Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Posts Tagged ‘retrofuture

The Sadness(es) of BACK TO THE FUTURE

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Longtime readers will know I have a very soft spot for Back to the Future, a series of films I have adored since I was a child and now internalized to a degree that is perhaps unwise. So it’s something of a mixed bag to have lived too long and made it to October 21, 2015, both in the obvious sense that we never got our hover cars and also in the more abstractly philosophically sense that this is the last day depicted in the series, and thus we are now definitely and irrefutably living in that weird space of sadness after the future itself.

We’re doing a small Back to the Future event tonight on campus where I plan (of course) to talk a little bit about the familiar problems posed when you start to overthink the nominally happy end of the movie: the very big problem of the briefly glimpsed Second Marty, who travels into 1955 totally unequipped to replicate the events we’d just witnessed, as well as the longer-term problem of our Marty, Marty 1, who is the last survivor of an obviated timeline and thus surrounded for the rest of his life by the uncanny duplicates of the people he once loved but with whom he now shares no memories or any genuine connection.

But I also want to talk about the original script a little bit, which I find a really fascinating document. Most people know that in the original script the time machine is a refrigerator — changed so that kids wouldn’t climb into them hoping to travel in time — and that the lightning strike is the blast from an atomic test (the two together forming an image that stuck with Spielberg long enough for him to use it to ruin Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull). But there’s some other really amazing stuff in there too. The thing is shot through with fears about oil depletion and the end of progress: it’s the subject of a lecture at Marty’s high school in the beginning of the script and something he keeps trying to ask the people of the 1950s about later, to no effect. That sort of science fictional nostalgia for a future that no longer seems possible is really a major theme in the original script, which is reduced to jokes about UFOs and “all the fallout from the atomic wars” in the produced film — the sense that the zany Jetsons future of technological world-transformation we once collectively looked forward to has been lost and the only one left for us is a much more depressive vision of imminent deprivation and catastrophe. (In this sense any eventual 2000s-era “dark, gritty reboot” would actually just be a return to the themes of the original script.)

But something weird happens at the end. In the original script Marty is the co-creator of time travel when he accidentally spills some Coca-Cola on the time device; Coke’s unique chemical formula turns out to contain tremendous energy inside it, easily providing the 1.21 gigawatts necessary to power the Flux Capacitor. Marty’s trip to the past ultimately tips Doc off to Coke’s unknown energistic property, and so when Marty returns to the future at the end of the film he isn’t hopping into a very similar timeline where he just happens to have grown up rich instead of poor, but into an incredible retrofuturistic world of free energy and robot servants and flying cars — precisely the cartoonishly optimistic milieu that is relocated to 2015 for the gag at the end (and later, the sequel). (Doc’s pouring of the half-empty soda can into Mr. Fusion at the end of the film is, I think, the last remaining trace of this original idea.)

In this way “Back to the Future” was actually originally a pun: Marty goes not just back to his future but back to the future, the good future we were supposed to get, instead of the lousy one we actually did…

Written by gerrycanavan

October 21, 2015 at 11:07 am

Sunday Links!

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* Letter of Support for Abbate from Marquette Dept Chairs. Pres. Lovell Letter to the Campus Community — November 22, 2014.

* Cold and Hungry: Discourses of Anorexic Femininity in Frozen (2013).

We Need To Talk About Tyrion: How HBO Failed George R. R. Martin’s Iconic Character.

* Another good one from Charlie Stross: Let’s put the future behind us.

Anyway, this is the future, folks. It’s built from the bones of the past, it’s unevenly distributed, and it’s already here. And while it’s an interesting place to visit, I’m not sure I’d want to stay.

* Benghazi Is Over, But the Mainstream Media Just Yawns. Well, there’s an Ebola crisis to co– oh? really? Well, there’s Obama’s illegal executive order on immigration to cover!

* How to Shave $1 Trillion Out of Health Care.

* Under pressure, Wisconsin universities boost response to campus sex assaults.

