The Future (Not)

The Future (Not) by James Howard Kunstler

I took myself to the new movie Blade Runner 2049 to see what kind of future the Hollywood dream-shop is serving up these days. It was an excellent illustration of the over-investments in technology with diminishing returns that are dragging us into collapse and of the attendant techno-narcissism that afflicts the supposedly thinking class in this society, who absolutely don’t get what this collapse is about. The more computer magic Hollywood drags into the picture, the less coherent their story-telling gets. Hollywood is collapsing, and it’s not just because of Harvey Weinstein’s antics.

Movies of this genre are really always more about the current moment than about the future, and Blade Runner 2049 is full of hilarious retro-anachronisms — things around us now which will probably not be in the future. The signature trope in many sci-fi dystopias of recent times is the assumed ever-presence of automobiles.

The original Mad Max was little more than an extended car chase — though apparently all that people remember about it is the desolate desert landscape and Mel Gibson’s leather jumpsuit. As the series wore on, both the vehicles and the staged chases became more spectacularly grandiose, until, in the latest edition, the movie was solely about Charlize Theron driving a truck. I always wondered where Mel got new air filters and radiator hoses, not to mention where he gassed up. In a world that broken, of course, there would be no supply and manufacturing chains.

So, of course, Blade Runner 2049 opens with a shot of the detective played by Ryan Gosling in his flying car, zooming over a landscape that looks more like a computer motherboard than actual earthly terrain. As the movie goes on, he gets in and out of his flying car more often than a San Fernando soccer mom on her daily rounds. That actually tells us something more significant than all the grim monotone trappings of the production design, namely, that we can’t imagine any kind of future — or any human society for that matter — that is not centered on cars.

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James Howard Kunstler

James Howard Kunstler says he wrote The Geography of Nowhere, “Because I believe a lot of people share my feelings about the tragic landscape of highway strips, parking lots, housing tracts, mega-malls, junked cities, and ravaged countryside that makes up the everyday environment where most Americans live and work.” Home From Nowhere was a continuation of that discussion with an emphasis on the remedies. A portion of it appeared as the cover story in the September 1996 Atlantic Monthly. His next book in the series, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, published by Simon & Schuster / Free Press, is a look a wide-ranging look at cities here and abroad, an inquiry into what makes them great (or miserable), and in particular what America is going to do with it’s mutilated cities.