the idea of the future being different. Instead of imagining bold new worlds, pop culture seems instead to be recycling early generations’ hopes and dreams. You can read the pieceĀ here, or click the picture below.

One Response

  1. Let’s see…these are the following ‘views of the future’ I can think of:

    Cyberpunk (Blade runner, ghost in the shell, netrunner, neuromancer): Envisions a future where capitalism has gone from beneficial to society to harmful (mercantile rule, argues for the individual as the best unit)

    Battlestar galactica: a future where military authoritarianism is the best system (I haven’t gone too far, but it seems to me that the democratic government is usually wrong and the military leaders are usually right)

    Star Trek (TOS): a future where space is basically the ‘wild west’, every captain is his own law (benevolent semi-military style leadership)

    Star Trek (TNG and onwards): a future where democracy and tolerance is the order of the day, but personal liberties must be safeguarded against the powerful state, especially in ST:Picard

    3-body Problem: Deeply pessimistic, suggests that massive communist govts are both the cause of our future demise as well as our only hope for the massive mobilization of resources necessary to delay it

    Star wars: a future where we eternally swing between democracy and dictatorships with most of the galaxy being ruled by petty local leaders (‘best’ rule is democracy, sort of…honestly Star Wars seems to suggest that the ‘best’ life is rural farming or a hermit lifestyle)

    These views make sense to me if you think of most of them as a reaction to the modern reality/system of government. Star Wars and Star Trek are both somewhat incoherent since the original msg was relevant in the 70s (Star Wars) or 80s (TNG) and the series have just sort of meandered on without really re-examining their views of the future.

    Given that so many in society today blame many of our ills on billionaires and corporatism, it doesn’t surprise me much at all that we’re seeing a big upswing in the cyberpunk worldview.

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