Across town at Marquette University, three fraternities last spring received official warnings after reports of sexual misconduct. Complaints against fraternity members were handled through student misconduct channels, and the university ordered the fraternitiesto undergo training.

UVA Suspends Fraternities Following Rolling Stone Campus Rape Investigation. As is usual with these sorts of things, what’s stunning is how clear it is they’re only doing this because they got caught. They knew everything Rolling Stone reported before RS reported it; the only difference is now everyone knows those things.

* The University of Virginia’s selection of an independent counsel to investigate rape allegations turned out to have been a member of the fraternity that is the subject of the accusations.

* Universitybot Responds: Gang Rape as “Sexual Misconduct.”

* The Historical Moment at UC Davis – Strategies for Davis Activists. Some UC Occupiers on Ferguson and the State of Emergency.

* I tell you, the ethical shambles that is today’s Young Person. Watching live college football — college football paid for by your tuition dollars, whether you like it or not — is not a right! It’s not even a privilege! It’s an obligation.

* Marion Barry has died. I’ve been learning a lot today from people talking about who he was before and besides a walking punchline.

* Transgender woman dies suddenly, presented at funeral in open casket as a man.

* And Where the Academic Jobs Aren’t: Philosophy Edition.

Right offhand, a number of notable trends pop out. First, this looks like a terrible job season so far. Over at the Smoker, Zombie has tallied only 110 tenure-track jobs [note: now, going back all the way to June, it doesn’t look quite so bad–though most AOS are still in the single digits).  Second, the most in-demand AOS this year are ethics (37 listings), applied ethics (35) jobs, open (37), and social-political (20). So, value theory’s looking comparatively good. Third, it’s surprising (to me, at any rate) how few jobs are in the “core”, though Mind isn’t doing too bad (15 listings).

From what I can gather of the contemporary philosophy discipline a lion’s share of those ethics jobs (themselves now the supermajority of the field!) are in interdisciplinary attempts to make ethics “relevant” to science, medicine, business, etc. If you want a vision of the future of the humanities…

Monday Morning Links!

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* I have an essay in Oil Culture, out this week, on “Retrofutures and Petrofutures.” It’s about science fiction framings of fossil fuel use and its eventual supersession. Amazon link!

* Fascinating survey of budget cuts in academia even at colleges that are making more money than ever before.

In other words, these universities unnecessarily reduced the pay of hard-working professionals, and for no other purpose than to say that they did so. The motto of so many university administrators was “leave no crisis behind,” as these administrators used the national economic situation as justification for unnecessary reductions in the compensation of the people who educate our students.

* In academia, conferences matter.

This paper provides evidence for the role of conferences in generating visibility for academic work, using a ‘natural experiment’: the last-minute cancellation — due to ‘Hurricane Isaac’ — of the 2012 American Political Science Association (APSA) Annual Meeting. We assembled a dataset containing outcomes of 15,624 articles scheduled to be presented between 2009 and 2012 at the APSA meetings or at a comparator annual conference (that of the Midwest Political Science Association). Our estimates are quantified in difference-in-differences analyses: first using the comparator meetings as a control, then exploiting heterogeneity in a measure of session attendance, within the APSA meetings. We observe significant ‘conference effects’: on average, articles gain 17-26 downloads in the 15 months after being presented in a conference. The effects are larger for papers authored by scholars affiliated to lower tier universities and scholars in the early stages of their career. Our findings are robust to several tests.

With Voter ID On Hold, Here’s What Wisconsin Republicans Have Planned For Election Day.

* New York as I remember it from day trips growing up: A City Covered in Graffiti.

Ursula K. Le Guin on Being a Man.

* Reduce the deficit, use only female astronauts.

* Maps of the end of the world.

* Ebola in Perspective. Also at Cultural Anthropology: “Ecologies of Empire: On the New Uses of the Honeybee.”

* Pentagon gearing up to bring their famous competence to the war on Ebola (in the US).

* Paul Farmer’s Ebola diary.

* That Time The Reagan White House Press Briefing Erupted With Laughter Over AIDS 13 Times.

* The Dark Market for Personal Data. An interview with Frank Pasquale on his book The Black Box Society.

