Monday, September 13, 2010

The Future is Rated “B”

[Auf Deutsch: "Ich hoffe sie erkennen hier das Muster; Zuerst wird eine Nation ein bisschen senil, dann offensichtlich dement, dann komplett durchgedreht nacktherum-rennend-sich-mit-eigenen-Fäkalien-einschmierend wahnsinnig. Danach schadet sie sich selbst." Vielen Dank, Alexander!]

[In italiano, a cura di Roberta Papaleo: Spero che stiate cominciando a vederci uno schema: prima un paese diventa un po’ senile, poi un notevole demente, poi un completo pazzo da legare che se ne va in giro nudo ad imbrattarti di feci. Poi si fa del male da solo.]

My voluminous fan mail has made me aware of a curious fact: many of my readers seem persuaded that the future is either Mad Max or Waterworld. As far as they are concerned, there just aren't any other options. What's more, some people have even tried to venture a guess as to which of the two it shall be by watching what I do. I live on a boat, and that is apparently an indication that the future must be Waterworld-like. But I have also been seen rattling around town on a rusty old motorcycle, and that is taken as an indication of a more Mad Max-like future.

It saddens me that so few people bring up the film Blade Runner, and it is even more sad that George Lucas's THX 1138 or Jean-Luc Godard's Alphaville are almost never mentioned, because these particular films have in many ways proven to be predictive of the present rather than just the future. Take THX 1138 for example: it is about some people who live in a sealed-off climate-controlled environment, are on a compulsory regimen of psychoactive drugs, are assigned their mates by a computer program, and watch pornography that is piped into their living rooms in order to relax after work. When they refuse to take their meds, they are abused by robot-like police armed with electric cattle-prods. When one of them escapes into the wilderness, it turns out that the police lack the budget to hunt him down. That may have seemed a bit exotic and futuristic back in 1971 when Lucas filmed it, but now describes the people who live down the street. Alphaville, on the other hand, is vaguely reminiscent of some of my more interesting business trips.

People seem uncomfortable with the idea that works of fiction can predict the present, because the present is supposed to be reality, not fiction. The future, on the other hand, is fair game, because it is supposed to be purely fictional: it is common wisdom, you see, that the future is unknowable. The artists are free to paint the future any color they like, while the more scientifically-minded approach it by formulating alternative scenarios. It is useless to try to tell them that there is just the one scenario, apparently written by some incompetent hack, and that, even though it stinks, it is high time they stopped flapping their gums about alternative ones and started auditioning for a role in this one, since it happens to be the only one that is actually being produced.

For the benefit of those who believe that the future is fictional but that the present is real it may be helpful to point out that the present is largely fictional as well. Here's a perfectly good example: do you remember those valiant freedom-fighters who expelled foreign invaders from their ancient land—the mujahideen? What do you think happened to them? Well, they've been rebranded as the Taleban, and are now evil. Same Pashtun tribesmen (or their sons) toting the same AK-47s and carrying out the same missions against strangely similar infidel invaders are, by the simple act of renaming, transformed from valiant warriors to cowardly fiends.

The people whose job it is to write the fiction that we are expected to accept as our one real and true present don't seem to have much of an imagination. They also seem to have had a rather short reading list and lift their ideas from just a handful of slender volumes. George Orwell's 1984 and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World are their particular favorites, along with Franz Kafka's The Trial. Take, for instance, the cult of Osama bin Laden as the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks: it is an image of the perpetual enemy of the state lifted straight out of Orwell. Osama was a sickly CIA operative who succumbed to renal failure a long time ago and who was posthumously demonized using some grainy amateur videos and some muffled audio tapes featuring some other CIA operative. For years now Osama's restless and lonely ghost, clad in white robes and towing a broken dialysis machine across rugged and bare mountain passes of Waziristan has been relentlessly hunted by a swarm of endlessly circling Predator drones. The war in Afghanistan is currently costing the US a billion dollars a day. Sorry to bring up yet another “B” movie, but how much did Ghostbusters charge per visit?

