If you’ve ever gone back and re-watched an entire science fiction TV series from the past (TNG season 7 right now suckas) then you may have noticed subtle anachromisms. “What the hell is Kirk using a fax machine for?” “Seriously why don’t they just print Picard a new heart?” “Oooh, if only they had Google. Those poor bastards.”
I’ve realized that science fiction, while at its best inspires the present and helps shape the future, for the most part says a lot more about the time it was created in. This is hardly a coincidence. Any good writer knows that in order to connect to an audience, you have to be relevant to them. Kirk doing anything *but* promoting rabid individuality at the cost of the Prime Directive would have been just a little too communist for 1960s viewers, and then Roddenberry never would’ve been able to inspire the iPad. Read: I wouldn’t have my iPad!!! And the ruskies would’ve won. IT WOULD BE HELL.
There are also unintentional giveaways. Re-watching Babylon 5, I realized how obsessed with spirituality we were in the 90s. In a respectful way. Not in a “God hates helth care reform!!1!” way. Even reading Oryx and Crake recently, I noticed many of the concerns and assumptions seemed slightly – just slightly – dated. (For some reason everyone is still using DVDs in the future.) The early 2000s were more different than I thought they were.
This revelation that science fiction is, in fact, history would probably disappoint some hard core fans. I have kind of a thing for history though. Here’s why:
I had this history teacher in high school named Stan who had a big bushy beard and always wore paint-stained T-shirts. He would hand-craft each textbook for each class segment, using copies of articles, writing and art from the time period. Learning history through the motivations and observations of the artists of the time, in addition to the standard rote memorization of dates and names, brought history to life. The past wasn’t just a tedious list of battles anymore. It was a million strange, new worlds.
Enter the law of accelerating returns, and it becomes obvious that the study of the future (sometimes called science fiction) and the study of the past are inextricably linked by the curves of progress in culture and technology – and that we’re not at the end, but in the middle. Or, depending on your perspective, just at the beginning.
Maybe if we taught history this way, we wouldn’t be so quick to forget it.