With humanity in need of some serious ground control, why do we wish upon the stars? Kevin Brooker explains why you should get your head out of the clouds.
Last winter, Star Wars: The Force Awakens debuted to a weekend take of over a half billion dollars, en route to becoming the most-watched movie ever. That same week a US pollster reported that of 500 voters asked, 30 per cent thought it would be a good idea to bomb Agrabah. That’s right, Agrabah, whose only shred of existence is as the made-up setting of the Disney picture Aladdin.
Unrelated events? Well, if you don’t already see the direct line between blockbuster fantasy entertainment and low-information voting, it’s because you’re not looking. While our civilization appears to be steadily losing touch with (and interest in) reality, Disney—the apex of the Big Fiction pyramid, which also just happened to buy the Star Wars franchise from Lucasfilm in 2012—is coining it like never before. It’s almost like there’s a plan at work here if you’re a social engineer: Distract people with enough ridiculous fiction, and you can do anything you want to them in real life.
They honestly think that when we mess up here, there’s a fallback planet somewhere. We’ll terraform that bitch, too. Matt Damon will show us how.
But, like it or not—and I don’t—this remains the golden age of zombies, vampires and costumed heroes. We may briefly gather in real life at the mall, but the rest of the time we congregate in dwarf kingdoms, distant multiverses and castles built by unicorns. I realize I’m shaking my fist at the clouds, but how can this be anything but an unhealthy media diet?
Consider, as a not-so-innocent example, outer space, and specifically our relationship with it. Thanks to Star Wars and its zillions of sci-fi comrades, a huge number of people remain horny for space in spite of the questionable benefits for humanity achieved by current iterations of the decades-long NASA show. Last year, for example, they sent Japanese Suntory whisky to the International Space Station to test how it ages in micro-gravity. (A Scottish company had done the same thing in 2011; obviously the science wasn’t settled.) This is space research? This is what taxpayers, Canadians included, are getting for their billions?
When NASA announces that Mars is losing its atmosphere at the rate of 100 grams per second due to solar winds, or that one of Jupiter’s moons has a liquid core, people not only believe despite any verification, they don’t stop to question how it could possibly be worth spending a fortune to learn that in the first place. Why would they? Their entertainment gruel has led them to believe that interplanetary travel is inevitable, and soon. They honestly think that when we mess up here, there’s a fallback planet somewhere. We’ll terraform that bitch, too. Matt Damon will show us how.
Meanwhile, the reality-based community must find its way through a minefield of deception.
There’s just one catch. We’re not going anywhere, folks. Not a single manned spacecraft exists that will transcend low-earth orbit. Dreams may be dreamed, but nothing is scheduled. The technology to do so simply does not exist and it likely will not in our lifetimes, if ever. Space is two things: it is and always has been a public boondoggle. And, thanks to the Musks and Bransons of the world who are now said to be “privatizing” space travel, it is increasingly a Ponzi scheme aimed at schmucks.
That Disney now wields the ultimate space-exploration aphrodisiac, Star Wars, is nothing if not historically resonant. In the mid-1950s, before NASA even existed, its great pioneer rocket engineer, the ex-Nazi Wernher von Braun, collaborated with Uncle Walt on a series of “educational” space movies that pretty much sketched out everything that has happened since. Those movies used paintings, models and animation to tell the story. Nowadays, almost everything NASA produces is CGI, and, since Disney also owns Pixar (and, disturbingly, a chunk of Vice Media), it would be surprising if their long collaboration doesn’t continue. Am I saying that nothing NASA shows us is true and real? No, but I am saying there would be no way for us to tell, and scant motive for many of us to investigate anyway.
Distract people with enough ridiculous fiction, and you can do anything you want to them in real life.
Meanwhile, the reality-based community must find its way through a minefield of deception. In an era when being a “truther” is the gravest insult, when fear-based propaganda is weakly interrogated—think of Iraqi WMD claims, the instant appearance of branded terrorist armies and super-diseases poised to kill us all—the need has never been greater for us to hold onto reality like grim death.
You know, I used to be fairly neutral about fiction. I’ve had good experiences. When I got to the last page of The Grapes of Wrath, where Rosasharn suckles a dying hobo, I cried real tears. But the more screwed up our world becomes, the more I’ve come to resent, and even despise, the tsunami of make-believe under which we are drowning.
What to do? Easy, KMC reader. Do what you’ve been doing. Keep climbing rocks and building cabins and making wine and cooking over fires. That’s real. The rest of this shit is meaningless and deserves to be shunned.