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Space for Rent: The Allure of Retro-futurism


Tweet of the Day: This Road…It Leads to Nowhere!

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What is it about visions of future’s past that entices us so?

From Cyberpunk to Clockwork-Punk, science fiction is plunging back though its own history in full revival mode.

You can’t get any more postmodern than that!

The aesthetics of each of these sub-genres has a lot to do with it. The whirling gears, the crank of diesel engines, or curved fins of a rocket ship. I believe the attraction comes from what the fact that we lack those things today. We are surrounded by technology (type-type-ahem-type some more) yet it is packaged in glossy exteriors and easy access user interfaces. We don’t know what is underneath the hood. Modern tech is designed to create a smooth layer that separates us from the machines inner working. While it makes the technology accessible it also keeps us ignorant. When was the last you knew enough code to fix that .dll error that popped up in your screen? I bet you don’t even know what a .dll file is, what it does or even dare to touch the mouse after the prompt pops up. Retrofuturism lets us see the wires, gears, and smoke which makes it visually accessible.

Which leads me to another point, nostalgia. The irony of lets say steampunk it that it could be called a sort of “Industrial Romanticism.”

Yes, I am well aware of the obvious contradiction in terms.

The fact remains that we are waist deep in the information age and are well aware of the dangers of modern technology to desensitize, strip our privacy or even destroy all life as we know it. Retrofutirsm hearkens back to an era where technology could still save us from ourselves. A time when we were at the cusp of  wondrous discoveries right out our fingertips: airships, robotic servants, smart homes, silicate life on Mars. Remember that these genres are basically revivals of earlier episodes of science fiction, which in turn gives us three things: a vision of today as seen through the lens of those that came before us, a vision of the past reflected in those projections of the future and a look at ourselves in the way we look at those past projections.

Which leads to the following question: where the hell is my jet pack?

All the projections fell short. We should have, at least, colonies on the Moon, while constructing atomic rockets to reach Mars and have some serious face time with those wacky tripod invaders. And why do we feel that way? Because socially we are still in the 20th century. Kids born in the year 2000 are only 12 right now, they won’t really come of age until the end of this decade. Our collective experience is still rooted in the last millennium and so are our perspectives of our past and future, still hoping for the promises of the past to come true in our lifetimes. Looking at the past brings back the wonders that actual science once teased and know has stripped away.

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6 comments on “Space for Rent: The Allure of Retro-futurism

  1. Steampunk is so big right now. It probably is for the reasons you’ve mentioned. The nostalgic aspect of it is appealing.

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    • Not only that, but there you have Prometheus which brings back the late 70’s early 80’s sci-fi look, video games like Bioshock (underwater Dieselpunk) and Deus Ex Revolution that hearken to 80’s Cyberpunk movement. We seem to be in full nostalgia mode these days. I even heard of Clockwork-Punk.

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  2. Oooh intriguing points!!! Still laughing at that cartoon!

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  3. Awesome cartoon. I’ve never been a fan of steam punk. Something strange about it. But yeah it’s popular. I just got invited to a steam punk wedding…

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