Utopia, Limited: What can sci fi tell us about our future?
Ann Grindley considers our ideas of Utopia, and what Science Fiction can tell us about our future
30 May 2014
Science fiction encompasses all genres beneath its futuristic, technological, fantastical and exotic exterior. It excites our imaginations and pre-empts our natural instincts to think ahead and look to the future, however; it could be suggested that science fiction teaches us more about our present and our history than our futures, and more about our humanity than our science.
To other worlds through a Stargate, or other realities via a black hole you created in your basement; on a journey through time in a machine you fashioned, or exploring space in giant mobile homes; however the future or the co-existing present has been lived so far through fiction, we encounter variations of the same social political issues we face now, or have witnessed in our lifetimes.
Variations of genocide and mass hatred are repeated, inequality, poverty and segregation are imagined in alternate paradigms, sexism, racism, and class warfare are planted creatively in various uniquely imagined plots, but always seeping through is the core of our historical fact.
We can, however, envisage society that evolves beyond our current template, but the story is usually the same. Civilisations that do demonstrate utopian qualities have surpassed our view on money, weaponry and material wealth and anxiety. They have matured past our inequalities and share a common goal. This goal is usually scientific, in a sense that they have discovered, created, and utilise technology which unites people globally. Throughout science fiction this tool of unity has been imagined as medical breakthroughs, a weapon that offers protection as opposed to destruction, a source of energy which wipes out previous costly and environmentally dangerous sources, and sometimes cloning, although this can often harbour the opposite and can be seen as a devastating result of human advancement in a dystopian future.
It is possible to draw similarities between our fictional utopia and dystopia. Even in our minds, utopia is flawed. It is rare that either futures encompasses or displays various art forms, such as; music, fashion, and literature. Perhaps this is due to scientific advancements absorbing global resources. I’d like to think utopia still requires creativity and pleasure through art, although maybe utopians won’t need escapism.
It is wonderful how even in our social and political density and under-development, that we can imagine an idyllic and model world, however, it is worth questioning whether our ideas of utopian and dystopian futures are only limited to our current knowledge and understanding, and perhaps that is why, in reality, we’re yet to achieve the fantasy; the fiction in our science. Perhaps utopia is beyond our imagination as well as our means.
Our exhibition, Science Fiction: New Death is open until 15 June. For more information, please visit the project page.