Tuesday, June 30, 2009

- - - 'And We're All Gonna Die!'

As associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Minnesota, Dr. Iris Wagman Borowsky, authored a study that hit the news yesterday.
"Challenging the notion that risky behavior reflects a youthful sense of immortality, a new study has found almost 15 percent of American teens believe they will die before age 35 -- a perspective strongly linked to risky behavior...."

"...The interviews revealed that nearly 15 percent of the teens believed they had just a 50-50 chance of living to age 35...." (Forbes)
The good news is that 85% of teens in America don't think they'll die young. Still, it's not good when one in seven make decisions based on the assumption that they've got something like 20 more years left to work with, instead of around 60, on average.

The Forbes article gives an overview of how the study was conducted, and a relatively brief discussion of why so many kids might have such a distorted view of their life expectancy, why it's a problem, and what might be done about it.

Forbes quotes Dr. Borowsky extensively. One of the things she said relates to this blog's topic.
" '...Positive media messages also play a role. These are all things that might prevent the development of a pessimistic view among youth.'..." (Forbes)
"Positive media messages" - let's look at that, in terms of how people view the future.

And the Future will Bring: Disease, Destruction, Dementia and Death?!

I was born during the Truman administration, and most of my teen years were spent in the sixties. I remember the trailing edge of a era when science and technology were presented as wonderful tools that would make the future brighter.

And I noticed when popular attitudes toward science and technology were getting back to the Mary Shelley mindset. Technology, industrial tech in particular, started being viewed as a Frankenstein monster that would turn on its creator.

As for the future: Our civilization was doomed by an impending ice age when I was in high school; by the time I graduated, a butterfly expert named Paul Ehrlich had quite a few people convinced that a sizable chunk of humanity would die horribly in the seventies and eighties, and that there wasn't anything we could do about the coming famine.

We got disco instead: which, although probably not one of the greatest achievements of western civilization, didn't actually kill all that many people.

Flame Throwers, Mutants, and Armored Dune Buggies

And, we got movies. Lots of movies: And those are just the memorable ones. With the Cold War still going on, I suppose all those germ warfare or post-nuclear-holocaust movies with rampaging mutants, fiery explosions, and armor-plated dune buggies were almost inevitable. Quintet has an almost nostalgic air about it now, with it's future ice age setting.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not criticizing the movies, although they're not exactly in the same class as Citizen Kane. As entertainment, they're junk food for the mind: fun, diverting, and not a health problem, if taken in moderation.

But I think there's a tendency for movie-makers to make their fictional futures grimly dreary. Maybe they don't want their colleagues to think they're producing or directing escapist fantasies.

Think Bladerunner (1982) and Judge Dredd (1995).

It's not all doom, gloom and vile frogs in the movies since the seventies, of course.

The future of The Star Trek movies, whatever one may think of them, carried through the largely optimistic view of times to come that I think helped put the original television series on America's cultural map.

Ecological Disaster, Cancer Everywhere, Humanity is Doomed?!

The parents of today's teenagers were, for the most part, growing up when those movies were released. From somewhere in the sixties up to the present, doom and gloom weren't limited to the movie theaters. Actually, in some ways the fictional futures of Judge Dredd or Bladerunner were downright cheerful, compared to what we were told is coming.

The 'everything causes cancer' craze has been over for quite a while, replaced partly by lists of foods that cause heart attacks, and foods that prevent heart attacks. Just to keep things interesting, the lists kept changing.

It didn't matter anyway, because the coming ice age and/or nuclear Armageddon had been replaced by global warming and acid rain, and human civilization was doomed. Never mind civilization. Humanity itself may be extinct soon.

I'm overstating it, but that sort of 'and we're all gonna die' refrain seems to run through quite a few American sub-cultures.

No wonder one out of seven teens think they've got a 50-50 chance of lasting another two decades. Under the circumstances, they could be seen as optimists.

Deadly Plagues? Nuclear Armageddon? Humanity Reduced to a Handful? Been There, Done That

Like The Omega Man, I'm immune - to the hopelessness that's a characteristic of so much fiction. I think it helped, being an avid reader with a pretty good memory. After a while, I noticed that the dire predictions weren't panning out.

As a wannabe author, I'd probably reject the gloom-and-doom future on aesthetic grounds. It's an approach which may have been over-worked.

Besides, although I'm no Trekkie, I'd rather write about a fictional future that was more than one more devastated Earth.

Which reminds me of Buck Rogers (1939) and the Flash Gordon television series (1954-1955).

That'll have to wait for another day. At 934 words so far, this post is quite long: and I've got more tasks to finish today.

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