5 Times Dystopian TV and Film Fiction Became Real-Life Dystopian Fact

James McMahon
TV Movies
TV Movies Sci-Fi

Why is it that movies never predict the good stuff correctly? Like, how is it 2018, 29 years since Back To The Future Part II, and we’re still waiting for our hoverboards? What movies are depressingly brilliant at, mind, is predicting the untold mysteries that the future will unlock. With the world currently unveiling bleaker outcomes for humanity each and every day, we thought we’d take a look at five pieces of dystopian fiction from film and TV that told us things about the future that have now become legitimate, terrifying fact.

Terminator 2 (1991)

With the exception of the words, ‘based on a novel by L. Ron Hubbard…’ few things are as frightening within science-fiction as Skynet, the supposedly fictional self-aware AI warfare system and true antagonist of the Terminator movies. Which is why literally no-one laughed, not even a tiny bit, when, in the wake of the National Security Agency leaks of 2013, orchestrated by former CIA contractor Edward Snowden, it was revealed that Skynet is the actual name used for an actual surveillance program conducted by the U.S.A.’s, NSA. You can imagine the scenes when the programme was being named. “Yeah, let’s name the programme after the thing in that Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. No, not Twins! The computer thing that results in the planet being nuked! It’ll just be our little joke! Nobody will ever know! Oh, hey, Edward, we’re just naming our new surveillance programme. Do you want a beer?”

The Handmaid’s Tale (2017)

It’s becoming increasingly clear that Donald Trump’s America appears to be treating Margaret Attwood’s 1985 novel (and both the subsequent 1990 film and 2017 TV adaptation) as more of an instruction manual than the stark warning all dystopian fiction is supposed to be. In 2018, the uniform of the story’s ‘Handmaids’ – fertile women forced into sexual, and subsequently child-bearing, servitude — has become a symbol of protest akin to what V For Vendetta masks were circa 2008 — and with good reason.

The Ohio House of Representatives is considering a bill that will criminalise abortion, reclassifying the state’s definition of ‘person’ to include ‘any unborn human’, meaning that any woman who were to get an abortion, or anyone who would perform such a procedure, could essentially be charged with murder. No exceptions for life-threatening pregnancies. No exceptions for rape. No exceptions for pregnancy resulting from incest. All of which means, any woman who would get an abortion, despite the ruling, could essentially receive the death penalty. Blessed be the f—ing fruit, indeed.

Minority Report (2002)

Director Steven Spielberg approached his reworking of the 1956 Philip K. Dick short story The Minority Report as an opportunity to visualise “a future that is not too distant, yet with the kind of technologies we can only dream about.” A veteran of sci-fi after his work on Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (1977), E.T. (1982) and Jurassic Park (1993) — though on the cusp of stepping into a much grittier mood than he’d ventured into prior — Spielberg was driven to create a movie that got its technology right.

Before filming, he brought together a think tank to discuss issues both social and technological. This included Long Now Foundation president Stewart Bland, author Douglas Copeland and Jaron Lanier, a founding father of virtual reality. We got the touchy-swipey screens, and that was great. But where in the movie we balked when we saw advertisements personally targeted at us, now we just let them follow us around the internet, forever. Seriously. Companies know everything about you.

Google the story of Andrew Pole, a statistician and former employee of department store giant Target, who claims the company once asked him if he could work out a way to find out what customers were pregnant… so they could pre-emptively target them with baby products. He could, by the way.

Black Mirror (2016)

TV shows creator Charlie Brooker recently told The Big Issue that he “doesn’t know how we wake up from the constant, unfolding Black Mirror episode we appear to be living in”, and it’s certainly true that in the seven years the show has been running, ideas floated that once seemed terrifying, are still terrifying, but now also real.

This isn’t more apparent than in the Season 3 episode “Nosedive” in which Bryce Dallas Howard finds herself ruled by her TripAdvisor-style social media ranking. In China, this is no longer fiction. Whilst the country’s ‘social credit’ scheme won’t be fully operational until 2021, areas of the country are currently taking part in an early pilot, meaning that millions of the nation’s 1.4 billion people are currently being denied access to flights, train journeys and the ‘best’ schools, because they’ve bought too many video games, have been caught smoking in no-smoking zones and have posted ‘fake news online’. The most terrifying thing? The exact methodology as to how this all works is secret.

Tank Girl (1995)

In 2005, Nestlé chairman and then CEO Peter Brabeck went on record saying that he believed it was “extreme” to call water a basic human right. He suggested that water should be classified as a food stuff, and then valued and distributed by the free market. It’s worth noting that a human’s right to water is recognised by the United Nations, as well as being protected by a whole host of treaties and national constitutions. Also, that it’s estimated that around 738 million people globally are currently short of the water they need to survive.

Nestlé have since backtracked on Brabeck’s statement, saying the quote was taken out of context, though never really explaining how. What we do know, is that while it would be kind to Lori Petty’s mid-1990s adaptation of brilliant British indie comic Tank Girl to even call it crap, it’s plot did concern a corporation called Water & Power, that had – you guessed it — privatised all the wet stuff.

James McMahon
James McMahon is a journalist from the north of England, though he currently lives in east London with his wife and Ramones records. He was formerly the editor of Kerrang! magazine for absolutely ages, and now writes for Vice, The Big Issue and The Observer. He likes Bigfoot, Xbox and crisps.
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