* Headlines from the apocalypse: NASA Confirms A 2,500-Square-Mile Cloud Of Methane Floating Over US Southwest.

* Something’s gone wrong in America: Police are looking for a group of men who opened fire after losing a game of beer pong.

* Biocapital watch: How a doctor, a trader, and the billionaire Steven A. Cohen got entangled in a vast financial scandal.

* Why we can’t have nice things: a nice demonstration of how 12% of the U.S. population controls 60% of the Senate.

* And science has finally proved I’m not a baby: men really do have weaker immune systems. If anyone needs me I’ll be in bed…

Wednesday Night Links

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* David Graeber in the Baffler: Of Flying Cars and the Declining Rate of Profit.

* Brian Thill: “Drone-Strike the Jobless.”

It would be foolish indeed to have invested so much in these technologies only to watch them molder as mere weapons of war-force and terror. Like all modern technological artifacts, at rest they are value-neutral; it is only the uses to which they are put that defines them. In sum, to strike the jobless from the common ledger is, in its way, to aim for benevolence. The enormous costs to build, upgrade, and maintain ready fleets of drones of all manner and variety will be more than offset by the broad economic health benefits to be derived by purging the state of significant portions of its jobless population. In fact, if we might be permitted a moment of utopian thought, the likely growth in demand for these services (offered perhaps to interested parties along subsidized or graduated rate scales) will necessitate a process of vigorous hiring and training for remote-pilot operators, which may in appropriate instances be drawn from the ranks of the jobless themselves, thereby solving the problem of joblessness even more swiftly and decisively. Rather than a salaried position, however, these hires might best be negotiated as much needed ‘work experience’ and accordingly organized as internships of various types. This internment might even provide a stepping-stone toward their being struck themselves in turn more quickly. Remote piloting centers that will happen to have fallen victim to inflated overhead or health care costs, or the vagaries of local real estate crises, might themselves be recast as new targets for drones whose home bases are elsewhere.

* Wisconsin postmortems from Josh Eidelson, Doug Henwood, and LGM,

* Earth Is Headed for Disaster, Interdisciplinary Scientific Review Concludes. NB: That’s the actual headline. More climate apocalypticism via MetaFilter.

* Three Ways Climate Change Could Impact The Game Of Baseball. NB: Each of these will tend to increase people’s enjoyment of baseball. Forget I said anything!

* Voter Fraud Extremely Rare In Florida: ‘More Likely To Get Hit By A Bolt Of Lightning.’

* Florida Governor Rick Scott Officially Defies Justice Department, Vows to Continue Voter Purge. Someone should really tell him there’s actually no crisis!

* The last days of MF Global.

* Michael Hardt on WUNC’s The State of Things.

* Mom Locked Up For Cheering Too Loudly at High School Graduation.

* The trailer for Tarantino’s Django Unchained is out. The film itself looks fine, but that final tag—”Django is off the chain”—is simply unforgivable.

* And In Focus catches Transit-of-Venus mania (and there’s only one cure).

Back to the Retrofuture

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Written by gerrycanavan

April 26, 2012 at 7:00 pm

‘Speaking Broadly, The Techno-Optimism of the Golden Age of SF Has Given Way to Fiction Written in a Generally Darker, More Skeptical and Ambiguous Tone’

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Written by gerrycanavan

October 5, 2011 at 10:16 pm

Hastily Composed Monday Night Links

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* Imagine BP’s Deepwater Horizon Gulf oil disaster happening every single year, with little or no public outcry, no media coverage, and all but silence from government and the companies involved. Welcome to Nigeria.

* Environmentalism can’t succeed until it confronts the destructive nature of modern work.

* The fifty most queried words at nytimes.com. Via Steve, and MeFi.

* Reenactments of the Robert Green “Hand of Clod” goal from the England-U.S. game.

* Tales of Future Past is your retrofuture warehouse. Via Gravity Lens.

* How to destroy a black hole. Also via Gravity Lens.

* And some science fiction names for your baby. Also also.