Postcards from the Future

by Kristin Miller

Sustainabilities: Eco-oriented | Utopian

"Postcards from the Future" examines how speculative science fiction has shaped visions of humanity’s possible futures through its close ties to both Californian authors and the many films that have used the state to symbolize utopian or dystopian trajectories. To argue for sustaining any aspect of the current environment, one must also be envisioning a particular sort of future, and California plays an outsize role in those visions. This essay argues that the science-fiction imaginaries seeded in California have material impacts, whether communities envision themselves as Ecotopia or Elysium, the Planet of the Apes or Endor. The project takes the form of an essay and photos that illustrate how elements of the built and biotic landscapes of Los Angeles, Berkeley, and other Californian locations have already been used as “the future” in films from the 1970s to the present. The images are paired with commentary on the socio-political contexts of the eras in which the films were created, as well as discussion of the tropes of utopian and dystopian imagery in both film and literature. An interactive map plots the locations of these imaginaries throughout the state, and provides another means of understanding the relationship between Californian locations and ideas about sustainability that have global reach.

"Postcards from the Future" was originally published in Boom: A Journal of California and has also appeared on Gizmodo, and Slate.