I have no wish to debate these topics, and would urge you to shy away from them as well. There are just a few people who know enough about them, and they generally have no wish to debate them either. There is nothing in it for them—or anyone else. Just about everyone else is either wallowing in blissful ignorance or has been subjected to a mind control process used in advertising: proof through repetition. Here is a contemporary example: a purely fictional phenomenon from the 9/11-season of 2010 known as “The mosque at Ground Zero.” The kernel of truth behind this mainly fictional story is the proposed Islamic cultural center, not a mosque, to be built at a location that is nowhere near Ground Zero, but we now live in a realm of compulsory fiction, reinforced through repetition in the echo-chamber of the media, which makes truth irrelevant. Once the media start ranting and raving like that, it becomes hard for them to stop, and next they trot out some obscure evangelical pastor from Florida who wants to burn a stack of Korans, and they cannot for the life of them stop talking about him either. When in response violent demonstrations erupt in already violent places that are patrolled by US soldiers, that just adds spice to this already wonderful story. I hope that you are beginning to see a pattern here: first a country goes a little bit senile, then noticeably demented, then completely stark raving running-around-naked-smearing-feces-all-over-yourself insane. Then it hurts itself. Individual insanity is rare, but group insanity is, unfortunately, the bane of societies that are nearing their end.

It would seem that, if you are a certain kind of popular author, a good way to ensure that the future comes to resemble your worst nightmares is to write a novel about them. This has certainly worked for Orwell, Huxley and Kafka. But there is also an alternative: compose your own fiction instead of accepting anyone else's, then go ahead and turn it into reality. A good first step might be to write a short story. It can be very short, and it doesn't even have to be particularly interesting. Something as trivial as this might do for starters: “The next morning she woke up and, instead of having a bagel with cream cheese and a cup of coffee for breakfast, she fasted until sundown.” And then, the next morning, she woke up, and something curious happened: this short story came to life, and so it came to pass. Next came other stories, each a bit longer than the previous one, bridging the present and the future in new ways, and eventually spanning decades. And as these decades rolled by, these stories too came to life.

This, as I see it, is the best way forward in a depressed and increasingly demented and accident-prone country that is heading straight for collapse, where the present (reality, what people think is going on, common notions of the state of things) is degenerating into useless noise—the clamor of clueless but self-important people desperately begging you to continue giving them your attention, so that they can stuff your head with more “B”-rated trash. But if you ignore them long enough, they will go away. Don't hope, don't wish, don't dream, but do write your own fiction and use it to create a present that works for you. Invent places for yourself and for those you care about in your stories about the future, and then go ahead and live in them. You don't have to settle for anyone else's “B”-rated nonsense. And don't let anyone tell you that you are crazy or that you are living in a dream. It's not a dream, dammit, it's a work of fiction!


Anonymous said...

Painfully funny and real. Well done, Dmitry!

dave said...

write your own bit of fiction every day, and then live that fiction.

i am a man of very faint praise. but i'd just like to say that this is the best overall idea that i've seen in a long time.

Unknown said...

In other words, "You figure it out."

That's what I was already doing. Do I win a prize? ;)

Randal Graves said...

I have to second the excellence of this idea.

And trot out Max Headroom as an addendum to your early suggestions, mainly because I loved that as a kid growing up, and who wouldn't want a renegade TV station run by a guy with a mohawk?

Unknown said...

Уважаемий господин Орлов,

извыните, I need to switch to english - my russsian is rusty after not using it more than 20 years and I am no longer used to type in azbuka:-)

Just 2 days ago (when I closed last chapter of Tainter) it came trough my head, that mechanism mentioned in Tainters "Collapse of complex societies) was described probably much earlier by Issac Assimov in The Foundation novel.

It is suprising - how often sci-fi writers described what will happen much more correctly than various forecasters.

I am mean Issac Assiomov's Foundation is not really correct from technological point of view, but rather in depicting how society and leaders are not able to recognize what is in front of them...

Thanks for your articles and presentations - I always enjoy them!!!

Regards from Prague

Андрей Жачек

Nebris said...

I'm likely the only person on here who saw Alphaville when it was first shown in America.

PS the 'word verification' for this comment is heedsoma. Ha!

Earth Bound said...

The first sane plan for the future that I've seen, ever.

Unknown said...

