A malaise has taken over futuristic television. Catching up on your fave science fiction series can leave a fan feeling down. We’ve lost hella faith in humanity over the last few decades.
When I was kid the message from Star Trek shows was, hey humanity made a few mistakes along the way but we became the greatest race in the galaxy! HIGH FIVE.
Star Fleet wasn’t technically the armed forces—although they seemed to go to war a lot for supposed pacifists. But nobody was forced to enlist: people lost their minds trying to get into the Academy.
|Star Trek: The Next Generation|
The Federation presented as the coolest cult ever, where nobody minded wearing spandex to work and audiences were fervently on board (excuse the pun) with a future where humanity was the teacher’s pet. Or to be more precise, Q’s.
Now the Federation has a dodgy record with multiple cover-ups and a lot of internal issues—Section 31’s wet work for starters—not to mention god-awful xenophobia/alienophobia incidents over the years.
|Star Trek Discovery|
The downhill slide into a pessimistic, messed up vision extends way beyond Federation borders. Sucky versions of the future dominate recent sci-fi TV offerings across the intergalactic, multiple realities board.
Sure, a few humans reluctantly battle on in a hero-esque way but overall our rep aint good. I mean you can’t even trust the Jedi’s these days (but that’s a whole other post).
Here are half a dozen reasons sci-fi is taking a break from hopefulness. If Sci-fi TV were a person they’d be wearily sitting on the curb having a smoke, all the while knowing cigarettes can kill.
Humans Are Worriers
In a way, sci-fi is a form of therapy. The cultural subconscious worries about robots and AI and pollution and corporations sucking us dry(er), so we work through those issues with dark AF visual storytelling.
Sci-Fi doesn't tell anybody to lighten up. Instead it agrees we should buckle down.
Television lets us explore terrible fears through the filter of the screen, satisfying doomsday worries and making that bomb shelter seem a legit investment.
We Respect Gritty Entertainment
Science fiction as a genre has enough trouble being taken seriously (google sci-fi ghetto if you’re not clued in on the discrimination), so optimistic sci-fi television would be a hella hard sell on two levels.
We live in a world that views optimism as a form of self-delusion. We scoff at the idea of happy endings and nod sombrely while people are chopped up onscreen. In terms of the future, we expect governments to betray most of the universe.
The Present Day Isn’t Selling The Hope
We def don’t trust governments. In the past most looked after their country’s citizens and ignored everyone else—now they don’t even do that (example, AMERICA). In the future, we’re not expecting a lot of empathy.
And by a lot, I mean any.
Corporations are also a massive sci-fi issue. People are the product businesses haven’t quite locked down yet. Sci-fi television says hey, give it time.
And We’re Suspicious of The Sell
If a story presents a sweet future, utopia turns to dystopia pretty damn fast. The cost of paradise is always revealed to be brutal. Sci-Fi is pro paranoia. The worst-case scenario is usually legit.
The rich are mean and discrimination is always a thing. Always. The poor lose rights and we find new groups to treat as less than human, like clones, robots, and aliens.
Humanity Is Cruel AF
Whether it’s an alternate timeline or a parallel universe, psychos always have the upper hand. Kind people are still around but they’re rarely (if ever) in power, and are generally persecuted, whether psychologically trampled or physically tortured.
The feel is always that humanity could have/should have been better, and that even in alternate versions of reality, we still mess up big-time.
|The Man in the High Castle|
We’re So Basic, Time Travel Is A Thing
A lot of shows kick off with the premise humanity is screwed—and it’s humanity’s fault. Like, it’s inevitable we mostly die: plague, pollution, nukes, whatever. Point is we decimate ourselves. (Although to be fair sometimes aliens help us with our demise. Mostly it’s just us, though.)
Don’t get me wrong, many time travel shows are awesomely plotted but it’s worth noting the audience instantly accepts the idea society inevitably kills itself off—wittingly or unwittingly (mostly wittingly).
Sci-fi TV is telling us we don’t trust ourselves, or other races/species we meet, or make. That humanity en masse will generally choose cruelty over kindness; that in the future heroes are sparse on the ground, and usually reluctant.
While I get where this is coming from—and a lot of it is truly innovative, brilliant television—fingers crossed our cultural subconscious flips a little. I’m game, now and again, for small screen depictions of a future dosed up on delusional optimism. Science fiction is the greatest way to explore not just society's fears, but our hopes too.