Saturday, February 11, 2012

No Entrance Ramp to Utopia.

In sci-fi, depending on the film, book or TV show, our future will usually be one of two things: utopian, where the air tastes like cherry wine, no one's poor, and the world's one big, happy family (see "Star Trek" and especially "Star Trek: The Next Generation"); or dystopian, in which the world has gotten worse, not better, because of a disintegrating environment, war, social decay, and any other crappy thing you can think of (see "Blade Runner").

A lot of geeks believe in utopia, that if the right circumstance comes along -- for instance, speaking of "Trek", an alien race visits us after Zefram Cochrane's experimental warp drive flight in "First Contact" -- we flawed members of the human race will realize once and for all how foolish we've been and end greed, racism, war, poverty and famine. We'd buy the world a Coke and keep each other company. We'd do away with money, the root of all evil, and everyone would play on the same level field. You know, all of that crap idealized during the hippy-trippy 1960's...or just listen to John Lennon's "Imagine" to get the same idea of hearts and rainbows.

I'm not kidding, according to "Star Trek", that's what will happen...just HOW each and every one of us gets so enlightened overnight, and HOW we undid the damage of pollution and the Third World War and glossing over simple rate of exchange are matters "Trek" mythology never covered logically or realistically.

And there's a reason no writer can picture precisely how to make utopia...because no one CAN picture how to make a perfect world.

'Wait,' you might be saying. 'What am I reading? Is he saying utopia isn't realistic?' Yes, and I'm sorry to tell you this, that's what I'm saying. I don't believe utopia is possible. Want to know why? Look in the mirror. It's a sad truth that people aren't perfect, and as long as that's true, the world will never be perfect. Say what you will, but I'm the realist in this argument.

Does that mean I believe we'll only go downhill from here to dystopia? Hey, I'm not a fatalist. Our world will only get as bad as we want it to be, and I doubt any sane, reasoning person would want to live in a world of increasing discord and decay. Would you want everything and everyone you love to go swirling down a figurative toilet? If you're sane, you'd answer no. I like to think most people are able to reason sufficiently, and especially if they're a parent, they don't want their kids to be worse off than they are now. If we educate ourselves properly and have the proper empathy for each other and our environment, we'll never have to worry about sliding down a one-way slope. Our fates are up to us, and we want our paths to be bright ones.

But again...humans aren't perfect.

There will always be those who answer to politics and corruption. Our society, no matter the country, will always be flawed in some way. And I'm thankful I'm not the only one who understands such things, that while we'll never ride on rainbows that smell suspiciously like pot, our future isn't one that's in the gutter, either.

The makers of "Mass Effect" have brought us that future, a compromise between our dreams and our nightmares, one that rings very true to the present and that not much is gonna change. True, it has the 'we are all brothers and sisters, no matter what world we're from' themes from "Star Trek". But it's a future that's still grounded in truths we already know from our own culture and our everyday lives, and familiar images that resonate as much as those 'a long time ago in a galaxy far away' in "Star Wars". Even though there may be heroes like Commander Shepard and others ready to lay down their lives for each other and to stop the nightmare power of the Reapers, enemies amongst those races threatened would like nothing better than to see those heroes dead, as well. We meet races like the Asari, in many ways so much wiser than Humanity yet still able to suffer all-too-human failings, and the Quarians, who suffered an apocalypse and were forced to surrender their own homeworld to their creations, the A.I.-driven Geth. And that may be "Mass Effect's" most meaningful message: we may meet far more advanced civilizations in space in our future, but who is to say they can't have the same problems and foibles we do? "Star Trek" wanted to give us a perfect future, but that's little more than a dream.

"Mass Effect", on the other hand, gives us a future that we can recognize that while much more improved, still has room for improvement...just like us.

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