February 15, 2013
There’s nothing hotter right now than starting your own libertarian-minded community from scratch. Or at least threatening to do so.
Glenn Beck imagines building a community/theme park somewhere in the United States called Independence Park which would celebrate entrepreneurship and sustainable living. Others envision Idaho as the perfect spot to build a fortress-like libertarian utopia called The Citadel, where “Marxists, Socialists, Liberals, and Establishment Republicans” need not apply. Still others — like PayPal founder Peter Thiel – are drawn to the idea of floating cities in the ocean, a libertarian dream of the future called seasteading.
But all of these dreams pale in comparison to the grand utopian vision of a 1978 film called Libra. Produced and distributed by a free-market group based in San Diego called World Research, Inc., the 40-minute film is set in the year 2003 and gives viewers a look at two vastly different worlds. On Earth, a world government has formed and everything is micromanaged to death, killing private enterprise. But in space, there’s true hope for freedom.
The film explains that way back in 1978 a space colony community was formed using $50 billion of private funds. Back then, government regulations were just loose enough to allow them to form. But here in the year 2003, government regulators are trying to figure out a way to bring them back under their oppressive thumb through taxes and tariffs on the goods they ship back to Earth.
The video starts with a rather ominous voice-over as the camera pushes in on a picture of the earth:
Let’s face it. Your world is falling apart. Politicians engaging nations in wars against the will of the people. Increasing worldwide poverty and starvation. Inflation, high unemployment, staggering crime rates. Skyrocketing costs of nationalized health care. Overpopulation. Inability to meet your energy needs. Bankrupt cities, bankrupt states, bankrupt nations and morally bankrupt people.
We then see that this is New York City in the year 2003.
Needless to say, the film’s vision for 2003 isn’t very pleasant — at least for those left on Earth. The Earth has an International Planning Commission, which naturally feels threatened by the idea of “uncontrolled energy” being harnessed by the people who work on Libra. The people of Libra seem happy, while those on Earth cope with the world government’s dystopian top-down management of resources.
The film follows an investment banker and a world government official who both travel to Libra on a fact-finding mission. The investment bankers are looking to invest in solar power and space manufacturing industries at Libra, while the world government senator is trying to figure out how he can rein in the renegade capitalists of Libra.
On their journey to Libra in a space shuttle, the characters watch a film which explains how the space colony works. Here in space, the film explains, residents are free to “work, raise families and enjoy living.”
The illustration on your screen shows the exterior design of Libra. Residents live in the central sphere. A rotation rate of approximately two revolutions per minute provides a gravity-like force which varies from zero gravity at the poles to full earth-like gravity at the equator. Inside the sphere, the land forms a big curving valley rising from the equator to 45 degrees on each side. The land area is mainly in the form of low-rise terraced apartments, shopping walkways and small parks with grass and trees. A small river flows gently along the line of the equator. You will notice the small scale of things. But for the 10,000 population there is more than adequate population.
Later in the film viewers get an interesting peek into what daily life is like when a resident shows the investment banker her Abacus computer.
The Abacus is a bit like Siri – if Siri only knew how to read you a copy of Consumer Reports. As the resident explains, “Abacus is one of the most popular consumer-information computers on Libra. These computing systems will give and receive information when you want it, where you want it and in the style you want it.”
The Libra resident explains, “Now if you have any questions about products or services — anything from toothbrushes to a doctor’s qualifications, it can probably react to you better than I can, in any one of four languages!”
On second thought, Abacus is actually less useful than Consumer Reports given the fact that it doesn’t make a recommendation for what it thinks is the best product or service.
When the investment banker asks which wristwatch he should’ve purchased, the computer begins chanting, “freecision… freecision… freecision…”
The woman explains that on Libra the computer won’t make any of your decisions for you, lest you become one of the mindless drones back on Earth: “Abacus won’t make it for you! It can’t decide what’s best for you! That’s your freesponsibility!”
“Freesponsibility…” the investment banker says mulling over the concept. “That’s not a bad word.”
“I know,” the woman replies. “It’s what’s been attracting more and more regulation refugees from Earth.”
Ultimately, the biggest concern of the corrupt world government revolves around cheap energy being produced which competes with their stranglehold on regulating the world’s energy supply.
The senator goes on international TV to debate Dr. Baker from the Libra space colony. Dr. Baker is a sort of uber-Galt who preaches the gospel of free enterprise and makes a fool of the senator during their debate. By the end of the film we’re left to wonder if the senator is a believer in world government anymore. With a long gaze into his eyes, viewers can imagine that he will soon join the others as a “regulation refugee.”
