Back to the Future Day – and the year after the future

The moment we, the children of the 80s, had all been waiting for was finally here. October 21st, the day Marty McFly came to the future. We re-watched all the movies in a packed theater, like it was 1985 all over again, and went home with a big grin on our face, realizing those childhood favorites were even better then we recalled, particularly seen on the big screen – even if the third film wasn’t quite as brilliant as the first two.

But then we woke up the morning after and, sadly, there were neither hoverboards nor flying cars waiting for us on the sidewalk. Both seemed far away and no amount of fancy smart phones can ever make up for that.

Yet this was not the first time our futuristic movies have betrayed us. Whatever you can say about the Reagan / Thatcher years, 1984 was hardly the totalitarian society of Orwell‘s 1984 and the two filmed version of that novel, there was no global virus outbreak in 1996 (Twelve Monkeys), Manhattan was not turned into a a maximum security prison in 1997 (Escape From New York) nor did the machines take over that year (Terminator 2 – or in 2004 if you were watching the third one). That freaky space baby of 2001: A Space Odyssey was probably floating somewhere in the cosmos, but we didn’t yet have the technology to meet it, and the last child on Earth was not born in 2009, like Children of Man prophesied.

So we should have been ready for the disappointment, that empty feeling of an October morning when you realize the future will never be quite as cool as you had hoped for. But while many of the aforementioned movies were great, they were all dystopias – something that makes for great fiction but awful reality (unless you really hate babies and love robots). Back to the Future was that rare thing – a great movie with a future that seemed fun.

Not perfect, mind you, that would be utopia – and utopias tend to be the most boring works of fiction imaginable – just try reading Thomas More‘s original Utopia if you don‘t believe me.

The future of Back to the Future still has bullying and bosses can monitor their employees online communications, even in their home, just like today‘s governments can monitor our e-mail and Facebook accounts. And just like in the real 2015 we’re still obsessed with the 80s. But we didn’t really care about all that – the reason we waited for 2015 was the hoverboards, even if a flying DeLoeran would do.

The Other Future

But wait a second while I reset the space-time continuity. There‘s another 2015 that the movie only hints at, yet never shows. The 2015 where Biff rules the world. We see that world in 1985, but we‘re led to believe Marty and Doc manage to fix that, so that the Capitalistic nightmare of Biff ruling the world would revert to, well, the innocent capitalism of the Reagan years.

I say innocent because I was nine at the time. Politics was an adults game, we wouldn’t get to vote until the 90s, so we could simply dream of a better future, inspired by Doc Brown‘s words near the end of the third movie: “Your future is whatever you make it.”

Of course he was right. We just decided to make the future less fun then it should be. We allowed Biff to win, all the Biffs of the world. And now we live in their world.


Of course it’s not quite that simple. Just like Back to the Future’s version of 2015 wasn’t all sunshine and hoverboards, the real 2015 wasn’t all that bad. There have been a lot of technological advancements and the economies of many previously third world countries are considerably healthier than back in 1985. But inequality is on the rise in the west and there are signs it could get a whole lot worse before it gets better. Just google TiSA if you don’t believe me.

There are myriad of reasons for this, of course – but I do feel one of them has been overlooked; the lack of hoverboards.

Hoverboards were the imagined descendant of the skateboard – skateboarding being perhaps the most anti-establishment sport of all. But more importantly the hoverboard was technology as it would advance if we’d allow ourselves to dream. You know, like the airplane and the moon landing was the realization of the worlds Jules Verne, Leonardo da Vinci and other artists of bygone centuries dreamed up.

Yet more and more technology is driven not by dreams, but by its moneymaking potential. That’s why we’ll just get yet another iPhone while we wait for our hoverboards, because just like Hollywood, technology is more about sequels then original ideas these days. The Biffs of the world have also mastered the art of corrupting good ideas. Remember when we all believed the internet would drive the revolution and make us all more enlightened? There was a time there was some truth to it, but the Biffs of the world found a way to neutralize the internet and use it for their own gain.

But the future can still be what we make of it. The internet can still be all the things we dreamed it would be and there are some primitive prototypes of the hoverboard out there. Among other things, the internet has made it easier to self-publish books – and while that has given us Fifty Shades of Gray, it has also given us The Martian – now a major Hollywood blockbuster that, despite its bleak premise – a man stranded all alone on Mars – is really not a downer, but rather a joyful promise to “science the shit out of this.”

Maybe we will. But if we don‘t, we‘d better get ready for the neo-fascist regime that has just taken over the UK according to V for Vendetta, not to mention TV‘s first killing show in 2017 (The Running Man), the replicants and the wastelands of 2019 (Blade Runner and The Road). Finally, in just over a decade capitalism will have reached the epoch of Metropolis while the apes will take over America (according to the latest Planet of the Apes film) and there won’t be a hoverboard in sight to escape all those dystopias of the near-future.

Ásgeir H Ingólfsson

P.S.: I actually just wrote a book of poetry about this future, called, simply enough The Future. I got Biff to write one poem for the book … so without further ado, Biff the poet:

The Forgotten Striker

Time is money. But the past is only debts and the present is debts with interest. The future, however, that’s where the money is.

The future is the American dream. The future is ours. But you’ll never get a share of the future. You’ll just get a new present with new debts.

The future belongs to us. We are the one percent that sees the future. We are the ones who see the next crash coming and sell you worthless stocks. We’re the ones who buy every copy of this book and donate them to public libraries so you can afford to read it.

We are the ones who see the future. We see the forgotten substitute that scores the winning goal in the next final. We see what the Christmas present of 2018 will be. The children in the Pakistani factory have already started making it. Your child has already ordered it. You will owe us money for it tomorrow.

  • From The Future, a book of prose poetry available both in English and Icelandic at your nearest Icelandic bookstore. Or from the author, if you’re not near an Icelandic bookstore …