Gosh dang it, I don't have enough time to watch old movies. Now I have to watch both Mad Max AND THX 1138!

Anonymous said...

I studied Russian in college, and I took two long trips to the USSR in the early 1980's. (First a semester studying Russian in Moscow, then a camping tour of the European USSR for most of a summer). I didn't stick around much with my American kollektiv; I got out a lot by myself and talked to average Russians whenever I could. Your descriptions of when things fell apart and how people coped mesh perfectly with what I saw.

I realized with a start the other day that I don't trust American broadcasting any more than I did the Soviet news shows. You nailed it again, here: Just about everyone else is either wallowing in blissful ignorance or has been subjected to a mind control process used in advertising:proof through repetition.

I really enjoy your writing. If I ever finish my novel, I'll thank you in the credits. (It's less Mad Max than "Little House on the Prairie" in a McMansion with no heat or Prozac).

steven taylor said...

ha ha --pretty funny ending, me myself I vacillate between several scenarios, the quick collpase, the 10 years of grinding tough enconomy and slow recovery, and the 10 year tough economy then collapse, followed by the 20 years grinding economy and with little ups and downs as the country and empire slowly fade away..all I can say for my economic position right now is that it is pretty hard but grateful to be surviving..

fritz said...

My older brother got me in to see thx1138 when I was a kid. forget how old but it scared hell outta me.

I set it aside - way back in a dark place - until decades later while working in a behavioral disorder highschool (alternative school now). There I worked with kids and entire families being prescribed with seriously powerful and decidedly non-curative stuff. They weren't forced to take these drugs but they might as well have been given the coersion involved with keeping social benefits.

The few times I saw kids' cases resolve well ALWAYS involved their quitting their meds. Some with and some without the adminstration's approval. I'm proud to this day to have helped a few of them dispose of their hidden pills while the nurse wasn't looking.

A few of my coworkers did the same many times. Each time it happened it reminded me of the guy climbing outta the giant hole and seeing the sun.

jpwhite said...

The future movie that was most predictive of the present, IMHO, was Woody Allen's Sleeper. Robot butlers, cheap Japanese flying packs and the ever-present Orgasmatron (which no one ever got around to inventing, but cable TV and the Internet do the same job just as efficiently).

The future, of course, will be The Ice Pirates. Spacefaring swashbucklers fighting over the last remaining water, although without the spaceships or the laughs. We may also get Mel Brook's Jews in Space, at the rate things are going in the Middle East.

rcg1950 said...

"We are such stuff as dreams are made of." the bard

Wendy said...

@pchelovod - "Little House on the Prairie" in a McMansion with no heat or Prozac).

Yep. That's exactly the "fiction" I'm envisioning for myself ... except while I do live in the suburbs, I don't live in a McMansion ... and we have heat - a very reliable and efficient woodstove on which we can also cook - very Little House on the Prairie ;). Never have had Prozac, though, although we do enjoy a bit of homebrew on occasion ;).

Nebris said...

Nothing, and mean nothing, beats John Brunner's "Stand on Zanzibar" for calling out the future that we now live in. Honestly, it's prescience is stunning. And it is some damned fine writing, too.

It was released Stateside in 1969 and I read it straight away, being a big Brunner fan. I clearly remember it leaving me rather depressed.

Kathy McMahon, Psy.D. said...'s not porn, it's 'erotica'...

wampum said...


Two personal rules of mine are that I don't ask for autographs and I don't heap superfluous praise on internet bloggers.

These two rules I break for you. (Will have to wait on the autograph.)

This piece is sublime. Thank you.

Fahrenheit 451 (the movie) is also a good one.

I have been reading a lot of Situationist writing lately. Your proposal is in line with their program: Create situations instead of just passively accepting the world as it is.

Incidentally, I learned in part three of Situationist International - Part 1 of 3 that Guy Debord's films were an influence on Godard.

Thank you again for your wonderful writing.

Kalki said...

unfortunately, most people in the west seem to think lifes problems are reolved in a movie-like way, with some flash of genius from the alpha chimp that wipes away any threat instantly. There is also the illusion in the mad max post apocalyptic scenario that the crazy mutants will have a stable water supply to support their carnage and mayhem. Mel gibson didnt go for realism, not quite as exciting to watch someone boil water over a campfire.

