Thursday, January 2, 2014

Back to the "Past Future"

It's 2014. The "future" part of Back to the Future Part II, a film made and released in 1989, took place on October 21, 2015. We are now just 21 months away.

What predictions did they get right, and what did they get wrong? Using the newspaper photo above, and some other things mentioned in the future sequence, we can get an idea.

Don't worry, there will be sports involved.

Right: USA Today has changed its logo.

Wrong: They didn't use the one shown here. I wish they had: Their actual new one is stupid.

Right, sort of: "Cholesterol may be cancer cure." We do now know about "good cholesterol," as opposed to "bad cholesterol." "Good cholesterol" isn't a cure for cancer, but it does help with good health.

Wrong: A female President. In 2008, Hillary Clinton showed that it's possible. And, if she had simply said words to the effect of, "I voted for the Iraq War, and I was wrong," she would have won the Democratic nomination, and she would have won the general election, and she probably would have been re-elected as Barack Obama was, and -- presuming no medical or ethical calamity -- she would still be President on October 21, 2015. But she didn't admit she was wrong in Iraq, and, mostly likely, on October 21, 2015, Obama will be in the White House, watching the various contenders to succeed him (possibly including Hillary) jockey for position for the next year's election.)

Right, sort of: "(something beginning with T) Bandits Strike." I'm not sure what this refers to, but recent years have seen an upsurge in pirate activity, especially on the Indian Ocean coast of Africa.

Wrong: "Queen Diana." The scriptwriters must have presumed that, in 2015, Queen Elizabeth II would be 89, and unlikely to still be alive; thus, Prince Charles would, by then, be King Charles III, and his wife would be Queen Diana.

They forgot that the Queen Mother was still alive at age 88, and in fact made it to 101. During her annual Christmas message last week, Queen Elizabeth, while definitely looking old, seemed healthy, and very much with it. But that's not the hard part: No one could have guessed in 1989 that, in 1992, Princess Diana would have begun divorce proceedings with Charles; and that, in 1997, she would die. Come to think of it, why is Diana visiting the U.S., with no mention of Charles? Shouldn't the King and the Queen be coming, together?

Right, possibly: "Swiss Terrorist Threat." Now, Switzerland isn't exactly a target for terrorists these days, but plenty of places have been -- including Russia, which could hardly have been guessed when the movie was being made, as the Soviet Union was still in place. And, with the Swiss' secret banking system, and movements like Occupy Wall Street making their discontent known (although they haven't yet resorted to terrorism), is it really hard to believe that Switzerland could become a target?

Wrong, almost certainly: The Chicago Cubs win the 2015 World Series, by beating a Miami-based team whose logo is an alligator. For a moment, let's put aside the Cubs' inability to win a Pennant since 1945 and a World Series since 1908, and their current status as a team unlikely to get there in the next 2 seasons. After all, strange things have happened in baseball before, though not usually in the Cubs' favor. Let's talk logistics:

In 1989, it was hardly outrageous to suggest that Major League Baseball would have a team in Miami in the near future. Indeed, also released that year was Major League, in which the new owner of the Cleveland Indians said she had an offer from Miami to build a stadium for the Indians if she could get out of her lease at Cleveland Municipal Stadium. And, indeed, in 1991, MLB announced that a Miami team would begin play in the 1993 season. But the team would be called the Florida Marlins -- not the Gators, possibly due to issues with the University of Florida -- and would be in the National League, the same League as the Cubs, making a Cubs-Miami World Series impossible.

Granted, Commissioner Bud Selig has already moved the Milwaukee Brewers from the American League to the NL, and the Houston Astros from the NL to the AL. So it's not totally impossible that he will move the Marlins to the AL -- it might just boost attendance at Tampa Bay Rays games -- making a Cubs-Miami World Series possible. But it's highly unlikely.

The paper also says that the Cubs "sweep" the Series in 5 -- meaning the World Series, a best 4-out-of-7 competition since 1922, had become a best 5-out-of-9. But when the announcement goes up on the big screen in Courthouse Square, somebody says it was, "Four in a row." So whoever wrote that line didn't consult with whoever was making up the front page of the paper.

Right, sort of: "Pitcher Suspended for Bionic Arm Use." Okay, we don't yet have bionic arms. But players, including pitchers, are getting suspended for a form of cheating: Performance-enhancing drugs.

Wrong: Other sports. What's "slamball"? And a 3-minute mile? On July 7, 1999, Hicham el Guerrouj of Morocco ran the mile in 3 minutes, 43.13 seconds. That was a new record -- and now it's an old record. It hasn't been seriously challenged since. If we couldn't run a mile in less than 3:43 in 2013, I don't think even the most steroided-up middle-distance runner is going to do 2:59.anything in 2015.

Right, probably: "Home Prices Increase." After the housing market became a cause (although hardly the biggest cause) of the 2008 economic crash, housing prices finally started to go back up in 2013. They are expected to rise again in 2014, suggesting that further increases in 2015 are hardly out of the question.

Wrong: "Man killed by falling litter." Some yutz threw garbage out of his flying car, and it landed on someone and killed him. That's the thing nobody ever mentions when talking about future predictions of flying cars. Oil leaks from such vehicles wouldn't be good, either. And if there's a crash in the sky, the cars and their pieces would fall to earth. Uh-oh, maybe it's good that we don't have flying cars.

Actually, my mother pointed out that we do already have flying cars: They're called "helicopters." Maybe, but the average person can't afford a helicopter. And it's not like every workplace has parking spaces for them (helipads).

Right, sort of: "Kelp Prices Increase." Health foods have become more popular. But it's not yet at the level at which an increase in kelp prices would be news serious enough to cause worry.

Wrong: "Jaws Without Bite." The film shows a holographic ad for Jaws 14, directed by Max Spielberg, the son of original Jaws director Steven Spielberg and his former wife Amy Irving. In 1989, Max was 4 years old.

As 2014 dawns, he is 28. Although he has appeared in brief roles as an actor, he has not become a director, instead working in films' art departments and designing video games. And after Jaws: The Revenge (the 4th film in the series) tanked, there has not been another. Although I wouldn't put a reboot of the series out of the question. Then again, if Max wants his first blockbuster to be a reboot of his father's, well, "You're gonna need a bigger budget."

From sources other than the paper:

Right, mostly: A travel office has a poster saying, "SURF VIETNAM." If you've seen the film Apocalypse Now, you'll recognize this as an inside joke: Lt. Col. Bill Kilgore (played by Robert Duvall) has his soldiers take over a beach, so that they could take a little time off to surf. They would, he thinks, be safe from snipers, because "Charlie don't surf!" (Using the "military alphabet," the Vietcong became the VC, or "Victor Charlie.")

BTTF II suggested that, between 1989 and 2015, relations between the U.S. and Vietnam -- a nation that had been united and Communist since 1975 -- would have improved to the point where travel between the countries would actually be encouraged. Much like China, Vietnam has gotten to the point where it is Communist in name only, totalitarian but embracing free-market reforms. And they do offer tours of war-related sites in their country.

Sure enough, surfing has taken hold as a popular recreation there. And an American who wants to Vietnam in 2015, presuming he can afford the trip, will almost certainly be able to do so.

Wrong: Hoverboards. There is, in 2014, one particular machine that works magnetically, on metal surfaces only. But skateboards that hover over the ground, and can be propelled by your trailing foot, and are available in your local toy store? They don't exist yet, and probably won't before October 21, 2015.

Right, possibly: Tranquilizer pills have become the drug of choice, where getting "tranked" has replaced getting drunk or high. Certainly, this is possible, although Ecstasy (or "molly," as Miley Cyrus calls it) seems to be young people's recreational drug of choice. But with the nation as a whole getting angrier, it is not hard to imagine a calm-down drug becoming popular.

Wrong, mostly: Fashion. Teenage Marty McFly Jr., with the 1985-brought teenage Marty Sr. getting replicas from Doc Brown, wears a varsity-style jacket whose sleeves shrink to fit, and which automatically dries itself after getting wet. They also wear sneakers whose laces tie themselves: "Power laces, all right!" Neither is available as 2014 dawns.

Later, we see the middle-aged Marty Sr. of 2015 wearing a suit with two neckties. And Doc Brown wears sunglasses that look like they're made out of reflective cardboard. Neither of these fashions is impossible today, but neither has either of them taken hold.

Right, possibly: Genetic manipulation. Marty Jr. looks like an exact duplicate of his father, and daughter Marlene also looks just like him, and not much like her mother Jennifer. Is Marty's ego so easily bruised that he needs to have his children look exactly like him?

It may now be possible to do this -- although it would suggest, as does the McFlys' nice suburban home, that the family is doing very well. We are led to believe that Marty's 1985 truck crash hurt his hand and ended his dream of becoming a guitar-cranking rock star. Yet, while he seems to be just another corporate drone, with a dull life, that job seems to pay pretty well. (Until he gets fired, that is.) He's certainly better off than his father George was in the pre-altered 1985.

Wrong: A Japanese economic takeover. Marty works for a company called Fujitsu. In 1989, Japan's economy was roaring, to the point where they were buying up American companies and property left and right. Johnny Carson, in his Carnac the Magnificent persona, even did the following joke on The Tonight Show:

A: Tokyo, Los Angeles, New York.
Q: What are the three largest Japanese cities?

But the early 1990s recession, which the film's producers apparently didn't see coming, socked Japan every bit as hard as it did America. In 2014, Japan is relatively strong and stable compared with the early 1990s, but the idea of Japan becoming the world's leading economic superpower is ridiculous. China has been frequently predicted as such since that recession ended, but even that isn't all that likely in the next few years.

Right, sort of: Inflation. A "hoverconversion," making your car a flying car, can be done for $40,000 -- well, $39,999.95. In 2014, a new car, before you factor in options and trade-in value, will cost around $25,000 to $30,000. So, presuming that turning your car into a flying car were possible, a cost of $40,000 isn't particularly hard to believe.

Wrong: As I said earlier, no flying cars, and no highways in the sky. Although, as I pointed out, this may be a good thing. And inflation as a whole didn't go up like they expected: You won't need $50 just to buy a bottle of Pepsi -- or even a Starbucks coffee drink. (And the rise of Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, Tim Hortons, et al. wasn't predicted either -- although they were right about Pepsi and Pizza Hut still being in business. After the 1990-93 and 2007-10 recessions, neither could be taken for granted.)

Right: Advances in television. A screen the size of the one the McFlys have in 2015 is hardly impossible, and putting 6 shows at once on it can probably already be done. The novelization of the film has Marty Sr. telling Marty Jr. and Marlene, "When I was your age, if I wanted to watch 2 TV shows at once, I had to put 2 TVs together!" It's good to know that, even now, we can still give kids the old, "When I was your age... "

Wrong: Books no longer need dust jackets, because dust-repellent paper has been invented. The way the woman at the bookstore was describing it, this was not a new phenomenon. Don't expect it to be invented in 2014 or '15.

Right: Using your TV as a video telephone. It's pretty expensive, but it's being done today. This could also be a TV with a computer built in, allowing the kind of videoconferencing we now see with Skype.

Wrong: Fax machines, fax machines everywhere. The fax was still a big thing in the late 1980s, and it was only at the tail end of 1989 that the World Wide Web began. It was only in 1994 that most people began hearing the words "the Internet," and even in 1996, it still sounded really funny to hear people say, "Double-you double-you double-you dot (fill in the blank) dot com." BTTF II did not including references to the Internet because they simply didn't know. It was far easier to discuss horseless carriages (the original English term for automobiles) when predicting the future in 1885 (the year BTTF III went back to) than it was to discuss

Wrong, mostly: Medicine. Doc Brown said he went to "a rejuvenation clinic." Now, he didn't specifically say that he did this in 2015. But he did say the process, including changing his blood and replacing his spleen and colon, "added a good 30 or 40 years to my life!" (Yeah, right -- if you don't go back to 1885 and get shot by a desperado just 8 months after you arrive.)

When we meet the McFly family of 2015, Old George has thrown his back out playing tennis, and is suspended upside-down by what looks to my 2014 eyes like a Roomba. No, that's not going to happen. And even if it does, is it really going to be good for a bad back?

Old Biff complains about his implants not working. There are various kinds of implants that make maladies easier to live with -- but they certainly don't spark the way Old Biff's do.

Wrong: Three-second meals in a microwave oven. It would be nice, but it hasn't happened yet, nor is it likely to in the next 21 months.

Right: Suburbs are boring and sterile in 2015. Yes, in 2014, they are, just as they were in 2000, in 1985 for BTTF's "present" and my high school days, in the 1970s when I was a kid, and even in 1955 when BTTF's "past" takes place.

Wrong: The legal system. Fifteen years in jail for a simple theft? It must be something that even Edward Snowden wouldn't be willing to steal. And all lawyers being abolished? Remember: In the 2014 that we know, a lawyer is President -- and this would be true if Hillary had won, as well. And even if Mitt Romney had won in 2012, considering all his business and tax shenanigans, he wouldn't have gotten lawyers abolished, either. Most likely, this was the writers going for a cheap laugh.

Right, sort of: Marty's physical difficulty. His 1985 truck crash (averted in BTTF III) left him with damage in his right hand, rendering him unable to play guitar as well as he had before.

Sadly, his portrayer, Michael J. Fox, has spent years dealing with Parkinson's disease. Meaning that, if a Back to the Future Part IV were to be made for release in 2015, to dovetail with the earlier films as "future" becomes "present," Fox would be less able to play Marty than the 75-year-old (77 by then) Christopher Lloyd would be to play Doc Brown.

So Back to the Future Part II got a lot of things wrong. But, if you stretch things just a little, they got a few things right as well.

So, feel free to look at what they did get right, and say, "Great Scott!" Or, "Whoa, this is heavy."

UPDATE: On January 1, 2015, as the year in which this "future" took place began, Newsweek had a panel of futurists discussing what was gotten right, and what was gotten wrong.

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