Fixing the Future?

pinBecause my husband works in the film industry, we sometimes get to see early screenings–or screenings that are remarkable because the director is there, or we’re in the company of other film tech people, or just because it’s a great theatre. Last week we got to see Tomorrowland.

There’s a song by Aimee Mann called “Fifty Years After the Fair,” about the 1939 World’s Fair, which includes the line “How beautiful was tomorrow…” And Tomorrowland starts out at the 1964 World’s Fair, and evokes it beautifully: the landscape that looks like the cover of a 1959 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, the crowds, the rampant product placement… As a kid I went to the fair a handful of times, and believe me, they got it just right.

And then things move to the now, and aside from a dearth of flying cars and soaring spindly architecture and the gosh-wow of future tech we were promised (personal jet packs! video phones!) we all know what now looks like. And by the standards of 1964, it doesn’t look so hopeful, what with climate change and political unrest and overpopulation and… heck, the UN just suggested that if we want to keep the human race a going concern, we should all become vegan, like, right now.

Tomorrowland is, in fact, a fable about hope and despair.

My fabulous 19-year-old came to the screening too. And she laughed and hooted and cried at the right places, but it also opened a whole closet full of anxieties and outrage for her, which both recalled my own 19-year-old self and reproached my somewhat older, current-model self. The protagonist in Tomorrowland–the one who comes down firmly on the “how do we fix it” side of the equation–is a girl of my daughter’s age. What my daughter came away with, among other things, is that my generation and the ones that followed it have not only not fixed the problems we found when we reached adult-hood, but have left things worse than we found it, and now it’s up to her to fix it. Her and her cohort.

I remember this. The threats are not the same, but the song is.  When I was 19 the threat of nuclear annihilation was very real; civil rights was an ongoing struggle (and the term referred only to African-Americans–other ethnicities, and the complex web of stuff that is gender in our society, was barely on the radar); we were just beginning to understand the havoc human presence was wreaking on our ecosystem; and–oh yeah, as a younger acquaintance said to me some years later, “you had that war.” I am not an activist by nature, but I felt the weight of my generation’s responsibility to fix all the stuff that was wrong. Being a science fiction reader and writer, I was perhaps a little more ready to see the human race poised on the edge of “if this goes on…” So I do all the non-activist things I can: recycle and compost and use public transportation and try to be mindful about, well, everything.

I’m not convinced it makes a difference, but I keep trying. I remember knowing that it was up to me and my peers to fix the mess the world was in. And some things have, in fact, improved (I could make an argument that the current crop of know-nothingism and racism and sexism is a sign of progress, a reaction those improvements by people who just can’t stand leaving the old ways behind–but we’re down to a lot of wires, and there’s too much to do to spend time indulging those fears).

I didn’t want to leave the people who come after (emphatically including my kids) a mess to clean up. She’s much more of an activist than I am, but that spirit of activism is being dinged by the seeming impossibility of the tasks before her generation. Yes, this sounds familiar. I suspect every generation coming up has felt something of the same thing. All I can do, aside from telling her that her feelings are real and valid (but not an excuse for doing nothing) is to promise that, as long as I’m here, I will do my best to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with her.


About Madeleine E. Robins

Madeleine Robins is the author of The Stone War, Point of Honour, Petty Treason, and The Sleeping Partner (the third Sarah Tolerance mystery, available from Plus One Press). Her Regency romances, Althea, My Dear Jenny, The Heiress Companion, Lady John, and The Spanish Marriage are now available from Book View Café. Sold for Endless Rue , an historical novel set in medieval Italy, was published in May 2013 by Forge Books


Fixing the Future? — 12 Comments

  1. We live in the DC area, so Sept. 11, 2001 was not a good day. My daughter was a high school student. On Sept. 12 we talked about it. She said, “The world is screwed up.” On that day there was no possible other reply to make than, “Yeah, honey, it sure is.” She pondered for a moment and then reasoned, “Adults have messed it up.” Again I had to concur. What argument was there? Clearly we had blown it, big time.
    She said, “I will fix it.” And like an idiot I did -not- say, “Oh honey, boys don’t like girls who are too smart,” or “Competence is not compatible with a really nice manicure, sweetie,” or “You’re too pretty for that, dear.” Instead I said, “You do that, kid.” And from that moment there was no turning back. I have sown the wind; the whirlwind is coming.

