The title of this node is taken from the novel Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk. It got me thinking.
The pivotal point, it seems, was the World's Fair in Seattle in 1962. That was when the wave of the future peaked and began to break. The Space Needle was supposed to be a symbol of something great, a new frontier in human exploration; instead, it's a restaurant.
Man was going to land on the moon within the decade. Asbestos was a miracle: heat-resistant, non-conductive, flexible, cheap. The nuclear age promised a virtually unlimited supply of power. In 1962, the future was beautiful. It was Thanksgiving dinner in a chewable pill. It was businessmen taking a commuter flight to the moon, smoking cigars in zero gravity. It was silver jumpsuits made of high-tech fabrics that brush clean and never rip. In the future of 1962, you'd fly to work in your rocket car, and your wife would have a robot-prepared meal waiting for you when you got home. Your two children would have two parents (a nuclear family, and not like the explosions). They would grow up to be happy and healthy and successful, working part-time at the super-malt shop and going to low-g school dances.
Jump to 2001. Man hasn't been to the moon in almost three decades. Asbestos causes lung cancer and asbestosis, as millions of schoolchildren across the country have learned. Chernobyl and Three Mile Island and Tokai-mura mean that the atom is a source of fear, not power. The closest we've come to a space-meal in a pill is a cup of Tang and a multi vitamin; it made international news when the space station crew got a pizza. Yeah, you can hop a flight into space. For $20 million. Our clothes are denim and cotton and polyester, and we know that silver fabric looks stupid.
In 1962, we looked to the future and saw nothing but promise and opportunity. In 2001, divorce rates are up over 50%. Almost 20% of children in the U.S. are living in poverty. Over six million Americans are in prison.
In 2001, we look to the future and we're scared shitless. We look to the future and we see overpopulation, and mass starvation, and a fading ozone layer, and soaring crime rates, and global instability, and endangered species, and AIDS, and nukes, and riots, and war, and death. Utopia doesn't even occur to most of us anymore. We're fucked and we know it. What happened?
When I was in elementary school, not ten years ago, we learned about dinosaurs and killer whales and multiplication. Now my kid sister comes home telling me about how hair spray, six-pack holders, paper bags, sirloin steak, how they're bringing about the end of the world. She's nine years old.