On a whim, I watched the first couple of episodes of the new (and final) season of Fringe. I didn’t stick with the show, but I keep thinking about the premise–the future is killing the present. It’s development in the show is simple and pulpy–scientists from the future invade to transform it into a toxic mess suitable to their needs!–but has this kernel of symbolic truth I can’t shake. While we don’t have evil future scientists invading, we are suffering from the future, being slowly suffocated by the future.
I don’t mean the actual future, but our fantasies of the future that drive us to overlook and ignore the costs of rapid technical progress. Fringe juxtaposes the clean and magical seeming technical facilities of the invaders with the crumbling urban landscape where most everyone else lives. Think about how far removed the factories that produce computers and kindles are from the wealthy U.S. that consumes so many of those products. The future promised by these devices looks so clean because the damage done producing them occurs out of sight and what Fringe has done is situate that conflict in the heart of our ‘clean’ world. Compare this to the world of forty-two years ago, when the writers of Dr. Who could easily imagine the dangerous factory on British soil in The Spearhead from Space.
It isn’t the fiction but the concept that sticks with me. We have spent so much effort rushing toward some idea of the future that is faster, closer, bigger, more, that we have let ourselves overlook how destructive that pursuit has become. It’s easy to think about the struggles we face now with climate change, but the process began some time ago. Here, too, Fringe is clever–the scientists from the future dress like men from the 1950s, which is when things started going wrong. Innocent efforts to bring poorer countries into the modern world, led to ‘modern’ agricultural projects throughout the Third World which, instead of bringing wealth, brought disastrous shortages and famines. It turns out the ‘future’ hadn’t quite realized that agriculture isn’t a one-size fits all affair and that the varieties of agricultural practice found throughout the Third World were often well-suited to local ecologies.
This is all well-trod ground, so I won’t dwell more on it.