The reality is one day the food shelves are empty, the money you would use to pay for them is worth more as fire fuel, and you have about 24 hours to find a steady source of clean drinking water before dehydration makes it impossible to do so. Grim, but if you take your eye off the ball, this is what happens.

SODIS METHOD, SODIS METHOD, SODIS METHOD. if you use the sun to disinfect water, you always have drinking water, irrespective of industrial collapse. All the best people.

Larkin said...

The most horrific prediction for the future is Cormack McCarthy's "The Road" He depicts a plantless world brought on by poisonous pollution where the remaining people have resorted to cannibalism.

Logan's Run depicts the plausible future of the what the stratifying results of the gated community might be. What's it's like to be living in a sterile shopping mall?

In 1901 E.M. Foster wrote, "The Machine Stops" A story about people living in a insulated environment where machines and bureaucrats provides everything, suddenly stops working.
(Can be found on Librivox for free)

In 1990 the heir to Jules Verne managed to open a safe belonging to the author. In it was an unpublished manuscript called " Paris in the Twentieth Century". Verne describes Paris in Auugust in 1960. He sees a soul less dystopia preoccupied with technology . I have yet to read this but its reviews were tepid at best.

Larkin said...

One of the flaws in the Mad-Max and Waterworld scenarios is that has a romantic focus on the heros for the sake of entertainment and what is ignored are the multitudes.

Because of almost total dependency the availability of petroleum it is likely to go through some precipitous plunges each one worse than the last. This will profoundly curtail the dynamic that has propelled and sustained physical human culture.

Dmitry, my view is even more ominous that yours. The population of the , so called developed world, is precariously propped up by petroleum. These people don't know how to do anything and are completely depended on petroleum.

Another difference between the Soviet collapse and the US is that in the 90's Russia was in the middle of a still prosperous world that selfishly or otherwise help in recovery.

The US is the applecart by virtue of the dollar as the world reserve currency. This is of course, a financial crisis and there will be a recovery only to continue as before. This will be one of a series of continuing collapses causing greater or lesser population crashes and profound disruption.

Jaime said...

Excellent article.

I would bring up another movie that seems to be favorite candidate for best-future prediction award: Richard Fleischer's "Soylent Green".

I'll take your advice and write my very own different future.

ddu said...

I just finished re-reading Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 (1953). It's interesting that at the dawn of this dystopian society, it was not the government that demanded that books be banned. People gave up on books because independent thought made them miserable. Minorities and ethnic groups clamored against books that offended them. People were distracted and consumed by mood-leveling medications, easy technology, the relentless jangle of advertising, and sports. Prescient indeed.

Another terrifying fictional future can be glimpsed in Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale: a misogynist, theocratic, eco-ravaged nightmare.

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Anonymous said...

While I don't think the point of Mr. O's post was for us to think of all our favorite dystopian futures (what's your second favorite dystopia?), I have to put in a plug for a modern best: Oryx and Crake (also by Margaret Atwood). (by the way, if you haven't seen Paper Back Book Swap, yet, check out that link! Free books!) Given our proclivity for messing around with genes, I think this one is on the road towards "prescience."

Sixbears said...

Indeed, we live by the myths we construct for ourselves. Maybe more of us should have sent our kids out to study literature.

As for myself, I'm thinking of stealing the sailboat idea, but just changing it enough to make it my own. (and avoid copyright violations)

Anonymous said...

OK what about Walter Tevis' The Steps of The Sun

"In a time when America's power has been eroded by energy depletion, and world control has virtually been given over to the Chinese, only one man has the courage to seek new mineral resources among the stars."

1983, not bad, ahead of the curve.

Sam McKinley said...

I sure wish you'd write more...but don't! Just do what you're doing. It works - at least the shadow in my cave does.

As to your topic - writing your own story is the ONLY thing that works. That's why people have been praying and practicing magic and mysticism for millenia. Once you get your mind, body, and full intent in train reality just has no damn choice in the matter.

Chandos said...

Wonderful blog and essay!

