“Future Studies” has become so popular that it is now its own specialised field and academic discipline. It typically features endless graphs and data: projections about population numbers and demographics; GDP figures; fishery statistics, of course GHG emissions. There are facts about fresh water supply; numbers of people moving to cities; numbers attending university and diseases. Others speculate about technology pathways. There is some cultural and political analysis: greater disparity between rich and poor; the changing role of women and family life; the shifting balance of economic and military power of various Nation States; impacts of globalisation and the internet.
Today, however, I shall propose another way to anticipate the future. This is a form of intelligence gathering which I will call: ‘Following the Art‘.
Artists have always had a role in helping society understand their world. They tap into the collective vibe or ‘mood’ and express sentiments many may feel, but have not yet been able to articulate. Often these ‘shifts’ in attitude are only at a subconscious level, they have not yet been processed or understood. Hence they represent possible shifts at their embryonic stage – at a stage where they still may be changed, dissipate or form greater strength and resonance across the population. Following the Art (or the cultural narrative) allows a better understanding of societies collectives ‘subconscious’. Fears, hopes, dreams, imaginative longings. There is much our modern artists, musicians, writers, poets and especially, today’s magnificent and dominant story-tellers, those who reach the largest global audiences ever known: the film-makers, are revealing.
If one ‘Follows the Art‘ for the subliminal messages, one starts to notice similar themes emerging…. one piece of Art seems to say something, then there is a similar message coming out again and again via different stories….different voices, but saying the same thing, a collective calling perhaps, a collective warning perhaps….
It is acknowledged that the ‘messages’ many modern stories tell are timeless messages about honesty, fairness, overcoming fears. These are stories not dissimilar to Greek myths or stories shared around tribal camp-fires millennia ago. However, for each time in history, there can be slight nuances, emphasises that deserve attention. These nuances may be saying something very sophisticated about the prevailing culture. Concerns, shifting attitudes and priorities. Let us pay attention then, not just to graphs and facts, but also, to our modern Art and stories. What are they reflecting back to us?
An example of just one repetitive storyline that seems to have emerged over the last ten years is this one: Immoral or unfair powerful elites can and should be over thrown.
The image is of a small number of people having extraordinary wealth and living in great comfort, whilst blissfully either ignorant or uncaring about the plight of the majority, who live in poverty and with great hardship. The ‘haves’ are commonly depicted as out of touch, excessive, ‘corrupt’ or immoral; and they are overthrown. The stories depict a sense of peace and fairness restored at their conclusion.
- Marie Antoinette. Film released in 2006, staring Kirsten Dunst. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marie_Antoinette_(2006_film). Self explanatory really – an old story told again and again throughout history as a stoic reminder. The phrase, “let them eat cake”, although not exactly historically accurate, has become a colloquial reference to delusional and uncaring elitist attitudes, which underestimate the power of the ‘masses’. This is one of the famous back-stories of the French Revolution (1789-1792) and the birth of the French Republic in 1792. Marie Antoinette was beheaded on 16th October 1793.
- The Hunger Games series. Books by Suzanne Collins published in 2008, film series commenced in 2012. The powerful are shown as ethically corrupt, running a shallow society. Real values, which are displayed by the poor, mobilise not only the masses, but also sympathetic elites.
- Blue Jasmine. Film. 2013. Hyper-wealthy New Yorkers, husband is corrupt financial conman, representative of those that brought the world to its feet during the Global Financial Crisis of 2007-2008. He ends up in jail, his wife living on the street, going mad. The film is a bitter statement; barely veiling the contempt ‘the broader public’ – the assumed viewer and story teller – feel towards the culture of carelessness and greed.
- The Wolf of Wall Street. A more sympathetic approach to the corrupt U.S. stock broker scene. The brokers are shown as almost believing they ‘have to play this way’ in order to compete in the world. The behaviour is so common and entrenched that joining in could be seen as the pragmatic way to survive in an inherently unfair world. While the film semi-celebrates the ‘Wolf’s’ life-force, charisma, energy and ‘risk-taking’ it also more subtly hints at the lost savings of ordinary people; the ‘too far-ness’ of the children being in a car accident and so on. The good cop, content to ride the subway rather than drive a Lamborghini wins. The excess, the drugs, the rip-offs – in the end are shown as too hurtful to too many people. The culture of greed is again condemned as ugly.
- 12 Years as a Slave. This film depicts a powerful elite that has descended into ethical depravity. A few good people take them on and win as Step 1. Step 2 is when Solomon Northup later publishes his story in 1853. This powerful narrative is enough to mobilise mass change. This film demonstrates the power of story, (told by book or film) to create empathy, understanding, and a new world view. Like Hunger Games, the ‘winners’ are superior ethically.
Insight from these stories?
- Fairness, ethics and values matter and have significant ‘cultural’ influence, which in turn affects who is ‘allowed’ to retain power or authority.