You can watch the entire film over at AV Geeks.
December 13, 2012
In the January, 1950, issue of Redbook author Philip Wylie laid out his predictions for the year 2000. Wylie’s predictions focused on the world of leisure and, depending on your point of view, it’s either a delightfully hedonistic vision of utopian living finally realized — or a darkly hedonistic vision of sloth and sin.
This version of the 21st century includes new drugs that will replace the old-fashioned booze and painkillers of mid-century; an interactive television which includes a special suit that allows you to engage all five senses; and vacations to Mars whenever you please.
Reading for pleasure will be rare and spectator sports will be enjoyed, though college football athletes will no longer be required to study anything. Wylie doesn’t say it explicitly, but we can assume that he means college athletes of the year 2000 would be paid — a contentious issue here in the 21st century. Hunting will be a thing of the past, but not because of any moral objections to killing animals: the forests will have simply vanished and wild animals completely exterminated. Even the bathing suit will be a thing of the past, as society becomes more comfortable with nudity and discards puritanical notions of modesty. Again, depending on your personal preferences these are either wonderful advancements in society or depraved practices in a world gone mad.
At the end of Wylie’s article he encourages readers to cut out his article so that their grandchildren might read it and gauge its accuracy. Well, how did he do?
From the January 1950 issue of Redbook:
The principal pastime of our grandchildren will surely be Telesense. With the telephone first, then the cinema, next the radio, and now television, we have shown that we are determined to carry vicarious sensory experience in the home to its utmost lengths. In fifty years, then, the average American will spend some five hours a day in his “Telesense room” or “cabinet.” Here, dressed in a Telesense suit—a layer of flexible metal outside, a layer of ventilated plastic inside, and a fluid between—the citizen of A.D. 2000 will take a position in an elaborate electromagnetic field, before a three-dimensional image-projector of life size. To television’s color, hearing and sight, Telesense will electromagnetically and chemically add touch and smell.
Telesense will provide massage hours—light for relaxation and heavy for reducing. And, of course, the “heavenly hunks of men” and the “delicious blonde eyefuls” of A.D. 2000 will not merely flirt with their vast audiences, croon to them, roll distant eyes, and woo them abstractly, as now. They will be able actually to make their audiences feel them hanging around their necks, or sitting in their laps.
“Spectator sports” will be conducted in plastic-domed stadia. Football and baseball will still be played—though Telesense will keep ninety per cent of the audience at home. College athletes will no longer be required to study anything. The private automobile will have been replaced by the Buzzcopter—a 300- m.p.h., single-control air machine, powered by electronic storage batteries with a 10,000-mile capacity. “Buzzcopter polo” played in fast machines at low altitudes will supply the disaster-hungry audience with an average of two smashups per game. Deaths throughout the U.S.A. in the crashes of private Buzzcopters—incidentally—will average five hundred daily; and injuries, over four million a year. The inability of people to stop the trend of car accidents will gradually, have made Americans decide that the thing to do about the cost of the Machine Age to life and limb is to be sporting about it.
In this whizzing, stimulated, sensory world, a real thrill will be as hard to come by relatively as it is now, compared with Grandpa’s day. Grandpa, as a youth, got a kick out of a husking bee—Grandma out of a quilting bee. We require a jam session, at least. And that trend explains why gambling, in fifty more years, will be everyman’s (and woman’s and child’s) passion. Half the tax revenue will derive from continuous lotteries, in which scores of millions will regularly participate.
Naturally, the citizens of such a society will be too overstimulated to rest in the “old-fashioned” manner of merely lying down, relaxing, and going to sleep. Not only sleep, but also rest, and intoxication, too, will be managed by various pills—far less harmful and far more diverse in their effects than the thousands of tons of alcohol pain-killers and sleeping pills we currently consume every day. The drinking of alcohol will largely have been abandoned (owing to the hangovers it produces) in favor of a hundred different sorts of pills which will make people relax, have pretty dreams, grow talkative, become peacefully quiet, slumber, cat- nap, and so on.
Hunting will be a memory—the forests will have vanished and the remaining game will have been exterminated. Travelers will make the round trip to Mars via space ships, carrying small hydroponic gardens to insure a steady supply of oxygen and to deodorize the air. Several parties of sportsmen-scientists will have been lost on expeditions to Venus.
That old criterion of culture, the bathing suit, for instance, will be worn only for warmth, or to cover scars, or to disguise a bad figure. In fifty more years, nudity will have been reached—and passed! Passed, in favor of such trivial decoration as appeals to the taste and fancy of each individual.