I simply wish to add to the movie suggestions with one of my all time favorite: The seventh continent, by Michael Haneke. An unsettling account of our very present, very real dystopic world...It has stayed with me ever since I saw it about five years ago...Haneke is a gem of a director in my opinion.


Kevin said...

I am so pleased you remembered THX 1138, and favorably too. My dad worked on that film: he was one of the cinematographers.

Since Orwell, Huxley and Kafka are all dead, I'm not sure I'd call things going the way they predicted as working out for them. I expect I probably won't when I'm dead.

I love the way you dish the media as an echo chamber. It's good to see the "mosque" farrago put in perspective, and the Koran-burning brouhaha as well. Since I too am subject to the delusion-inducing influence of the media, it's good have your comments as a fine inoculation against it.

DaShui said...

Around my area- It looking like Clockwork Orange.

Anonymous said...

Seconding "Stand On Zanzibar", the ending speech is one of the most depressing thing's I've ever read.

And we've gotten this far without mentioning "Brazil"? A sprawling security state run on a combination of nepotism and self interested careerism?

Terry Gilliam manages what alot of dystopias don't, he puts incompetence, apathy and corruption front and center in the way his dystopia is run.

Fungus the Photo! said...

As Dave said!

The works of the master, Gurdjieff et al should be considered as well. Please open yourself (!) to the idea of linking up to others too! The world(s) that can result will be more fertile, playful and sane. They may also develop into a new world via the web while it still functions. Once it is evident as a threat to the old ways of commerce and control!

Richardhg said...

"The present is supposed to be reality." The problem is, what school of interpretation (propaganda) do we follow? We can interpret the Mujahadeen/Taleban from either a hero/villain perspective, and the main problem in the US today is that most people are Believers, not Investigators. i.e. "I have made my mind up. Don't confuse me with the facts."

Bob Hope returning from a Russian visit, was asked "Do they have television in Russia?" His reply was, "Yes. But there, it watches you!".

Back then, the idea of mass-surveillance by Government in a free country was regarded as an outrageous intrusion into personal space. Yet today, the US Government monitors every web page accessed by every US Internet user, and has a database going back at least 7 years. This is obviously acceptable to US citizens.

When you combine this mass-surveillance with the total suspension of fundamental legal rights, as in the case of accusations of terrorism, and the soaring costs of legal defense costs, the citizenry are now victims of the whims of the US Government, and can only defend themselves if they are wealthy. Even then, the Government reserves the right to freeze personal assets, which can immediately prevent even a wealthy person from getting access to legal services.

But most Americans are still convinced, to paraphrase Anne Frank, "Despite everything, I believe that Government people are really good at heart."

This kind of thinking has led in the past to despotic Government. The Roman Senate passed its power of governance to Julius Caesar, never anticipating the consequences of a Nero or a Caligula.

The Founding Fathers passed down wisdoms, now largely forgotten. Thomas Jefferson said "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance", and he knew his history.

Vigilance requires investigation, open access to what is happening, and tenaciousness to get at the truth.

These are values of the past in the US. They have been replaced by angry Belief.


“Madness is rare in individuals—but in groups, parties, nations, and ages it is the rule.”
Nietzsche, *Beyond Good and Evil*, §156

Unknown said...

Brilliant! I really enjoyed reading this article. Bookmarked so that I can read it again...

PYCC_MAUI said...

What a refreshing piece. I've been stumbling towards the beginning of this idea. Thanks for the push!

Unknown said...

interesting coincidence:
"This Country Just Can't Deal with Reality Any More"'t_deal_with_reality_any_more/

fritz said...

Watched Waterworld an hour ago. Occurred to me that Earth's present, past and future all have a lot in common with both THX 1138 and Waterworld.

After the most patient spouse in the Solar System put up with the requisite number of critiques over lacking realism (in a fantasy worldview), I started noticing little thinks:

Dennis the Cyclops Hopper's speech to get the Exxon Valdez rowers pointlessly cranked and rowing was poignant.

Are there any world leaders today wearing a crazy eyepatch while hyping us to find more oil? or gas? or shale?

And engaging the masses in pointless clusterfudged military engagements that net massive losses in resources and lives?

Interesting too that it's a war of attrition between engineers and their technology choices (or defaults).

