Tuesday, January 22, 2008

In The Future You're Old

The Venture Brothers is the funniest thing in the universe. You've probably seen the mathematical demonstration of this proof; I won't repeat it here.

But really, it is an extraordinary show, and not just because it's funny. It's as sad, at times, as it is hilarious, at least to those of us who grew up on the gee-whiz science and adventure of stories produced between the end of World War 2 and the rise of New Wave science fiction. Those stories--Heinlein's juvenile adventures, Johnny Quest--seem as bittersweet now as some romantic 18th century ballad or a late Roman pastoral, because we know what really happened, don't we? When we were kids (even if we weren't twelve in 1955), we read those stories and wondered what the future would hold for us, but there was one prediction that few visionaries made: in the future, kid, you're going to be old.

And the impact of that dreary truth is partially the result of our current culture of youth, but the fact was always there: if you were twelve in 1955 you'd be on a fixed income in "the future," right? The Venture Brothers, as funny as it is, also has that frightening edge: all these kids around us are dreaming about a future that will have forgotten them by the time they get there; there's no place in "the future" for Rusty Venture, because we didn't get the future we were expecting.

I don't know how long that truth will hold. It seems possible that every generation will get to the future and realize that nothing has changed except now they're old and no one cares about them. But the longer I write, the more I think that that some phenomena (in both science fiction and literature) only come once, and once they're past, stories about them become historical curiosities, rather than living concepts within the genre. Maybe this generation will stay "with it" and progressive, and when we get old we'll have to come up with new stories about the existential ennui about never being able to become irrelevant and unhip like our parents.

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