Visions Of The Future

I have read NO reviews of the new BBC/HBO production, Years And Years. (I did not even read its Wikipedia page I linked to in that opening sentence.) What you see here is entirely my own personal reaction… as a writer of historical fiction with a graduate degree in history after having sat through three episodes. In short: Maybe it will improve, but mostly so far it has caused me to want to bash my head down on my desk repeatedly.

The BBC is one of those media outlets supposedly appalled by “fake news.” Yet the public service broadcaster produces a dystopic take on “the near future” which can clearly also be the present in which, for example, the US attacks China over a human-made Chinese “island” in the South China Sea. Days before leaving office in January 2025 (having been re-elected in 2020 so obviously it won’t be Joe Biden then?), US President Donald Trump reportedly hurls a nuclear missile and presumably afterwards tweets “We got the best missiles, really great ones, we don’t miss…” at “the island.”

But The Day After (1983) it’s not; general nuclear world war does not break out. Social pandemonium, however, apparently does. The UN votes for sanctions against the US. Jobs here in Britain dry up as US companies (bloody Americans) have to leave… so what a mistake Brexit was. (Got that?) Banks fail and family savings are wiped out. Russia decides to conquer all of Ukraine, and Ukrainian refugees are now crossing the Channel… so what a mistake Brexit was. (Got that?) Russia also imprisons anyone publicly LGBT. Emma Thompson – I can’t recall her character’s name, only that apparently she seems something of Nigel Farrage crossed with Marine Le Pen – becomes an “unsettling” political force in a Britain – in a world – that seems surely done for, especially with the outcast US now under that Christian religious nutcase President Pence.

I’m still not sure if it’s supposed to be on some levels a comedy. I reveal here I am no big supporter of the current US president: he is a lot of “unpresidential” tacky and dopey things, and his mouth never stops. But he is not that thick. Slapping tariffs on Chinese or Mexican imports is one thing, altering US immigration policy is another, and attacking football players who kneel for the national anthem yet another, but I do not believe there is any reasonable evidence he is any more likely to launch a nuclear first strike than any president before him. I do not suffer sleepless nights fearing he will and neither should you.

[The White House, Washington, D.C. Photo by me, 2018.]
What this program is to me is yet another reminder as to why I groan at dystopic visions of the future; I consider them dangerous particularly to kids’ and teenagers’ life outlooks. We ask why are so many kids evidently so frightened, despair of their future, and appear to recoil at various “doomsdays” adults have marked out by “2030,” or “2050,” or “2070,” etc.? For goodness sake look at the depressing future being thrown at them on television, on film, on the net, and in literature. Naturally they are scared.

In the face of an avalanche of pessimistic “spectulative fiction,” we do need to try to remember this too. We live in a world now where famine is almost unheard of (where there is no war). Life expectancies generally grow. We are mostly more comfortable than ever. Humans 100 years ago (1919) would be amazed at how well we generally live, at how peaceful the world mostly is, and at how safely we usually travel.

We seem, in 2019, and partly because of social media like the awful Twitter, lousy at grasping context. Is the world perfect? Of course not. It is not and never will be. There are still wars as there will be always. Illness and death will never go away. Pollution always has to be dealt with. There are still dreams denied and there always will be… because as humans we are pre-programmed to dream about that which (and, uh, perhaps who) we cannot have.

What should we do? In my opinion, we ought to read and to learn – not that I’m biased, of course 😉 – primarily from history. Immerse yourself in those before us who accomplished things. Pattern yourself after them

You are concerned about the future? Fine. There is nothing wrong with that. We are supposed to try to think ahead… based on what we have learned about the past.

Wallowing in disturbed fantasies about the future in which our world essentially collapses and confusing that with reality is hardly the way to make this world a better place.

Indeed many today in Western Europe and in America also fret about how they insist fear and ignorance stoked especially by social media disinformation emanating from the Russian Putin government is undermining our democracies. Okay. Yet it is also curious how decidedly non-Putin media outlets like the BBC offer up “entertainment” programs such as Years And Years among a litany of similar dystopic films and other television? Did Putin demand that? As for similar literature by non-Putins being all over our non-Putin bookshelves and on our non-Putin Kindles, who’s penning all of that stuff? Not Putin either.

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Separately, but relatedly (to me, anyway), this. What the heck has happened to the formerly decent US television program Madam Secretary? It appears to have largely unanchored itself from the reality of how the US is actually governed and morphed mostly into a grim soap-opera that is riddled with an almost teen-angst… about the ***scary*** future.

I admit I have been out of academia for some years now, so I’m aware I’m likely a bit out of touch with some educational trends. Still, think about some of the past great US secretaries of state, such as Thomas Jefferson (who essentially created the job), James Madison, William Seward, Hamilton Fish (you have probably never heard of him, and that’s sadly symptomatic of where we are now), and George C. Marshall (I don’t really rate any US politician until they’ve been out of office, uh, “50 years” or so) and the often brilliant men, and more recently women but the future is “Handmaids”?, who have served the country so faithfully? If you watched Madam Secretary during 2018-19, good grief you saw a State Department staffed at a very high level by a group so utterly unimpressive you wouldn’t feel confident tasking them even with organizing the high school prom, much less having them brokering peace somewhere, or leading “the charge” against a worldwide climate change driven refugee crisis. I came close to giving up on the show as insulting to the intelligence.

Indeed a bunch like that one had better NOT be running the real State Department, for that would be truly unnerving. What also aggravates me is that so much of the world – as here in Britain – sees that program. What might those international viewers think? That these are some of America’s best and brightest in our foreign service? Heaven help us. No wonder so many foreigners think Americans are intellectual lightweights at best.

Oh, President Bartlet, oh, The West Wing, oh, where have you gone from our television screens? We so miss you…

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Now that I’ve gotten all of that off of my blogging chest…

I suggest you read a good book – or several – over the coming (Northern Hemisphere) summer. Turn off the news and stay off of Twitter. And give the Apocalypse reading a break. Doing such is an antidote and an escape from the nonsense out there.

I had hoped mine might be one. I wanted to have the new novel – it’s going to be more than “500 pages”✔️ (see above) – out by July. But now it will probably be later in the summer.

My next post will come from an as of yet super-secret European continental destination. We will be arriving there on Sunday evening and staying 10 days. Stay tuned!

Have a great weekend, wherever you are. 🙂

8 thoughts on “Visions Of The Future

  1. Robert, you are far more patient than I. Originally a huge fan of Madam Secretary—and of Téa Leoni as far back as Flying Blind—I began to roll my eyes so far back into my head, I feared they might become permanently stuck that way and stopped watching early in the current season. My daughter, I may have mentioned, is an International Relations major in college and is constantly flying into the fray to dispel crazy notions about nuclear war or the like among her peers. Sigh . . . and another eye roll

    Can’t wait for your big “reveal!” The last adventure was wonderful, and I enjoyed the accompanying pics immensely. You have a great weekend as well! 🙂

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    1. I’m glad to learn I’m not alone about decrying the decline of “Madam Secretary.” It’s really sad. It’s also in its way disturbing given those who watch it: most don’t have IR degrees. That was my undergrad degree too.

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