Eating will still be regarded as a pleasure, though the basis of sixty-five per cent of the food consumed will be marine algae, vat-raised yeast protein and starches built up by industrial photosynthesis—all of these flavored with substances derived from the waning petroleum supplies.
Few Americans will have carried the study of reading beyond the length needed for understanding technical instruction. Thus, though music will be abundant and interesting, architecture, painting and sculpture widely admired, and ballet a national fad, reading for pleasure (or to get abstract information) will be exceptional. Cut these articles out, however, (on the chance that your grandchild will still be able to read in A.D. 2000) so he may check their accuracy.
All in all, Wylie’s predictions are perfectly representative of postwar hopes and concerns for the future. Sure, we’ll enjoy our flying cars (or “Buzzcopters”) but at what cost? How many people will be killed and injured as a result of this new technology and will Americans simply accept the human cost as we eventually did with the rise of the automobile? Sure, we’ll have the ability to experience virtual worlds but what kind of side effects will the overstimulation present? Will we even be able to fall asleep at night with such an elevated heart rate?
Last month we looked at Aldous Huxley’s predictions in the same issue of Redbook. Huxley imagined that increased worker productivity would likely mean an increase in wages and more leisure time. Neither of these predictions came true, but one wonders if they had whether any of Wylie’s more radical predictions for the hedonistic society of the future may have come with them.
December 12, 2012
If you’re looking for the perfect gift for that paleofuturist in your life, might I suggest a few of the books and DVDs currently sitting on my shelf? Well, not these books exactly. But different copies of these books that you can buy from a reputable retailer. You get the picture.
Yesterday’s Tomorrows: Past Visions of the American Future by Joseph J. Corn and Brian Horrigan ($31.95)
I’ve often called Yesterday’s Tomorrows the retro-futurist’s bible. It’s not an exaggeration to say that it quite literally changed my life by allowing me to see this silly topic I loved so much (meal pills, flying cars and jetpacks) as something that was worthy of serious consideration; a way to study history through a very specific lens while discovering what those visions of the future meant to people at that time. The book was published in 1984 in conjunction with the Smithsonian exhibit of the same name and includes gorgeous photos and illustrations of futurism from the 19th and 20th century. Also, I’ve met both of the authors and they’re super swell guys.
Future: A Recent History by Lawrence R. Samuel ($45 print, $14.75 Kindle edition)
This 2009 book is the kind you’d likely see as required reading for any university course on 20th century retro-futurism. Samuel’s history of the future begins in 1920 and spends a little more time with pure science fiction than I do here on the blog, but it’s a fantastic look at 20th century futurism. Unlike Yesterday’s Tomorrows, this one doesn’t have any glossy pictures but it’s still a great look at the futures that never were.
Out of Time: Designs for the Twentieth-Century Future by Norman Brosterman ($7.97)
Brosterman’s 2000 book looks at everything from the early 20th century picture postcards which whimsically depicted various cities of the future to the streamlined spaceships of the Space Age. Aside from having hundreds of gorgeous color illustrations, the book is well-researched and is a nice companion to Yesterday’s Tomorrows.
The Wonderful Future That Never Was by Gregory Benford and the editors of Popular Mechanics ($15.64)
Nebula award-winning science fiction author Gregory Benford‘s 2010 book The Wonderful Future That Never Was takes retro-futurists into the Popular Mechanics archive. Benford highlights the fascinating early and mid-20th century predictions that Americans were assured could be just around the corner. If you’re looking for pure tech-optimist pop, this is the book for you. The dust jacket even folds out into a poster. Neato!
Much of what people often think of as retro-futurism tends to deal in the techno-utopian: flying cars, rockets to the moon, meal pills. But there’s a dark side to retro-futurism. Max Page explores the dystopian and catastrophic by looking at the various ways that New York City has been fictionally destroyed over the past 200 years. Through the movies, comics, video games, magazines and books that have imagined New York’s destruction Page examines why we like to see such dark visions of the future, and why those mushroom clouds are so often looming over Manhattan.
Tomorrowland: Disney in Space and Beyond DVD set ($26.93)
I know this is supposed to be a recommended reading list, but this DVD set is just too fun to leave out. Throughout the 2000s Disney would release 3 or 4 different DVD sets per year under their Walt Disney Treasures line. The collection included releases like On The Front Lines which collected the short propaganda films that the studio produced during WWII, and Disney Rarities which contains rarely-seen short films from the 1920 to the 1960s. But my favorite release was in 2004 when they put out “Tomorrowland,” a collection of Disney’s coolest Space Age films and TV episodes. The DVD set includes classic “Disneyland” TV episodes like 1957′s Mars and Beyond along with never-before released film detailing the original plan for EPCOT in 1966. The original marketing gimmick of the Treasures collection was that every DVD set was limited edition and each was individually numbered (I have number 081,710 of 105,000) but seeing as how you can still buy new copies on Amazon I don’t think this particular release did very well.
