The Blockbuster Movie That “Out-Predicted” Orwell’s “1984”

economic collapse 2016Why Things Will Get Worse Before They Get Better

The classic work 1984 by George Orwell was penned in 1949 and is generally acknowledged to have been the definitive work on a future gone sour—that is, our future, the one we are all sharing right now. It’s a future that arguably can only end one way—badly! (Source: “5 WAYS 1984 HAS COME TRUE,” Zero Hedge, June 9, 2016.)

In other words, how that work accurately predicted our collective dystopia, which is, of course, the direct opposite of the utopia that every small child at some point dreams of growing up in.

To which I say…nope, there is actually a much better predictive work out there, and pretty much everyone has missed it.

I am referring to the teleplay written in 1986 by Edward Neumeier that ultimately, in 1987, was made into the film, RoboCop (the original blockbuster version, not the poorly received and more recent remake).

According to Wikipedia, which blessed the movie with its own Wiki entry, “Themes that make up the basis of RoboCop include media influence, gentrification, corruption, authoritarianism, greed, privatization, capitalism, identity, dystopia, and human nature.” (Source: “RoboCop,” Wikipedia, June 2, 2016.)

Let’s break those headings down a little and see where we end up:

Greed, Corruption, and Gentrification

Looks like a homerun to me. For greed and corruption, pick up any newspaper today, visit any web site, or check out films like The Big Short (reviewed here).

As for gentrification, it’s a fancy way of describing the phenomenon whereby the great mass of humanity is pushed out of the middle class—which is constantly shrinking—and into either the top income tier or the bottom working poor.

Sound familiar? Experts agree that, as a result of the so-called central bank “interventions,” the gap between the rich and the poor is greater now than at any time since the carpet bagger era of the late 1800s. (Source: “Richest 62 People as Wealthy As 1/2 World Population,” The Guardian, January 18, 2016.)

Authoritarianism

Well, here you might start with the TSA, or the constant pressure to ban firearms, or the constant recording of all phone calls (thanks, Mr. Snowden!).

Or you might consider the massive increase in civil forfeiture over the last few years, as citizens carrying large amounts of cash are presumed guilty of criminal activity, and the burden is placed on them to hire a lawyer and prove they came by the money legally.

Or, if all of that is just too dramatic for you, you could consider the fact that, over the last decade, while manufacturing and industry stagnated, while bankruptcies broke records, while unemployment increased, your government simply could not resist the temptation to continue burdening small businesses. They accomplished this by constantly expanding the tax code; by bringing in the unmitigated disaster that future historians will remember as, simply, Obamacare; and by fiddling with the minimum wage, even if doing so forced companies to replace people with robots. (Source: “New McDonald’s In Phoenix Run Entirely By Robots,” News Examiner, April 15, 2016.)

Media Influence

In the movie RoboCop, everywhere you turned there were public TV monitors, and they were all tuned into the news channel, which is exactly what we have today in both private waiting areas and public facilities. Also, in the movie, the news was always skewed toward the sensationalistic and worrisome—yet another hit for the screenwriter.

More importantly, since 1987, there has been massive consolidation in Western mainstream media to the point where—it’s hard to believe, but it’s true—barely six corporations now own or control some 90% of the content that appears in front of us as news. Is there any possible potential within that statistic for spinning the news? I asked a passing fifth grader, and he agreed that there was something suspicious about that… (Source: “90% of US Media Controlled by Six Corporations,” Waking Times, August 28, 2015.)

Something the Wiki people perhaps missed, however, was the pervasive influence of advertising. In the original movie, every snippet of information, fact or fiction, news or entertainment, was brought to you by a sponsor. Branding was everywhere; it was almost a religion.

I would again consider this a valid hit in that the original script seemed to have foreseen a world where not only is everything sponsored by something, but, moreover, according to Catherine Austin Fitts, former commissioner at the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development in the first Bush Administration, companies like Facebook and Google spend 99% of their time harvesting the public at large for raw information with which to build individual profiles—profiles that they can, in turn, sell to advertisers.

Just recently, Facebook was found installing software on mobile devices that could secretly turn on users’ microphones and allow eavesdropping. (Sources: “Interview with Catherine Austin Fitts,” USAWatchdog, May 10, 2016; “SHH … FACEBOOK IS LISTENING,” The Register, May 31, 2016.)

Privatization

Let’s not forget that the core theme in RoboCop was that a private contractor was taking over the job of law enforcement and deploying its considerable resources to build…robocops!

In the U.S., while it is generally acknowledged that the government has brought a large number of private contractors into law enforcement—both domestically and even internationally—these numbers are somewhat guarded and hard to access.

More available, however, is data on the massive privatization of the prison system, a trend so strong that no less an advocate than Bernie Sanders recently did a major op-ed suggesting the government should go back to managing its own correctional facilities. The reasons he gave included not only inhumane treatment of inmates but also massive cost over-runs, calling into question whether any money is being saved by privatizing in the first place…? (Source: “SANDERS: WE MUST END FOR-PROFIT PRISONS,” The Huffington Post, September 23, 2015.)

