October 14th, 2012

Future Fantastic?

Written by Mervyn Charles

We have all at some point discussed how wonderful life would be if the technology from our favourite science fiction was available today. In reality, we are still in the comparative technological dark ages for any of those futuristic innovations to be a reality. Kinetic energy weapons and bludgeons are still our small-arms of choice and we haven’t advanced much since the musket. We potter around in vehicles that generally burn fossil fuel and can only dream of anti-gravity speeders and teleportation chambers as our de rigueur mode of transport.

I cannot see us doing away with cookers and shopping as we do not have the technology to replicate any meal we fancy in a microwave cum food creator gizmo. 

Off world travel for the masses is a no-go and we are no closer to FTL travel. Hell, our best means of reaching the stars at present are the Soyuz rockets.

Soyuz? That technology is older than me, in worse shape, and the Russians are planning on mothballing it.

Newt Gingrich proposed a permanent base on the moon as part of his bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 and President Bush called for something similar in 2004. Technically, this was a possibility with NASA drafting plans for a moon base that could be used as a jump-off point for a mission to Mars. This was supposed to be operational by 2026 but the Constellation Programme (as it was called) was kicked into touch by President Obama. The technology is viable but the finances made the project cost-prohibitive.

We are making strides despite the cutbacks. NASA recently landed the Mars Rover on the red planet and Curiosity passed the equivalent of a space probe MOT, moving 6 metres overall from its initial landing point as well as turning a full 120 degrees.

Small steps to be sure but is it enough? I don’t think so. The nearest we have come to replicating the glories of our favourite sci-fi films has been the Princess Leia slave-girl bikinis you see at cosplay or sci-fi conventions! A good start but in my view we are too poor and backwards to enjoy a sci-fi technological future in my lifetime, one in which we boldly go to a galaxy far, far away. However, while we may not be in a position to enjoy a technological sci-fi future surely we can have a social sci-fi future - can’t we?

In fact we are already moving towards a social sci-fi future. Our society is slowly morphing to reflect one of the most complete visions of the future the sci-fi genre has thrown up. However, before you all jump up and cry hurrah, the sci-fi future I envisage is none other than Mega City One from the comic 2000AD.

 Yes, Mega-City One: “Eight hundred million people and every one of them a potential criminal. The most violent, evil city on Earth but, God help me, I love it” to quote its most famous citizen, Judge Dredd. A megalopolis 122 years in the future, Mega City One at one point covered the eastern seaboard of North America from Toronto to Miami. It is a place where crime, unemployment, boredom and apathy are the sum of the lives of its citizens. Justice is swift, brutal and often fatal, and democracy a thing of the past.

Look at life in the Big Meg. Unemployment is the normal state for the majority of the citizens who resort to crime, fads and a daily diet of junk food and junk entertainment to fill their days. People spend their lives within the confines of gargantuan city blocks where their needs are met primarily in an attempt to keep them docile. An attempt at restoring democracy failed not due to pressure from Justice Department but due to an apathetic population. They were too content with a life spent doing nothing to vote for a potentially better future or at least a future in which they had some say in their governance. The citizens didn’t need to leave their apartments to vote but still it was beyond them.

Are we that far off being in a similar situation? The prevailing view that voting in a new government is a meaningless exercise that may not bring about any concrete change could swiftly snowball into a situation where not voting due to apathy becomes the normal state of affairs.

With the current economic crisis and rising unemployment could we not sink into a social torpor in which working becomes the exception and life revolves around a mind-numbing diet of television and gossip about the newest celebrity fad? How long before being unemployed becomes the normal state for the majority of us and we morph into a mirror of the apathetic citizens of Mega City One? Statistics for the second quarter of 2012 reveal the UK has 1 million people aged between 16 and 24 who are unable to find work, a number representing 20 percent of that demographic. Spain has a 24.6 percent overall unemployment rate and that figure rises to 53 percent for the 16 to 24 year old demographic and overall the figure is 22.6 percent across the Euro Zone and 22.7 percent across the EU.

Look at my favourite Mega City craze - the Fatties. They didn’t start out with the intention of becoming blimps. However, a life revolving around excessive amounts of low quality food and a sedentary lifestyle produced a group of citizens for whom life is nothing more than their next meal. We are already suffering a global obesity epidemic rooted in a sedentary lifestyle, junk food and people not making the time for exercise so how long before more and more people purposely ignore the health implications of being obese and embrace a Fatty lifestyle?

