I do. I like sci-fi too, and I’ll tell you why. It is because sci-fi – and zombie movies – are mirrors. They may show you people travelling in spaceships or chain-sawing the living dead, but the stories they tell are really about the era and the society in which they are/were made. They are in fact about us.
This may seem obvious to some of you, but that is apparently not the case with the magnificent Elon Musk, who is being acclaimed today as a hero for launching an effing car into space after having spent billions of dollars trying to get his rocket to work over the past few years. In a daring marketing stunt, Elon the Great framed his success as a wonderful homage to the late David Bowie, referencing the legendary Space Oddity lyrics.
Of course Bowie is dead now, and although he did play in another David’s latest season of Twin Peaks, there is no way of bringing him back to life to give us his point of view.
What we do know, is what he wrote in those lyrics. There is one line in particular that is on constant replay in my head right now :
“Planet Earth is blue, and there’s nothing I can do.”
Planet Earth sure is blue right now David. Lots of people have been feeling blue for far too long, and animals, plants, and billions of other living beings all over the planet have not be been spared. And while there are solutions out there to solve most of our collective problems, here’s what one loathsome, crazily rich guy, has decided to do with his billions : send a car to Mars.
You see, while I never met Bowie in person, and I’m too young to have known what his records meant to the generations who got them first hand, I know Bowie was anything but an idiot. I know he had a passion for “good” sci-fi, and by that, I mean sci-fi at the level of Orwell, Philip K. Dick, and Chris Marker’s “La Jetée”. Sci-fi by people who loathed the injustice they saw in the world, people who wrung their hands and stayed up at night, worrying about the threat to their existence from nuclear weapons, people who “had to” write what they felt in order to stay afloat.
I’m sure Bowie would have reacted with a great deal of caution to this marketing feat, and I bet he would have known better than the hundreds of thousands (millions, perhaps) of people who were cheering this morning because someone spent billions on sending a car into space.
In case you didn’t know, there was a time, 41 years ago, when humans sent into space images of the Earth, sound recordings of birds, whales, the Rite of Spring and Johnny B Goode, traditional music from all over the world, and greetings in 55 different human languages. Today we’re sending a car, a perfect symbol of our time. So much for imagination. What’s it going to be next time ? A 40ft ship container full of plastic Coke bottles?
Seriously people, what is wrong with you ? A “car”?! With about 3.6 million people dying every year from pollution caused by the burning of fossil fuel? With the endless traffic jams in and out of every major city in the world? After the “Great Smog” in Delhi last year? After we learned that a big share of microplastic pollution in the oceans (and our stomach) comes from car tires? As Dylan might say, “life sometimes must get lonely”. Some of us do too.
Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the massive idiotic inertia around you? Or perhaps it is just me suffering from some kind of narcissistic personality disorder. Sometimes I feel like I’m part of a minority of people who have to fight all through the night to push back a tide of zombies. Zombies who love nothing more than following what others do like brainless robots. Zombies who won’t get their butts off their couches because there are broke students riding through the night rain to deliver their ramen. Zombies who always have a good excuse for not doing their share of the collective efforts our era calls for. Zombies whose carbon emissions probably get teleported to a distant blackhole when they go on city trips by plane for the week-end, instead of getting trapped in that thin atmosphere of ours like other people’s emissions do. Zombies who won’t make much fuss about their governments sending refugees back to Turkey even after those people have seen their kids drown in the Mediterranean, as long as those zombies keep their jobs.
On days like this a lot of us must feel discouraged, because while our hands are freezing on our bikes and our hearts are warm from the thought that we’re doing less harm than those sitting in their cars, there’s a guy who just sent an (effing!) car into space by burning enough crap to cancel out our individual efforts for a hundred years (I don’t have any estimates of the emissions from the SpaceX rocket, please get in touch if you have any).
I know there’s a little bit of “us” and a little bit of “them” in each and every one of us, but I believe that in the long run, no matter what happens, it is not Elon and his fans who are going to win. I believe this, because if these people and their ideology are the future, then there is no future at all.
While millions (billions?) watch Elon’s video in awe today, I’ll keep thinking about the Arctic Terns which weigh only 100 grams, yet can travel up to 90,000 km around the globe every year during their migration. Without a drop of oil, and without making much fuss about it, because this is what Arctic Terns do. That my friends is a real feat.
“I got to keep moving, I got to keep moving
Blues falling down like hail, blues falling down like hail
Mmm, blues falling down like hail, blues falling down like hail
And the day keeps on remindin’ me, there’s a hellhound on my trail
Hellhound on my trail, hellhound on my trail” (Robert Johnson)