LITR 4368
Literature of the Future

Final Exam Essays 2015

Model Assignments


Sample answers for Essay 2:
personal / professional interests


Cynthia Perkins

What We Should Have Learned From Mad Max

I was born at the tail end of the Cold War.  Movies like Mad Max were extremely popular and offered a dystopic future that was a result of human failings combined with dangerous technology. Ironically, after so much fear of a nuclear holocaust being pumped into the population for so long, I think my generation was born immune to the hyper-political scare tactics. In fact, I think some of us secretly wanted it. Like a kid waiting in his bedroom for a parent to spank them, we just wanted it to be over already so we could shave our heads and turn our fatherís truck into a four-wheel drive death machine. 

Mad Max was a fun and safe way to think about our future, but it seems many of us didnít learn from it. We most likely love these sorts of dystopic, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic stories because they follow so closely the romance narrative in which the hero overcomes all odds and saves the day. We probably should, however, see these texts as a warning about mankindís greed for material wealth and lust for power that causes us to create technology that far outpaces our ability to make rational decisions in using it. Though I will always been drawn to stories such as Mad Max, I have discovered another possible future scenario in which we do learn, grow and create a more fair, natural and healthy world.

In my midterm essay, Literature of the Future Might Just Save the World, I addressed some of the elements I learned about the different narratives of the future. I found myself especially fascinated with the evolutionary narrative. After reading about utopias and ecotopias I have learned that the evolutionary narrative applies to many of the future visions we read in the latter part of the class. Kim Stanley Robinson is one of my favorite writers, but oddly I never thought of him as an environmental writer with utopic or ecotopic tendencies. In the Introduction to Future Primitive: The New Ecotopias he mentions that science-fiction can be used as a way to ask questions about our actions and what the outcomes might be. He states that rather than imagining an unsustainable existence in a fantastical future modeled on the industrial age, we must try to remember where we come from and use that as a blueprint instead.

 Adapting to and working with the environment has allowed Humans to survive for thousands of years. If we want to continue surviving we must look back on our primitive past and learn from it. Science and technology should be seen as tools we can use to ensure our survival. This is of course a rather positive view. While many science-fiction texts seems to portray our species as hopelessly spiraling toward oblivion, these utopic and ecotopic texts offer a more optimistic view of the world we live in. This is new for me as I often tend toward action-packed, violent and sublime tales of the future.  

I already referred to Chocco in my first essay, but I really think it is an important and enlightening story. Like the Mad Max films, it takes place in a world after an apocalyptic event. Unlike in the world of Mad Max, however, the humans in Chocco are portrayed as working vigilantly to keep the lessons of the past alive so that they are not doomed to repeat the mistakes of their ancestors. To some this story may have been boring because of the Socratic dialogue. There was no tough, anti-social hero who came riding in to shake up the system and release people from the drudgery of living in peace. There was only an intellectual debate about what happened in the past to lead them to where they are now and how they can learn from it.

The people of Chocco seem to realize that they can have a utopic society, not by oppressing the individualism of the citizens, but through cooperation and collective governing. They recognize that they are not masters of nature, but are children of nature. They do use some technology, but it is for community health and not solely for entertainment. As I read this, I became alarmed at how the Machine People were described as if someone were talking about our own society. I also felt a sense of hope though. People are at least discussing these serious issues and offering possible solutions to these problems.

I enjoyed House of Bones tremendously which takes us in to the distant past. It follows very closely the utopic fiction formula. The stranger is stranded in the far past us and is at first abhorred at the idea of having to live out the rest of his life amongst Cro-Magnon men. Like many of us, he probably canít imagine their primitive society being anything other than dirty, violent and chaotic. Instead we learn, just as the traveler does, to appreciate the traits of our ancestors that allowed them to survive so much longer than modern man has yet or maybe ever will.

As the assumptions of the stranger fall away, he is becoming part of the community. He finds himself falling in love, making friends, experiencing honest fulfilling work and admiring their art and poetry. He, like us, begins to see that in some ways they could be considered superior to modern man. They live in harmony with nature, simply and happily. They even test him to see if he is violent. This is a trait that we believe separates civilized men from each other and yet even the stranger, a modern man, jumps to the conclusion that they want to kill the outsider.

Interestingly, he wants to bring them inventions like alcohol which is simply a false high or a diversion from everyday life. We in the twenty-first century often use it, as well as both prescription and illegal drugs to escape our increasingly stressful lives. If Cro-Magnons have lived so long without this and are in harmony with their neighbors and nature, why would they need to this to escape? The stranger feels like he is doing them a favor, but ironically his gift of modern technology will cause more hardship and strife than it could ever counter. This story could symbolize how we could eventually become accustomed to and learn to enjoy simpler modes of living. It may not be that bad to spend the day building a house, or hunting or creating art while breathing unpolluted air and enjoying the sunshine without having to apply and reapply sunscreen.

Both Chocco and House of Bones as well as the Kim Stanley Robinsonís introduction ask us to think of ourselves as organic lifeforms that depend upon the earth for survival. This is not really not a crazy idea. If we can find a way to learn from our past and adapt to the present our species may be able to survive into the future. In Mad Max, most of the humans didnít learn from the past. They still coveted useless machines and continued to exploit natural resources in order to oppress and kill each other. Most did not try to adapt to the new world, but rather just barely survive while striving to hold onto the semblance of the lost world they used to live in. We should learn from these dystopic post-apocalyptic tales rather than just submit to the inevitability that we will destroy ourselves. We should be thinking of how we can create a future ecotopia that will allow us to live in harmony with each other and nature as well as enjoy the benefits of technology. We must adapt, change, and evolve or else we might be selected for extinction. This I have learned and so much more.