I want to look at the most invasive branch of Justice Department, the Public Surveillance Unit, responsible for monitoring every aspect of the lives of the Mega Citizens and ask how close are we to having a version of PSU breathing down our necks. Estimates reveal that the average person in the UK is likely to be caught on camera 300 times a day. The government can monitor our phone calls, emails, text messages and internet traffic under recently announced legislation meaning ISPs are required to give GCHQ (the intelligence agency charged with intelligence gathering and therefore monitoring all our communications) access to communications on demand and in real time. Oyster cards can be used to build up a report of our movements; mobile phone masts can triangulate our position and smile when using an ATM because the banks are filming you.

If you are not doing anything wrong then you have nothing to fear as the old saying goes and I’m sure some government minister at some time has said the invasive measures are designed to keep us safe. However, as someone who has recently been the victim of crime, it is amazing that none of this technology was used to catch the criminals even when mobile phone records were available. So is the snooping in place to apprehend criminals or to keep tabs on us à la the infamous PSU of Justice Department?

Furthermore, are we complicit in these invasive measures when we update our status on Facebook every time we take a dump? We publish so much of our comings and goings on social media, most of it irrelevant, that it is fair to say that we make it easy for those who wish to build up a trail of our movements to do so. I have no problem with the concept of social media but surely it cannot be necessary to update your status as four in the morning while on a charity bike ride. The sooner we have a movement like the Surveillence Action Brigade, a group of Mega City One citizens who take direct action against the all-intrusiveness of the PSU, the happier I will be. SAB are a violent group and I’m not advocating extreme measures but we do need to rediscover our sense of privacy!

Let’s take a look at housing in the future world of Judge Dredd. Giant city blocks dominant the skyline, each housing around 50,000 citizens. Most citizens have no need to leave their block as everything is catered for within its confines. Loyalty begins and ends with the block with inter-block conflicts breaking out due to perceived slights or just as a way to pass a few hours. Replace the giant tower blocks with the low rise council estates of Britain or the “banlieues” of France and are we much different today, with so-called postcode wars between different areas and young people being killed for straying into a different neighbourhood?

Of course, the citizens of the Big Meg do occasionally put aside their local rivalries, during those rare times when they can shake off their apathy, and go up against the Justice Department. Sounds eerily familiar doesn’t it when viewed in comparison to the riots that swept England last summer?

Beyond the usual slew of petty crimes that afflict both our society and the future depicted in Mega City One, we now have our own interpretation of some of the more serious crimes with which the Judges have to deal. Whole villages in the third world survive by selling their organs for profit despite this trade being illegal. We have not sunk to a level in the Western world of people being murdered for their organs but I wouldn’t rule it out as a phenomenon that will rear its ugly head in the future and the moment our medical skills advance to the point where the brain transplant becomes a reality, you can bet everything you have that Body Sharking will sweep our society.

Mega City One has the “Chump Dumpers”, criminals offering aliens illegal transportation to Earth but who then ditch the aliens in space. We haven’t made contact with aliens so instead try the same stunt on other humans with illegal immigrants being cast adrift at sea in leaky boats or bundled across the border and sold into a life of sex slavery.

Next we have Otto Sump and the Uglies, where citizens of the Big Meg undergo cosmetic surgery with the intention of looking hideous. Our Uglies are different and have got the concept ass backward. People who mutilate themselves with the aid of silicone, botox and God-knows-what then convince themselves that it is an improvement! Frozen faces, duck lips and misshapen boob implants are our version of the Uglies. Then to make matters worse the media hold these freakshows up as role models and style icons for the rest of society!

On a more serious note, the Blitzers, contract killers who are primed to explode if they surrender or are apprehended, already have their equivalent in our society with the suicide bomber. The only difference is Blitzers only detonate if they have been unable to put a whack on their target and we know too well how suicide bombers work.

We haven’t yet got a Dream Palace but for escapism we have MMORPG, Second Life and other ways to escape reality. Now that may not be a bad thing, after all anything that gets the population away from daytime television is to be applauded, but all that sitting in front of a computer and snacking does contribute to weight gain and the inevitable onset of the Fatties.

It is not as if the trends mentioned above are written as a parody of our modern society. Quite the opposite as Mega City fads like Block Wars, Uglies and Fatties predate their modern equivalent.

So there you have it. Our glorious march to a social sci-fi future sees us apathetic, fat, unemployed, plugged into machines to escape reality and likely to be swamped by criminal elements. The only time we are likely to shake off the torpor brought on due to the social conditions is when we unite to loot, burn and challenge the forces of law and order.

However, it isn’t all bad. We already have a smoking ban like they do in the Big Meg and that can only be a good thing. So, while we can look towards a sci-fi future in which we will be unemployed, apathetic, cosmetically-enhanced freaks with little or no privacy, at least we will be healthy.

Well, we will be healthy if we can avoid the upcoming obesity plague and not become members of the League of Fatties...

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