Ya gotta admit though that given the Darwinianism of the situation that the engineers who survive that apocolypse into Waterworld would all be the fittest engineers of our day. And hence so much more like the Mariner than the smokers or the people of the atoll.

Yeh, I want one of those trihulls. Heckuva way to go fishing too.

Michael said...

A bracing dose of coolant for my overheated brain, more or less as expected. Thanks.

skintnick said...

Be the change you want to see?

William McCracken said...

In my opinion, one of the gotta read dystopian books is "Natures End". It was written in 1986 but it describes a time line similar to today's world with almost creepy accuracy. Let's hope they got the rest of the timeline wrong. If it's right, we're ripe for a sociopathic world leader similar to Gandi to come to power and start a depopulation movement.

fritz said...

action is the antidote to despair?
joan baez?

Anonymous said...

At least to me there is something perverse and profane harbored within a culture that makes it ok for the most clever, self-proclaimed masters of the universe among us to “obey the laws” and still destroy so much of what is known to be sacred in the planetary home human beings with feet of clay are blessed to inhabit…and not desecrate as is are plainly occurring in our time. Sad to say, the children will be justified to look back in anger and utter disbelief at the way greedmongering leading elders dishonestly and duplicitously destructed the natural world, even as they claimed so seductively, arrogantly and self-righteously to be protecting and preserving God’s Creation.

Thank you.

Steven Earl Salmony
AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population, established 2001
Chapel Hill, NC

Lukiftian said...

Good idea. And there is a difference between dreams and fiction. With fiction, you have control.

It reminds me of a work of fiction I once read.

A group of sailors found a wretch floating on a piece of flotsam at sea. The wretch said he'd escaped from the land where dreams came true. Most of the sailors said, 'well what's so bad about that' to which the wretch screamed 'not daydreams you fools, DREAMS!'

At which point the sailors realized the predicament they were in, quickly turned around, and hauled ass outa there.

Soon to be seen at a cineplex near you.

Unknown said...

I studied with a Shawnee shaman who helped me learn about my heritage. He pointed me to new "myths" to live by. I traded the myths that were making me sick in spirit for these that made me live. Consciously chose to follow a different story. I don't give a damn if they're scientifically valid or not. They're very personal and make me freer than going with the flow of this wasicu culture.

You might say these stories are love stories instead of rape tales. Thanks for reminding me.

Anonymous said...

The sound-bite culture we live in lends itself to repetition quite easily.

The attention span of the average TV watcher rivals that of the goldfish in the tank next to it. I find myself fearing sickness and ill health, not for lack of insurance like a significant portion of the population, but that I might be stuck in front of the boob tube, hypnotized by the repetitive pseudo-stories while a decent book lies unopened in my lap.

Luckily my wife turned the channel to spongebob the last time that happened.

jollyspaniard said...

The situation in Mad Max isn't really that far fetched. Worse things happened in parts of Argentina than were depicted in that movie.

john said...

I liked haneke's time of the wolf

Candice said...

Outstanding! Although my only disagreement with this post is that I would consider the information we are being fed from the media as more "D-rated trash" than "B-rated trash".

Anonymous said...

Mr Orlov, did you know there is a great new plan to change moscow and to double the number of cars in Moscow by 2015?

Can you think of any obstacles they may face in this?

crossing borders said...

now to find the time to write about a fictional future!

das monde said...

As literary future predictions go, Alvin Toffler is surprisingly rarely mentioned. His Future Shock series looks (so far) spot on regarding acceleration of technological, social and corporate change. His views on technological and social evolution are silently accepted as common wisdom by now - yeah, innovations are accelerating, we are overloaded with information, it becomes more difficult to adapt - but goods for winners are only greater then, so you must desperately forward in this rat race. I wonder, what is the view of kollapsniks on Toffler's (and not his only) anticipations? Will the tempo of civilized life abruptly slow down? Or will the collapse shock be similar to that Future Shock? Is Tofler's prognosis a self-fulfilling prophecy (for a while), or is it even a bible for those actually influencing things?

Anonymous said...

I know this is a late comment, but one story line to consider is Walter Mosley's "Futureland", where nations are superceded by corporations.