Read more articles about the holidays with our Smithsonian Holiday Guide here
October 29, 2012
This is the sixth in a 24-part series looking at every episode of “The Jetsons” TV show from the original 1962-63 season.
As a child, did you ever think that one day you might be able to vacation on the moon? You weren’t alone. A permanent settlement on the moon wasn’t some crackpot scheme only touted by fringe elements in the mad science community. Scientists, politicians, clergymen and journalists were all promising that once humans inevitably set foot on the moon, permanent settlements (and vacation resorts!) were sure to follow.
The sixth episode of “The Jetsons” revolved around this assumption that the moon would soon be the perfect destination for a Boy Scout-like camping trip. Titled “Good Little Scouts,” the episode originally aired on October 29, 1962 and was probably a pleasant distraction for U.S. viewers from the previous week’s headlines which were all about the Cuban missile crisis. We follow Elroy’s Space Cub troop and their new scout leader, George Jetson, to the moon. The only problem for George? His boss’s son Arthur is along for the ride and—when he goes off wandering the moon by himself—he causes George to get lost and look like a fool.
It’s not stated explicitly, but the sixth episode might provide the first look at a building on the earth’s surface — Grand Central Space-tion. Grand Central clearly takes its architectural cues from the Googie style — more specifically New York’s JFK airport TWA terminal, which was opened in 1962 (the same year as the Jetsons premiere) and designed by Eero Saarinen.
In this episode we learn that the moon is a bit like Yellowstone National Park — it has a hotel and some accommodations, but it’s largely unexplored and makes for a great camping trip. The moon has a Moonhattan Tilton Hotel, a play on the name Manhattan Hilton Hotel.
Fans of the AMC TV show “Mad Men” may recall a storyline wherein Conrad Hilton, the head of the Hilton hotel chain, wants an advertising campaign that includes a Hilton on the moon. This story arc wasn’t entirely fictional. The Hilton company (most especially Barron Hilton, one of Conrad’s sons) was known for their various promotions in the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s that promised they would be the first hotel on the moon. They even had futuristic moon hotel keys made, which you can see over at BBC Future, where I’ve written about various visions the people at Hilton had for hotels on the moon.
Just as “The Jetsons” was inspired by futuristic ideas of the day and turned them even more fantastical, so too did Arthur Radebaugh‘s “Closer Than We Think” sift through the news stories of the late 1950s and early 1960s looking for predictions that could be heightened through fanciful illustration. As we looked at in February, the techno-utopians of the late 1950s were convinced that the Space Age would bring about a wondrous future of moon tourism. The June 1, 1958 edition of “Closer Than We Think” showed two couples dancing the night away in low gravity as they honeymoon on the moon; the earth sparkling in the distance.
Scenic spots on the moon, in years ahead, may become honeymoon havens, like Niagara Falls today. Newly wedded couples will be able to fly to a low-cost lunar holiday in a space craft propelled by thermo-nuclear energy. Space expert Wernher von Braun foresees pressurized, air-conditioned excursion hotels and small cottages on the moon. Couples could dance gaily there, whirling high in the air due to reduced gravity pull, and look out on a strange, spectacular scenery — part of which would be a spaceman’s view of the familiar outlines of the continents of the earth.
And it wasn’t just comic strip illustrators who saw humans living on the moon as a certainty. Insurance companies, banks and other financial institutions aren’t usually known for their exaggerated science fiction claims in advertising, but the early 1960s saw just that with a newspaper advertisement from 1962 for Michigan Mutual Liability. The ad imagined that by the year 2012 we’d be picnicking on Mars and have suburban-style homes on the moon.
This Jetsons episode is a perfect example of the Jetson formula that uses absurdist cartoon logic (complete with green, two-head Martians on the moon) but still manages to plant the seed of a wondrous future for 21st century humans in space. Recognizing how many kids were watching this episode on repeat throughout the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, it’s easy to see why so many people continue to ask, where’s my vacation on the moon?
