Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Future Man is ... Smarter Than Stranger Things

So the marketing got me. After having the commercial preroll ads over and over and over on various Youtube videos I gave in and watched Future Man which looked like nothing more than a 13 episode  College Humor sketch poking fun at 80s movies and time travel rules.

And it is that.

But it also comments on those 80's movies. And I can't help but contrast it Stranger Things.

Look I love Stranger Things. It's basically the best 80's sci-fi show not made in the 80s which is what it's trying to be but after awhile I can't help but feel it's a bit hollow. It's not the 80s. We have roughly 30 years of hindsight.  30 years of contemplation of what the decade, it's events and culture all of it meant in the broader stroke of human history.

Stranger Things tries so hard to be of the 80's that it kind of stops being about the 80s. Future Man is about the 80's or at least 80's pop culture.

The plot is (in movie terms) what if Kyle Reese and T2 Sarah Conner used Starfighter to find T1 Sarah Conner.

At first the show runs on the metajoke of inserting "reality" into these movies.  Playing a video game does not equate to growing up and training in bad future #682: Cyberpunk.

But that metajoke slowly turns the characters from one note knockoffs designed to poke fun at how silly those movies were to actual human beings as they respond to the fact that they are not actually in an 80's sci-fi movie or at least not a world running on 80's science fiction rules.

And in that space the show can and does actually comment on the culture of the 80's in ways I didn't expect from it. That's not to say it's a grand intellectual exercise. At it's heart it's still a Seth Rogan comedy working with Youtube production values but given what it is it made me think.

All pop culture is culture. All of those movies, books, tv shows, songs, video games, and music videos originate in the minds of people grounded in the surroundings of their world. And as such all of that pop culture can't help but to a certain extent reflect that world even if it set out to.

That's the interesting thing about a lot of 80's pop culture.  The zeitgeist of the moment was an exhaustion of the overt politics of the 1960's and early 70's, the pop culture of which was often trying to be overtly political. But a lot of mainstream by the 80's was trying to run as far away as it could from any topic that could be overtly read as political.  That's not to say there weren't political movies or even political sci-fi but just that those generally weren't the blockbusters the industry was banking on and supporting. Even the original Terminator was a relatively low budget feature with $6.4 million.

A lot of the 80's movies we remember aren't exactly the ones that people were going to see. Film geeks tout 1982 as the best year in genre film history and sure a lot of those movies make the highest grossing but Tootsie beat out everything but E.T.

My point is now we look at all of the stuff that was going on under the surface but that's just not where your typical denizen of the time was and the media of the age reflected that. There is a dissonance between the reality of the 80's and the version of it we have in our heads, between history and nostalgia.

Stranger Things and Future Man aren't made for people living in the 80s but people living in the late 2010s who have experienced either via memory or media the remnants of the decade.  Future Man acknowledges it while Stranger Things doesn't. And honestly, it makes me kind of like Future Man a little bit more.


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