Thursday, August 30, 2012

Future Worldbuilding: Pop Culture and the Fourth Estate

For the last bit of Future Worldbuilding, lets talk about culture.  Specifically, Pop Culture.

This is a hard thing to do at all, let alone get right: predict where music, entertainment, fashion and public whims are going to go in the coming centuries.  It's hard to even guess what form the media will be.

The various Star Treks kind of throw their hands up and give up on the idea.  They envision a future with no pop culture of its own; the Federation of the 24th Century is filled with nostalgia for the 16th-20th centuries.  Its citizens are fans of Shakespeare, Victorian lit, '40s noir, classical music, '20s jazz, '60s Vegas, and on "movie night" on the NX-01, classics in the Paramount vault.  What's their own?  Holo-novels-- interactive fiction, essentially, where they recreate old Paris, early 20th Century Space Opera, westerns... again, mired in the past.  Voyager did feature two pieces of "new" work in Holo-fiction, but both were meta-works, essentially autobiographical about life on Voyager.  On DS9, Jake Sisko aspired to be a writer-- he even had a highly celebrated novel and short story collection in one alt-future.

Babylon 5 did a bit better.  I thought their use of "Rebo and Zooty" as a recurrent bit of pop culture, even having Penn & Teller show up as Rebo and Zooty, was somewhat clever.  Now, the "comedy" of R&Z was inscrutable, and the audience was mostly in the same position as Capt. Lochley, just "not getting" what's funny about them.  The creators of Bab5 defended this, claiming that the comedy of R&Z is a pop-culture product of its time, and thus makes little sense out of context.  I can accept that intellectually.  I imagine future generations will look at, say, the collected works of Friedberg & Seltzer with utter bafflement.*

Babylon 5 also did a decent job with the news media, devoting two episodes to news broadcast presentations, one of which was constructed as pure propaganda.  This was an area that Treks largely glossed over.  The only acknowledgement that the Fourth Estate still existed in that universe was some lip service towards Jake Sisko being "a reporter" for a some news organization, but for all the impact it had, he may as well have been an unread blogger.

Of course, Battlestar Galactica went to the opposite extreme, in which a nearly-extinct humanity apparently had a press corps that was comprised of about 5% of the total population.  Admittedly, this was because one of the few survivors in the fleet was a press corps ship, but still: how many news options did a population of under 50K actually need?**

My underlying point is, when thinking about the future (or the past or secondary-world fantasy): pop culture matters.  News sources matter.  Neither one should go away.
*- Not that I don't now.
**- I could probably construct a rant on BSG and how most of the civilian population never seemed to understand the dire circumstances they were living in-- like continuing to do pre-apocalypse jobs and being baffled when expected to do something else.

No comments: