The “Back To The Future Rubicon” is a defining point between society before it (i.e. pre-1985) and society after it. It is marked by the blockbuster movie Back To The Future starring Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd.
Prior to BTTF, there had been the post war counter-cultures of the 50s and 60s, the disaster of Vietnam, the end of the American boom by 1971 and the expansion into all areas of life of corporations and branding. Consumer capitalism may have co-opted the American Dream by the 1950s but it was one theme among many. It hadn’t sunk its teeth into all demographics. In many ways the 1970s was the most interesting socio-cultural decade of the past century, though it featured no global war, the Situationist student protest had failed in 1968 and the US was withdrawing from Vietnam from 1969. Domestic themes was over by 1971. In fact it took “business” decades after WW2 to have commodified everyday life – though Reagan helped accelerate it – and the last outliers.
Prior to BTTF, though lifestyle and media independence was being devoured by corporate consumerism there were still auteurs, individual creativity was still recognized and risked – even if an outlier – fighting for airtime with the prescription dross. TV was more quickly brought into line with the dictates of inoffensive peddling consumer product but film pushed on into the 1970s. Punk was the last hurrah. Reagan and Thatcher on the one hand, the Sex Pistols and Bob Marley on the other maybe.
After BTTF things passed the point of no return. Things had changed. Cost, in dollars and cents, defined worth. Popularity, quantity over quality, was no longer incompatible with allure. Advertising demanded a well-defined familiar mainstream and that’s what we’ve gotten today. Inventing an entirely new medium – the internet – ended up demonstrating the mainstream hegemony. It was appropriated in just a few years.
Look at fashion in everyday clothing and mainstream music and multiplex film before the Back To The Future Rubicon. Take 10 years: 1975-1985. Compare to the same period after Back To The Future: 1985-1995. It’s stark. This movie somehow marked the moment the post-modern world took over…
BTTF was 33 years ago, in 1985. We kid ourselves people are transformed by recent tech revolution. Society might have been, but people? Society itself? Global economics?
Compare 2018 with 1985; then 1985 with 1952 – 33 years before the BTTF rubicon. I don’t find it true, this presumption the modern world is accelerating (from the point of view of a person living through it) or that today is faster, bigger, more profoundly changing year on year.
Let’s do a quick experiment: ten minutes writing up world changing / society impacting inventions, events, etc. First the 33 years before the Back To The Future Rubicon.
1952 to 1985:
Commercial air travel, mass television, cable, satellite, man in space, man walks on the moon, post-war rebuilding, American society transformation to consumer paradigm, military industry complex, Korean War, Vietnam, Cuba and Cuban Missile Crisis, Death of Stalin, China goes Maoist, Cultural Revolution, Berlin Wall goes up, Berlin Airlift, Suez crisis, Indian partition aftermath, invention of home computer, games consoles, colour TV, global mass communication including telephone, first portable phones, mass produced affordable dishwasher, washing machine, dryer, microwave oven, cheap clothes, personal stereo, invention of rock and roll, heavy metal, rap, electronics, portable cameras, walkmans, worldwide air traffic controls, IMF, European Community, JFK, MLK, RFK assassinations, Civil Rights, Feminism, equal rights, smashing the coal miners, Nixon and Watergate, Thatcher and Reagan conservatism boom bust economics, Elvis to Beatles to Led Zeppelin to Bowie to Michael Jackson and Madonna, psychedelica and Woodstock, beat generation, hippies, mods, rockers, Rebel Without A Cause, McCarthyism, Cold War paranoia, Tsar Bomba, Iron Mike, North African independence, end of European Empires, Shah to Ayatollah in Iran, civil war in Lebanon, Saddam Hussein and CIA power, creation of Jewish homeland, Israeli wars beating Egypt and Syria and Jordan. Turks in Cyprus. Yugoslavia united under Tito. Uprising in Hungary and Czechoslovakia put down by Russian tanks, Gandhi killed, Tibet invaded and Dalai Lama driven into exile, India war with Pakistan, Bangladesh independent, Mabuto in Zaire from the Belgian Congo, Mugabe takes Zimbabwe, Kaunda life president in Zambia, end of dictatorships in Brazil, Portugal, Spain, Argentina. Coup in Chile, Peru. Rebels in Central America. Rise of apartheid in South Africa, repeal of segregation in America, Roe v Wade abortion rights, public radio access TV, FM radio, professionalisation of sports with consumerism, hostages and Islamic terrorism into the narrative, Munich 1972 athletes shot by Palestinians, sectarian violence in Northern Ireland, student worldwide uprisings in 1968, Situationists, Weather Underground, Bader Meinhof, China begins globalist capitalism under Deng Xiaoping, Germany and Japan rebuilt competitive, oil crises gas shortages in the 70s, general strikes into Winter of Discontent, War in the Falklands, Iran Iraq war, Shia Persia v Sunni Wahabi Saudis, creation of Singapore, Malaya into Malaysia, high speed trains, monorail, maglev trains, magnetic resonance imaging, chemotherapy, NASA Space Shuttle, supersonic Concorde, degrading comprehensive education US and UK.
And what about 1985 to 2013, the 33 years after the Back To The Future Rubicon:
Mobile smartphones, the internet, massive gaming, virtual reality, augmented reality, gene therapy, International Space Station, stem cell research, CRISPR, identity politics, Brexit, resurgence of populism, urgency of Green Party issues, New Labour New Democrats, European Union and euro currency, China boom under Xi, India’s tech revolution, Higgs the Large Hadron Collider, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and social media, Amazon logistics, Soviet Union disintegrated by Gorbachev, Berlin Wall and Iron Curtain gone, German Reunification, Eastern Europe set free, End of the Cold War, Putin and hypernormalisation, War in the Gulf, end of apartheid, Mandela next in South Africa, Kosovo and Clinton Vs Serbian Milosovic, Bin Laden and 9/11, Black President euphoria to hope to worry to dismay, expansion of the EU, Financial Crisis, bailouts, austerity, Greek Sovereign Debt, the ECB and Brussels economic weltpolitik, Saddam and Gaddafi murdered, invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, failed Arab states, failed Arab Spring, ISIS in Syria, refugees flooding Europe, German welcoming a million new citizens, Wahabi wealth, North Korean cult of the personality old school, Trump and MAGA, polarised America, Bosnian and Rohingya ethnic cleansing. #metoo and Leftist thought police, public shaming, smartphones cover the world and everyone has one, Blockchain and Bitcoin, Wikipedia and wikileaks, cyber crime, ketogenesis, sequencing the human genome, multiverse inflation, missions to Jupiter, Saturn, Titan, Enceladus, landers on Mars, Martian water, gravitational waves
7 billion human beings might be mostly doing the same as the next guy or gal but some of us are far from idle!