October 18, 2012
NASA had an unwritten rule that married astronauts couldn’t be sent into space together. Davis and Lee had been assigned to the mission in 1989 but were later married in January 1991. After the agency learned of their marriage, NASA took two months to review the situation and believed that both were too important to the mission (the second flight of Space Shuttle Endeavour) for either of them to be removed. The couple had no children and NASA explained that if they had, they most certainly wouldn’t have flown together.
Their flight was a minor public relations scandal because of an obvious question that reporters of the time were not shy about asking: would they be having sex in space? The answer from the astronauts and NASA was an unequivocal “no”.
Outside of science fiction, the topic of sex in space has received surprisingly scant attention. But it was science fiction that inspired Dr. Robert S. Richardson to write an article in the March 1956 issue of Sexology: The Magazine of Sex Science, wherein he describes his vision of what sexual relations might look like when space travel is a reality. This was a year and a half before the launch of Sputnik, so the Space Age wasn’t even firing on all thrusters yet. But Dr. Richardson opens his article by discussing his frustration with the fact that sex is never addressed in any of the sci-fi shows on TV. Given the reputation of 1950s broadcasting as a sexless environment — where married couples on programs like I Love Lucy had to sleep in separate beds, and wouldn’t even say the word “pregnant” — Richardson’s surprise comes across as a bit disingenuous. Nonetheless, Richardson makes his case for what he believes the future of sex in space might look like.
From the introduction to the 1956 article:
Recent announcements by the United States and Soviet Governments that they are planning space satellites and space rockets have stimulated universal interest in the problems of space travel. Space voyages to Mars will take a long time, and settlements on the distant plants will be lonely. While much has been written about the various scientific aspects of space travel, this is the first article which deals with the important medical problem: How will the natural sexual needs of early space travelers be met so as to provide a modicum of mental health for the space pioneers?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Dr. Richardson’s views on women in space aren’t the most enlightened. He writes under the assumption that only men will be astronauts and that these men will have certain carnal needs to be met during long missions in space. Many of Richardson’s ideas about space, and especially Mars, clearly come from the Collier’s series of articles on space travel from 1952 to 1954. Interestingly, Richardson becomes fixated on Mars throughout the article, ignoring the moon — a place humans wouldn’t even sink their boots until a full 13 years after his article was published.
Richardson compares the establishment of an inevitable Martian base to the experience of military men in remote regions of the Arctic. But unlike relatively short tours in Greenland of a year or less, he acknowledges that a trip to Mars would be an adventure of three years or more.
But can healthy young men work efficiently and harmoniously for long without women ?
Reactions to this question vary widely. There are some who think it outrageous that sex should enter into the question at all. Just forget about the women. Keep busy and you won’t need to worry.
Others recognize sex as a disturbing factor, but feel it is not too serious. In the old days, sailors made long voyages without women and still managed to perform their duties and bring the ship into port. They admit there was sexual over-indulgence soon after the sailors got on shore, but that was only to be expected. The remark heard most often is that the men turn to homosexualism and auto-eroticism during extended voyages.
None of these answers meets the problem squarely. They either side-step the issue or suggest some degrading compromise solution.
Richardson’s solution to the problem of loneliness for astronaut men sailing towards Mars is rather offensive, proposing that women tag along as sex objects with a mission to serve the crew (and take dictation when necessary).
In our expedition to Mars, let our healthy young males take along some healthy young females to serve as their sexual partners. (Of course it would also help if they could operate a radio transmitter and take dictation.) These women would accompany them quite openly for this purpose. There would be no secrecy about this. There would be nothing dishonorable about their assignment. They would be women of the kind we ordinarily speak of as “nice girls.”
“But then they wouldn’t be nice girls any more!” people will object.
Judged by the arbitrary standards of our present social reference system, they certainly would not. But in our new social reference system they would be nice girls. Or rather, the girls would be the same, but our way of thinking about them would be different.
It is possible that ultimately the most important result of space travel will be not what we discover upon the planets, but rather the changes that our widening outlook will effect upon our way of thinking. Will men and women bold enough to venture into space feel that they are still bound by often artificial and outmoded conventions of behavior prevalent upon a planet fifty million miles behind them ? May not men and women upon another world develop a social reference system — shocking as judged by us on earth today — but entirely “moral” according to extra-terrestrial standards?
This last bit of speculation — of proposing that on other planets people may develop their own set of cultural and moral standards by which to judge sexual activity — would certainly be an interesting discussion to have, if it weren’t predicated on the notion that women would necessarily be secretaries and sex objects acting at the pleasure of the all-male astronaut crew.
As far as we know, no one has yet had sex in space. But when they inevitably do, I suspect neither party will need to supplement their astronautic duties by taking dictation.