The other day husband and I were in front of the computer that’s used as a TV, and he was looking at trailers (I think I was writing, but I might have been painting something.) After about the third “science fiction” movie trailer, my husband said “Do they realize all these futures are essentially Maoist? They all dress alike, they’re addressed by their rank in society, they have completely scripted lives?”
And I realized he’s right and it’s not just the dystopias, even. In all imagined SF futures, STILL, everyone dresses alike and is some kind of cog in a big machine.
Okay, I give Star Trek a pass, as what we’re seeing is more or less the military in this society. (Or perhaps the Peace Corps. Or yes. I never figured it out, fully.) But even then you have a feeling private citizens live pretty similar lives.
Well, movies are downstream from written SF and also tend to ossify more, because after a while viewers look for a certain “look” in SF/F (which is why even I in sf/f covers use the full body-suit thing because in people’s minds THAT is science fiction.
And when I started reading science fiction the “citizen 54, report” type of SF was normal — and please keep in mind that I read very bad European (mostly French) science fiction that my friends were reading (one of which I’m sure was a science fiction romance, as the only even vaguely original scenes were the sex scenes. Which means at fourteen I was both bored AND bewildered and wondered why my otherwise sensible friend like this. In retrospect, I think Mr. Hormone had just called on her earlier than on me. I mean, the main character had a robot who– never mind.) as well as Argonauta, which was mostly US sf, a lot of it alas award winners, which even then meant a lot of it was … odd.
A lot of it seemed to be based on the idea that Brave New World was inevitable, so, therefore, we could only write variations of it.
The idea that in the future we were all addressed by rank and number was so built into those books that this was the default setting. you were — even outside the military — engineer 459 or architect 890 or whatever.
It was tied in with the overpopulation idea. My brother with whom I discussed this, said of course in the future some number would be part of your name (if not your full name.) Just because there would be so many of you, and a computer would need to administer everything.
Oh, and I can’t emphasize that enough. In the seventies and even early eighties, mostly because people believed the lies from the Soviet Union, it was assumed as a default that of COURSE central control and administration was not only more efficient, but the future that waited us all. The future was vaguely human ants working and living for the good of the colony, administered by the best people and of course computers.
Remember that a lot of people on both sides of the isle grew up with this idea, and that science fiction ideas shape even “mundane” society. A lot of the internationalists f*cking up the world are doing so under the assumption that the one-world-government administered by “smart people” and computers is not only inevitable, but the best possible in an imperfect world. They refuse to see the true results of central control because they can’t. Their entire life narrative would collapse. That “people want to be part of something greater” means they’re invested heart and soul in bringing this about because the books and movies they read and saw as kids sold it to them.
Me? I’d probably have wandered off sf if I hadn’t found Simak — yes, depressing, but his people were people — and Heinlein who didn’t sing in THAT choir.
But in truth, we’ve moved past that narrative, and even the supposedly non dystopias set in “everyone wears same clothes and is directed by voices from the wall” world feel vaguely creepy and scary now.
Because that dream was a nightmare, and thank heavens we’ve awakened from it.
However the future will be, it won’t be Maoist. Sure, there will be disgusting periods in future history — as there were in the past — but whatever lies in future for us long term is not the “perfect” centralized state, with or without computers.
I’m an individual, not a number. And so, gentle reader, are you.
For which I’m very glad.
(UPDATE ON THE GREAT BOOK SALE: New list tomorrow, probably close to noon. Sorry, I’m combating either a bug or my thyroid going low again (yes, I AM having tests) and last night I was too tired to box. I also need to do a more careful turn-over on the library to figure out if I can locate that series of Night Shifters. I will, probably, in the process, find other things, like probably older books/copies.)