blayne_ (blayne_) wrote,

The Tomorrow That Never Will Be: retro-futurism and nostalgic desire

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After watching the film adaptation of Arthur C. Clarke book 2010, and seeing a gravestone recently that resembled a Monolith, I felt compelled to read up on science fiction sub genres. However, I skipped like a warped record from Clarke to "alternate history" films. What I realized immediately was a divergence between intentionally fictional representations of the past/future, and those that were crafted with earnest intent.

Eventually, I landed on the topic of "retro-futurism": Max Fletcher cartoons, Metropolis, spotlights-aimlessly-searching-across-architecturally-striking-cityscapes. Like Dick Tracy pulling a ray-gun, I was suprised when I found an excellent article titled "The Tomorrow That Never Was".

While I've never really longed for an art deco cityscape, I've often daydreamed about a world different from our own. The film-noir, synthesizer washed future-distopia of Blade Runner, and my fantasy "Edwardian-Eighties" come to mind.

In seeing the 1939 Worlds Fair "Futurama" exhibit pin proclaiming "I Have Seen The Future", I wonder: Can any future we predict become something more than architectural fossils like Seattle's "raygun-gothic" space needle? Can imagined cultural aesthetics live up to the expectation we create for it? The same force at work here exists to ensure that the result of every 1980s pop culture redux pales in comparison to the one we remember.

Despite these limitations, I've come to understand the intrinsic merit of these aesthetics. After the romantic innocence of retro-futurism is stripped away, you can see what drives our contemporary longing for imagined past-futures: Nostalgia, and a sincere desire for a return to familiar images of our past. It is in these familiar icons that we cope with our uncertain future. In my idle moments, its this desire "to return to a world that never really existed" that puts me at ease, regardless of what the buildings look like.

I once accepted the belief that everyone who looked to science fiction did so for only for escapism. There's something more to be derived from it though: We read it not only for escape, but for reassurance and guidance against a future that no one can predict. They give us inspiration and strength to keep moving, culturally and artistically, towards the distant horizon.

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