The present month marks a milestone in the history of the past’s conception of the future.
Americans celebrated “Back to the Future Day” on Wednesday in conjunction with the publicity blitz surrounding the theatrical re-release of the trilogy spawned by 1985’s box office champion. Missed amidst the ballyhoo? Earlier this month, Americans obliviously awoke further away from Marty McFly first stepping into a DeLorean than McFly stood in that strip-mall parking lot away from the date of the Enchantment Under the Sea dance.
That’s harder to wrap one’s brain around than the flux capacitor.
This week’s media campaign informed us that the second installment predicted video phones, tablets, and widespread drone use. (Didn’t the Jetsons?) Back to the Future II failed to predict that men dressing up as women would endure public shaming on Halloween but receive public honors for doing so the remaining 364 days. Uncle Miltie perhaps foresaw such a day; Doc Brown surely did not.
In 1955, babies born to unwed mothers amounted to about five percent of all births. Today, the number eclipses 40 percent. Then, Encyclopedia Britannica was in the midst of peddling the first thousands of a million collections of The Great Books of the Western World for about $300 a set; today, used book sellers—the recalcitrant ones who remain—could not give them all away. In 1955, Americans faced a future of budget surpluses for the following two years; today an $18.5 trillion national debt weighs upon the backs of the future. Their dollar depreciated to our dime, which can’t buy a pay-phone call even if one could find a booth.
All of this would seem to posterity about as believable as telling a baseball fan in 1955 that the Royals and Blue Jays play to face the Mets in the World Series. Perhaps a time traveler informing the 1955ers that the president golfs all the time would work as a better way to establish credibility.
It’s telling that the time machine invented in the wake of Back to the Future acts a one-way way-back machine. The World Wide Web, developed in 1989 after the creation of the Internet, functions as a futuristic gizmo putting us in touch with the past.
On Facebook, we conduct daily class reunions with “friends” not seen since seventh grade. On iTunes, we prefer, in contrast to all past record, tape, and CD sales, back catalog to current. YouTube appears as a repository for random, rarely remembered pop-culture events. It recently reintroduced your correspondent to a fake Max Headroom pirating a Chicago TV station in 1987, Up with People’s surreal seventies Super Bowl performances, and a Boston public service announcement touting fruit over candy bars that never stopped playing on a loop in my head long after it stopped playing on a loop on daytime UHF.
Cable television, not getting Frederick Jackson Turner’s 122-year-old memo about the closing of the frontier, overflows with rebels against modern living who seek a more primitive existence (usually in Alaska) for our vicarious enjoyment. Pickers and pawn dealers paying top dollar for Louis Marx toys, Standard Oil advertising, and other pricey bits of nostalgia also appear incredibly popular. Even at the movie house, unchanged much since Castle Queen of Montana played at Hill Valley’s Essex Theater, Americans prefer the familiar: remakes, sequels, and movies based on old comic-book characters describe eight of 2015’s ten bestselling films.
The successful Wednesday rerun of Back to the Future and its sequels ($4.8 million box office worldwide) speaks to the appetite for past-its-sell-by-date fare in an age wishing itself anywhere but here. Our love of yesterday suggests discontent with today. We worship modern technology because it puts us in touch with the past. Our feel for the present appears less enthusiastic because the technology that connects us to the good old days disconnects us from living, breathing humans.
We want to go back. To the future? Not so much.
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That’s right, the Grinch (Joe Biden) is coming for your pocketbooks this Christmas season with record inflation. Just to recap, here is a list of items that have gone up during his reign.
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