Raymond Bechard looks back to try to discover when and why we lost all hope—and how we can press the ‘reset’ button without annihilating ourselves in the process.
At some point we turned the end of the world into an acceptable form of entertainment. And that made armageddon seem just a bit more acceptable, perhaps even desirable.
In no specific order, here is a very short list of recent productions that get “Preppers'” heart rates going: The Walking Dead, The Last Ship, Revolution, Falling Skies, 2012, I Am Legend, Jericho, The Book of Eli, The Road, The Day After Tomorrow, Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World, This Is The End, Mad Max: Fury Road . . .
You get the idea. The end of the world makes us giddy.
For those of a certain age, we remember a different future. We remember being told—and shown—that the future would be a near utopia of problem free living, routine space travel for all, healthy living, bounty, liberty, knowledge and joyful cooperation among all the peoples of the world.
It was the sixties. NASA was going to the moon and that made everything else we could imagine seem utterly possible, no matter how improbable it all truly was. Movies, magazine covers, news media and most of all, Walt Disney, declared the future to be a wondrous place just days away.
Of course, the horrible realities of the sixties made clinging to a fantasy future irresistible. Every day we lived with assassinations, wars, turmoil, nuclear annihilation . . . Yes, we wanted our fantastic future so very badly. That’s why we flocked to places like Disneyland and the 1964 World’s Fair. They made that future we longed for tangible. These were proof that earth’s troubles would soon be over and our heavenly tomorrow would welcome us with open arms and monorails that took us everywhere for free.
It didn’t happen. None of it. Not a damn thing. Yes, we got the internet, but it isn’t worth the lost dreams we were promised as children. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Tomorrowland, that gorgeous destination waiting for us, lays in ruins. Stolen and smashed by history.
That lost future is the premise of Disney’s movie, Tomorrowland. It’s a mostly overlooked big-budget production released earlier this year that was looking to capitalize on the popularity of that other Disney park feature-made-into-a-cinema-franchise, Pirates of The Caribbean. (While hoping you won’t remember flops like The Haunted Mansion,Tower of Terror, and The Country Bears among others.)
The movie, featuring George Clooney, Hugh Laurie and Tim McGraw, is fun to watch, but mostly sad in that it openly admits Uncle Walt’s lost dream of tomorrow. It doesn’t degrade the future Disney the man tried to give us, it only brings up the stark reality that we screwed it up.
Near its climax, Hugh Laurie’s character, “Nix,” spews an angry explanation as to where and why we went wrong. The three minute speech, buried in this average SyFy movie, stings those of us who remember a time when we ran to a bright and bold future of hope.
Here is what “Nix” says, reminding us that at some point along the way we turned. And now our hope reaches only as far as Sunday night and a new episode of The Walking Dead.
“Let’s imagine, if you glimpsed the future and were frightened by what you saw, what would you do with that information? Would you go to the politicians? The captains of industry? And how would you convince them? With data, facts? Good luck. The only facts they won’t challenge are the ones that keep the wheels greased and the dollars rolling in.
What if there was a way of skipping the middle-man and putting the critical news directly into everyone’s head. The probability of widespread annihilation kept going up. The only way to stop it was to show it, to scare people straight. What reasonable human being wouldn’t be galvanized by the potential destruction of everything they’ve ever known or loved. To save civilization, I would show its collapse.
And how do think this vision was received? How do you think people responded to the prospect of imminent doom? They gobbled it up like a chocolate éclair. They didn’t fear their demise. They repackaged it. It can be enjoyed as video games, as TV shows, as books, movies. The entire world wholeheartedly embraced the apocalypse and sprinted toward it with gleeful abandon.
Meanwhile, your earth was crumbling all around you. You’ve got simultaneous epidemics of obesity and starvation. Explain that one.
These butterflies start to disappear, the glaciers melt, algae blooms. All around you the coalmine canaries are dropping dead and you won’t take the hint.
In every moment there is the possibility of a better future, but you people won’t believe it. And because you won’t believe it, you won’t do what is necessary to make it a reality. So you dwell on this terrible future and you resign yourselves to it for one reason: because that future doesn’t ask anything of you today.
So yes. We saw the iceberg, warned the Titanic. But you all just steered for it anyway, full steam ahead. Why? Because you want to sink. You gave up.”
See the speech here: