Category Archives: Pop Culture

The History of the Future

Dreaming the future, imagining the past, that’s what writers do. And apocalypse stories? They’ve been penned since early recorded history. Gilgamesh, Noah and his ark, the Dharmasastra. But what about science fiction, which has become a sort of parent category for modern-day apocalypse fiction?

According to a recent article on BBC’s iWonder:

Science fiction emerged nearly 300 years ago during a time of great advances in science. Since then authors have tried to make sense of their world by imagining what the future will look like.

Post-apocalyptic societies, alien invasions, robots and environmental catastrophes have all played out in this genre which is still popular today.

Dr. Caroline Edwards, “Writing the Future,” BBC.co.uk

The first example cited? Gulliver’s Travels, written in 1726 by Jonathan Swift, which includes a section feature a flying island populated by scientists.

The complete list features 20 sci-fi luminaries including three of my favorite: Ursula K. Le Guin, Octavia Butler, and Margaret Atwood. The Left Hand of Darkness. The Parable of the Sower. The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s not just a history lesson, it’s a kick-ass reading list.

Envisioning the Future

One of the things that inspired me to finally start this blog was a recent episode of Project Runway titled Welcome to the Future. In it the designers were challenged to come up with fashions that could be featured in Marie Claire 20 years from now. In order to do that, they had to imagine what that future might look like. Now, granted, the fact that the challenged assumed that the magazine would still exist 20 years from now means that they weren’t focused on an apocalypse, but I still felt like most of the designers didn’t take their stories far enough. One mentioned recycling, one made a small nod toward climate, but all I could think about were the questions they didn’t answer:

  • Would the places we now inhabit become to hot or too cold and how could fashion compensate for that?
  • What if the drought currently plaguing California and the southwest continues to get worse–how would the lack of water impact what we wear?
  • Might the world be a more dangerous place requiring clothes that are also protection?
  • Would our lives be more rooted or more nomadic?

My mind was filled with books and movies related to our possible future: Dune, Mad Max, The Man in the White Suit

So imagine my excitement when I learned that there was an apocalypse-themed art show opening in my own town called End of Days.

Twenty-four artists were…asked to develop prophetic doomsday statements regarding how the end will come, and then…create clothing, accessories, and sculptural elements to address these prophecies and address issues related to human impact on the environment.

Hydration Salvation by Consuelo Pascual
Hydration Salvation by Consuelo Pascual

Which is pretty much exactly what I had been looking for. And though I would say the artists met with varying levels of success in terms of execution, each and every piece was thought-provoking–from the image of a virgin bride in her wedding dress and gas mask, to the sculptural dress of cabbage and leeks (my favorites being Sam by Thelma MathiasAt the 11th Hour Go Underground In The Old Library. Lock All The Doors Behind You. by Deborah Klezmer, and The Lineage Gown by Alicia Piller.

Envisioning the future can not only give us ideas that may help us survive,  it allows us to build mental and psychological muscles that can help us cope with the unknown–as long as you focus on how might it be, what would we need, can I prepare, instead of  we’re all gonna die.

Feature Friday: Ambition

This gorgeous collaboration between Platige Image and ESA is directed by Tomek Bagiński and stars Aidan Gillen, of Game of Thrones fame, and Aisling Franciosi. Ambition was shot on location in Iceland, and screened on October 24, 2014 during the British Film Institute’s celebration of Sci-Fi: Days of Fear and Wonder, at the Southbank, London.

The future begins when we envision it. It becomes real when we create it.

Feature Friday: Pumzi

Recently a couple of stunning short films about the apocalypse landed on my Facebook feed. I was so impressed by their beauty, clarity, and messages, I decided to share–not just those two, but any others I may hunt down along the way. Not only do they have something to tell us about our possible futures, but I believe it’s important to support the artists that created them.

To that end, welcome to Feature Friday: short films, books, movie and TV shows, and other digital media that can help shed light on our human condition in these days of rogue weather, terror attacks, deadly viruses, and other threats to our health and sanity. I hope you enjoy our first installment: Pumzi, a short science-fiction film written and directed by Kenyan filmmaker Wanuri Kahiu. The title means “breath” in Swahili.

Never Look Away

You may wonder: why the apocalypse? You may wonder how I can stare into its darkness daily and not go mad. Let me explain, starting with a story.

In September, 2010 I came to New Mexico for the first time to study with writer Natalie Goldberg. Before I came, I had been trying unsuccessfully to make changes in my life. I enrolled in her retreat to get out of dodge and hopefully gain some perspective, find some hidden clarity, decide what to try next. Given that I moved to New Mexico only six months later, clearly it worked. But it wasn’t just the move that mattered.

During the course of that first week, I learned that in Natalie’s practice she has three unflinching commandments: shut up and write, continue under all circumstances, and never look away.

Natalie had recently returned from a trip to Auschwitz with the Zen Peacemakers, led by founder Bernie Glassman, where they sat by the tracks reading the names of the dead, bearing witness to their suffering and death.

I believe it is only through witnessing the suffering and darkness as well as the joys of life that we can embrace the whole of humanity, both in others and in ourselves. By trying to avoid the pain and fear, we cut ourselves off from a big part of what makes us human, what makes us truly alive. It can also cut us off from something just as important.

Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “Hope is the worst of evils, for it prolongs the torments of man,” but what are we without it? Contentedness has a way of slipping into complacency. Complacency into apathy.

Hope can cost us dearly, just as looking into the dark heart of humanity can fill us with pain and fear. Then again, without the dark we have nothing against which to measure light.

Within each apocalyptic and dystopian story, within the heart of each prepper lies a seed of hope–of survival, of a chance for a better world.