Monday, April 29, 2013

Futurism: The New Frontier Of Tomorrow-Today!

               Among the many works of literature still on my reading list is the Mark Twain novel A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court. Aside from Twain's unique style of writing, the idea it presents holds a deeply personal interest to me. Its the same reason I so enjoy television such as Quantum Leap and Doctor Who. The image you see above is an artists rendering of a place called Tomorrowland at the 1964 Worlds Fair in New York. If one was an average middle American 12-15 year old during the early/mid 1960s, it was images such as this that defined what 21st century life was going to be like.  President Kennedy had called this "the new frontier". Science,technology and humanism would meet to create a better and more educated world for all human beings.

              Now lets take that middle American teenager from 1964, with there conception of the future of New York City as Twain did his Connecticut Yankee and transport him to 2013 into the actual 21st century NYC. He would of course find no flying alcohol fueled vehicles. He would find no floating apartment houses. And the design of the city would still not be in harmony with the environment around it. This teenager would find an overcrowded city-filled with rampant homelessness,many of whom were mentally ill,people desperately rushing from one place to another and being unpleasant to others around them in the process. And he would find the $2 dollars or so he'd likely have in his pocket wouldn't be able to get him very far transportation wise.

               My impressions of this scenario was that this teenager would be very discouraged by what he saw around him in the modern day city. He'd likely wish to return immediately to 1964 mainly to wonder what went wrong? And why the precise opposite of the "new frontier" he was looking so forward to in his adulthood didn't seem to come close to happening. He'd likely wish to understand what caused all the wrongs he saw around him in the future. And what,as JFK famously said,he could do for his country and world to right these wrongs.  That  half century time span between 1964 and today has in fact seen a great deal of changes in American society in particular. In fact,a roll call list of them. A good deal of them have actually been socially positive. Case it point civil rights for African Americans and far more respect for same sex romantic relationships. Still the more things change,the more they stay the same.

           What this metaphorical teenager of the early 1960's would not have seen on his time travel journey was the final decade of the 20th century-the one that was the 1960's turned upside down. A decade where lack of hope and loss of faith in society became an accepted mainstream-to the point of being unavoidable.  Nor would he have known anything about the complete breakdown of acceptance of other cultures around the world following the events of 9/11-when practically everyone from or around the middle east/Western Europe seemed to become thought of a "potential terrorist". Taking all of this together,there is one key element this person would've noticed very quickly. And that would be the almost complete lack of confidence in and appreciation for futurism. 
            Futurism is actually based on an early 20th century Italian art/social movement. It emphasized and glorified themes associated with contemporary concepts of the future, including speed, technology, youth and violence. As well as objects such as the car, the airplane and the industrial city. It effected all forms of creative and architectural art. And was a continual influence on science fiction and urban "imagineering" up until the 1964 Worlds Fair. Often alternative lifestyles and power sources played into this as well. The concept of futurism was extremely important to the types of social changes that President Kennedy's New Frontier and President Johnson's Great Society were intended to present. Gradually as time moved forward, the cultures thinking began to move in the opposite direction. And most people became more influenced by the concepts of cynicism rather than futurism.

           One of the factors that make me genuinely depressed right now is this. Whenever I ask a friend or a family member why the world seems to have become such a heartless and uncaring place,I am continually told that in order for such a world to change one must look at themselves and change that first. As well intended (and by a degree mildly true) such statements are, it reflects a complete turn around in the sociological priorities of the modern human being. It reflects an ego structure turned almost totally inward rather than outward. The idea of "me first", once part of a certain social subculture, is now what defines most people-perhaps without their knowledge. My opinion is this. If our egos were all reflected outwardly,as opposed to inwardly when it came to the changes we made and if more people wholeheartedly embraced futurism as a metaphorical peaceful and conceptual protector in their lives the world of tomorrow might begin to actually happen today.


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