Identity, Dystopia, and Human Nature

Again, this is fairly self-explanatory. In the U.S., we simultaneously have a rise in the suicide rate, a rise in the number of people renouncing their citizenship, and a reversal of the trend toward living longer (according to the latest data, life expectancy has peaked and is now in decline). The single exception to this disturbing trend is the ultra-rich. They are living longer than ever, so don’t lose any sleep worrying about the 1%! (Source: “Rising Longevity Gap Between Rich & Poor,” Brookings Institution, May 3, 2016.)

As for the issue of human nature, look no further than the Donald Trump phenomenon. In the history of politics, was there ever an individual who rose so quickly based almost entirely on his willingness to depart from the traditional “politico-speak,” and his willingness to move away from the traditional platitudes and slogans?

Capitalism

In my view, this topic can be interpreted in two ways, and both are meaningful:

The first is to take the label literally. If you do this, and Google “capitalism 2016” (adding the “2016” tells Google to search for recent stories), you will get upwards of 35 million hits. The reason for this is that we are living in a period in which the very nature and substance of capitalism—the definition of it, if you like—is being questioned more today than at any time in the history of the United States.

The controversy is everywhere. Surveys taken at the college level suggest that young people are more averse to the mere idea of capitalism than at any time in the last century. (Source: “Majority of Millennials Reject Capitalism,” Washington Post, April 26, 2016.)

In fact, that particular story so severely touched a nerve that, following publication, a number of well-known essayists responded with op-eds querying if, in fairness, young people of today are even qualified to opine on capitalism in the first place…? Because, the argument goes, the environment they have grown up in is not true capitalism as taught in Economics 101, but rather a strange and bizarre sub-strata more closely aligned with cronyism, corporatism, fascism, and oligarchical (elitist) systems in general.

“If they truly knew capitalism, they would approve of it” is the ongoing, underlying premise coming from these hand-wringing apologists for the New America. (Source: “RON PAUL: ‘CORPORATISM NOT CAPITALISM’,” Ron Paul, October 31, 2009.)

The second way this header can be interpreted is as a reference to corporatism, which indeed was also a major visual theme in the movie (see also the heading “privatization” above). Arguably, RoboCop correctly predicted a world so twisted that the sitting president of a leading democratic country recently felt compelled to pass a treaty in secret—a treaty which, whistleblowers subsequently revealed, was less about trade and more about giving massive, new, extra-legal rights to international corporations. These rights superseded and displaced the laws of the host countries in which they operated. (Source: “Treaty Gives Power to US, Corporations, Leak Reveals,” The Independent, March 17, 2016.)

And Finally Here Comes…RoboCop Himself

Of course, I can’t claim that a film named RoboCop accurately predicted the future without being able to identify an actual robocop.

For this assistance, I thank the clever minds in China, where the first generation of a fully robotized and mechanical peace officer has just recently left the assembly line.

According to a British daily:

“[…] The AnBot, which is 1.5 meters tall and weighs more than 150kg, can reach speeds of up to 18km when patrolling to protect the peace, according to Chinese newspaper People.

“[…] The machine was designed and built by (China’s) National Defence University, and is equipped with numerous sensors to detect unrest.

“[…] It can be controlled remotely to intervene in dangerous situations, deploying an ‘electrically charged riot control tool,’ presumably similar to a police baton or a Taser.

“[…] The robot has been showcased at an exposition in southwest China’s Chongqing Municipality.

“[…] Civilians in distress can also press an SOS button on the android’s body to send an alert to police.

“[…] China has invested vast amounts of money into military robotics in recent years, to varying degrees of success.

“[…] Last November ‘armed attack’ robots carrying rifles and grenade launchers designed to fight terrorism were unveiled at the 2015 World Robot Conference in Beijing.

“[…] The first model is known as a ‘reconnaissance’ robot, which scouts for poisonous gases, dangerous chemicals and explosives before transmitting its findings back to base.” (Source: “China Reveals Robot Police,” The Telegraph, April 28, 2016.)

Screenwriter Neumeier Nailed It—Unfortunately!

According to Wikipedia, in a 2013 interview, RoboCop writer Edward Neumeier reflected on how his film’s script was starting to intersect with reality in a really big way: “We are now living in the world that I was proposing in RoboCop…how big corporations will ‘take care of us’ and…how they won’t.” (Source: Ibid.)

My own view? Neumeier totally nailed it. For better or for worse, his original teleplay has become an uncanny prophecy of our new age.

The problem is that a horse, once released, likes to continue in the direction it is already headed before you can stop it and turn it around. Themes in society work on the same principle. Once in motion, they tend to play out fully before they can be reversed.

To consider what might be the coming climax of the many different themes discussed above is…worrisome. Economic collapse is baked into the cake at this point, I think.

It appears that not only do we have multiple economic problems to deal with but, arguably, these problems are not merely the result of a few lean years (using the Biblical reference), but are in fact the result of deliberate and systematic interference in the markets by parties who are exercising rights and powers far in excess of what a democratic society should ever permit.

These are not temporal or short-term issues. They are organic and deeply ingrained and must be dealt with and scrutinized in plain sight before we can ever expect to even begin to turn things around.

In the movie RoboCop, if you are curious, there was a typical Hollywood “happy ending.” Whether or not our own story ends the same way is another issue entirely…

Image source: Flickr; Image copyright 2005, Marcelo Braga