Futures vs Zeerust

When Jules Verne wrote his futures, he didn't imagine much further than gears and steam.

Futures vs Zeerust

When Jules Verne wrote his futures, he didn't imagine much further than gears and steam. Now his science fiction is hailed amongst some as the first ever works of Steampunk. It doesn't matter to them that, in the day, nobody thought of it as steampunk. It was the future.

I could go on about the sort of people who thought Jules Verne wrote Steampunk, but that's not the point.

When he was writing, the leading technology was steam. In the forties and fifties, it was the nuclear age. Radiation was the leading power and, for a while, the biggest mystery in terms of what it could do. [Insert diatribes about Radium Glass, irradiated whatever, and shifting perspectives on what's actually healthy, with an added side-track into the Radium Girls] with fiction becoming politically aware.

Somewhere in there, someone at Hanna Barbera came up with the Jetsons. The future was full of flying cars and martians and atom-powered robots who may or may not be out to destroy all humans.

The weird thing is, it's all been part of our collective childhoods that flying cars and jetpacks have become part of the shared future whenever we all think of it. So much so that we've missed aiming for anything else.

Sure, we might get our jetpacks and flying cars, but we can't ignore the present that's in the way. Yes, folks, this is another tree-hugging environmentalist post in a different hat. By not thinking about the path to the wanted future, we've been ignoring what to do to get there.

The 'jetpack' future inevitably has buildings on pylons, a la the Jetsons. Initially, because it looked cool to do things that way. Now I'm starting to wonder if the Jetsons were up there because the atmosphere at ground level was too toxic to breathe. Then I remember that I'm not one of those "it was a coma the whole time" theorists that ruin everyone's childhood with gloom and doom.

What actually happened is that the dreams of the fifties haven't given away to the realities of today. And unfortunately, the dreams of the fifties come with the ideals of the fifties. Why is that a problem? Because the fifties haven't happened in half a century. They're the time when it was actually possible to have a part-time job to pay for tertiary education, or when someone could actually get a lifetime of employment by walking in the front gate and just asking.

Time has changed everything since then. The fifties' future has rusted. They have a term for the phenomenon when futures 'rust' to the point where they're no longer viable. It's called 'zeerust', and some of it can be absolutely hilarious.

The future of the fifties has zeerusted into Dieselpunk, now. It's brushed steel and art deco, and flying cars and jetpacks... and those ludicrous fifties radio mic's because the trappings of the past era end up plastered all over the zeerusted future.

Why are we still demanding flying cars over fifty years after the fact? Why haven't we moved on to the Gogo Sixties? Or the Actual Punk Seventies? Or the Glam Eighties?

I think... around about the Nineties, we started to be all about retro and remakes. Recycling all the wrong things, so to speak. Originality was starting to die off and there hasn't been much that wasn't unique about the futures from then on.

Of course I'm going to blame capitalism. It never takes a risk. It never puts money on something new without some form of guarantee that it's going to get all the money back and more. Sci-fi makes an interesting distraction from all the other shenanigans going on, no matter how zeerusty it gets.

Maybe that's why they truly stopped at the fifties. Things started to get political in the sixties. They started talking about social justice and human rights and rebelling against authority and all that other anti-authoritarian stuff they don't like. What better to focus on the flying cars, and the trappings of the fifties, alongside the philosophy of the fifties, for a zeerusted future that fits with the profit motive of the people in charge.

Maybe we should look harder at the Punk-punk futures and start sticking it to The Man. Screw flying cars. How about breathable air and modes of transit that don't pollute the world? Or a rebellion against the overbearing institutions.

Punk-punk was all about creating their own systems in spite of the systems in charge. Let's look at that. In fact, there's lots of people being punk-punk already. Making things to subvert the systems in progress. Dismantling the systems of authority piece by piece.

Maybe? When the oligarchy finally crumbles? We'll see the zeerust go away.