Sunday, May 17, 2020

Science Fiction Becomes Rality




It finally happened. Armageddon has arrived. For over a century, we have been treated to various forms of science fiction. A large portion of this genre’s books and movies has always been apocalyptic - presenting one scenario or another about the end of the world, or at least the end of humanity.

I grew up devouring the works of Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Philip Dick, Robert Heinlein, H.G. Wells and many others.

Wells’ The War of the Worlds came out as a radio adaptation in 1938 and as a classic film in 1953. Other classics that mesmerized me as a child include The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) and The Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956).

Television added a flood of Science Fiction, including Star Trek (the original series, 1965-1969, still my favorite, followed by multiple subsequent “generations”).

Meanwhile, by the end of the 20th century, Hollywood was inundating the market with mega productions of questionable quality - such films as Independence Day (1996), Mars Attacks (1996), Armageddon (1998), Deep Impact (1998) and many others.

Even I tried my hand at the genre: (See my Humanity’s Future: The Next 25,000 Years). At least, my book is not apocalyptic. It goes more along the optimistic prognoses found in many episodes of Star Trek - predicting humanity’s progress rather than downfall.


But as I said, a great deal of Science Fiction is apocalyptic. I won’t speculate as to why, except to state a familiar but true cliché: The prevailing mood in western civilization, compared to when I grew up in the 1950s, has changed from optimism to pessimism. Belief in “Progress” is no longer widespread. Nothing exemplifies this more than the environmental movement, which tells us that the planet is headed for destruction, as we go through the “Anthropocene.”

And now, lo and behold, the Apocalypse is upon us. It’s real. The Covid-19 pandemic surpasses anything Hollywood could think of. Script writers couldn’t make this stuff up.
An enemy is threatening the ENTIRE PLANET. It is not an asteroid, as in Armageddon and in Deep Impact, but just the same, it is GLOBAL, as were War of the Worlds and all the other apocalyptic productions.

Remember how Close Encounters of the Third Kind (one of the rare versions in which the aliens are friendly) tries to display a global perspective, with scenes in India, Mexico, Wyoming and elsewhere? The corona virus beats that, attacking in about 200 countries so far.
In Outbreak, Dustin Hoffman tries to save us by fighting an epidemic that is spreading from Africa to a small town in Northern California. That’s small potatoes compared to Covid-19.

It is said that life imitates art. How true. We even have a real-life Darth Vader. His name is Donald Trump.

In most end-of-the-world science fiction, the global response to the threat is lead by the president of the United States - Morgan Freeman in Deep Impact, Jack Nicholson in Mars Attacks, Bill Pullman in Independence Day, etc. This is because Hollywood is American and because America has been the most powerful country lately. So the White House becomes the nerve center for the resistance, and its occupant becomes, for all practical purposes, the president of the world.

This time, America is not leading the charge. However, something else is starting to happen: by early May, the corona virus has penetrated the White House. The consequences of this are not yet clear.

As Yogi Berra said: It's hard to predict, especially the future. So I won’t try. But as Dr. Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesota recently said, we are only in the second inning of this pandemic.

Will the White House  become incapacitated by widespread contamination? Will this spread to the presidential staff, the secret service, the cabinet and others?
Will alternative leadership be needed? What role will Congress, the military and other branches of the government play?
Will there be civil unrest and chaos?
Will there be a rise of regional blocks, such as the West Coast, the Atlantic Seashore, the South, etc.? Will there be fragmentation in other parts of the world, for example in the European Union?
Once the pandemic becomes widespread in the tropics, will there be massive migration from Africa to Europe and from Latin America to North America?
Will China continue to look inward and continue to protect itself more effectively than most of the rest of the world, thus becoming the new hegemon?
Will there be armed conflict between countries? Aggressive regimes such as Russia may engage in a certain amount of military activity against their neighbors, but by and large, most countries will be too weakened and preoccupied by the raging pandemic to be able to mount effective coalitions and wage large-scale, organized wars.
Will the world regress to the sort of dark ages described by Walter Miller in A Canticle for Leibowitz (1959) or the dystopias depicted in post-apocalyptic films such as The Omega Man (1971) and The Book of Eli (2010),?

© Tom Kando 2020;All Rights Reserved

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