  2. Sherwood said, “I think the future has been a scary place for a very, very long time.”

    And the present has been a scary place for millions and millions for millennia too. 🙁

    My major contributions in reaction to trying to fix things back in my day were to never own a car, a television (this latter hardly matters now when we own and use so much digital “stuff”), and not to reproduce because there were already too many people on the planet. But nobody else I knew — except the fellow I married — went along with this once they achieved a certain age. And certainly, at times we’ve broken down and owned a car too, as when we lived in New Orleans — though in Maryland our care was borrowed from someone who was currently living in Brasil. So I don’t feel I’ve done much to ‘fix’ things at all. Beyond help shift the monolithic revisionist bs that was the history of slavery in the U.S. and the Civil War and what happened — and a bit about getting people to see that neither Havana nor New Orleans are “Caribbean” but rather, “Gulf” cultures.

    Love, C.

  3. BTW, The New York Magazine has a splendid piece by Frank Rich about how somehow we’ve done so little to change things since the Civil Rights Era:

    There’s a companion piece as well attempting to describe how a private day school is involving its diverse students and their families directly in how each diverse group experiences discrimination — though not everyone, students or parents — are certain this particular program is a good idea. Judging by readers’ comments there are many who are infuriated by this program:

  4. Good thoughts here– looking forward to seeing the film. I find it hard to be hopeful about a future for the human species, let alone all the others we’re taking down. Here’s to all those with the vision and energy to keep fighting for change!

  5. You know, I worry about climate change and am generally appalled at the bad decisions humans are making today that will come back to haunt us. But at the same time I see the progress we’re making in human relations, scientific research, and technology, and I can envision some very positive things. I tend to believe we’ll get the usual muddle of human stuff — disasters and incredible things all mixed up together. The disasters may be on a scale never seen before, though.

    Generally, though, the future doesn’t scare me. The present does sometimes, though. And I’d really hate to go back to any period in the past. The past is a very scary place if you’re an independent woman. There’s no place for you there.

    • Absolutely right about not wanting to live in the past! I’ve lived in countries where women had few rights, and it was sobering and frustrating — not to mention scary at times. It will be really interesting to see how we emerge from the present cauldron of changes.

  6. One of the things the movie discusses is the extent to which our society is soaking in messages of gloom and doom–movies like Day After Tomorrow or San Andreas about inevitable ecological disaster, outrage-porn clickbait on the internet, books with titles like How to Survive the Coming Apocalypse. If you pay any attention (and it’s hard not to) it’s enervating.

    I do see progress. I cling to evidence of progress. But I understand why it’s hard sometimes to hold on to hope when society is beaming in so many messages of helpless despair.

    • You know, I wonder how much of the gloom and doom is inaccurate. For example, crime rates in the US are significantly down, yet the fear of crime is still very high. I generally see this as worrying about the wrong things, since we should be concerned about climate change but instead are focused on things that don’t pose nearly as much of a risk. But it could also be that some of our worries about the future are overblown in much the same way.

      • I would be inclined to agree with you, but I just discovered last night that there is actually a top-rated television show that purports to feature true-life people who battle on-air over the paternity of their children.

        I thought someone was just pulling my leg about it, but then they showed me an episode on YouTube. I’d heard about Jerry Springer, but now this.

        We are truly doomed as a species.

        • I always wonder what inducements TV producers offer to people in order to show them acting as badly as humanly possible. It’s kind of a stunning phenomenon. Money can’t be sufficient. I’m afraid it’s the lure of being on TV. Oy.