Defining The Future

You know what I think was the most powerful antismoking influence of them all? It wasn’t any scientist or surgeon general or professor or pundit or expert. It wasn’t any book or ad campaign. It was Star Trek. Yes, Star Trek – and any other TV series or movies that comprehensively foretold or defined the future.

Star Trek was set somewhere in the future. Hundreds of years in the future, judging by the stardates, if I remember rightly. Star Trek was describing the future. It was a little window on the future. This was how it was going to be.

And there was no smoking in the future described in Star Trek. Nobody ever smoked, ever. Nobody even mentioned smoking. It was non-existent. And actually alcohol was non-existent too. They used to occasionally drink blue or green transparent liquid from slender glasses, but that wasn’t wine or anything. It looked like Jeyes’ Fluid.

So you’re 10 years old and you’re sitting there in front of a box which is telling you that there’s going to be no smoking, no drinking, a world government, and all the girls will wear miniskirts like Lieutenant Uhura. And also everything’s going to be very neat and tidy and clean and bland, like the bridge of the Enterprise. And you suck it all up, episode after episode. And it provides you with your picture of the future. Maybe the only one you’ve got.  It’s a prophecy, and the prophecy is self-fulfilling.

And then 10 years later, you’re maybe a progressive student in a progressive university or college. And you have your embedded progressive Star Trek vision of the future, and you’re already hard at work to actively make the dream come true. So of course you campaign for smoking bans and alcohol bans and world government and wall-to-wall bland pastel tidiness. Or tidy pastel blandness.

Progressives are optimistic about the future, and want to get there as quickly as possible. So if it’s Tuesday, a progressive will tell you that Wednesday will be better. And Thursday even better still. “Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow.”

All the world’s revolutionaries have been optimistic progressives with some utopian vision of what the world will be like in ten years’ or five years’ time. They know what it’s going to be like. Other people may have a hazy idea of what the future might bring, but the progressives have complete certainty. And they also know that to get to that paradise, they’re going to have to dismantle the present. It’s a necessary precondition. You can’t make omelettes without breaking eggs, they’ll tell you, as they set about it with their hammers.

And yet the world’s revolutionaries invariably fail to construct their utopias. It never works. It always goes wrong somewhere. It always ends up with gas chambers or gulags or killing fields. And that’s because the progressives always use force – either the force of arms or the force of law – to try to make it happen. In their rush to make the world a better place, they always make it a worse place. Sometimes they even make it a much, much worse place.

And it also always fails because every vision of the future is a pipe-dream of some sort, and the more ambitious it is the more impossible it is to ever realise. And Star Trek was Gene Roddenberry’s pipe dream. But his was a peculiarly powerful pipe dream because he managed to construct it as a world that people – TV viewers – could enter into and inhabit for hours on end. They could ‘live’ the dream, every Thursday at 6 pm. That’s something no author of any book can ever manage to achieve, unless he writes a series of books that have the same cast of characters.

And Star Trek has gone from strength to strength. There’s a whole Star Trek franchise now. It’s become an industry, all based on the original series. And it’s not just Star Trek. The picture of the future in almost every sci-fi movie is pretty much exactly the same. Same rugged, teetotal heroes in the same space ships, doing the same things the same way. There’s a remarkable uniformity across the genre. The imaginary future has become a shared object, as if the future were already present and observable.

And the effect has been to make people see smoking and drinking as something passé, or becoming passé. Maybe even eating as well (when did anyone ever eat anything in Star Trek?). And it also leads them to expect a world government too. Because they’ve seen the future, and they even know what people will wear and what sort of pastel colours it’s painted in. And once they’ve got a blueprint for what the world should be like, what the world will be like, all that’s left to be done is to actually build it, make the dream come true.

Some people carry on being optimistic progressives all their lives, trying to hurry the future into existence. But other people come to realise realise that these various futures are all illusory, all pipe dreams. Or else they experience the revolution, and are left scarred for life by it. Or maybe it’s simply because the future inevitably, sooner or later, becomes the past. And what was once so futuristic becomes antiquated. And what was once fashionably In becomes Out. And what was fresh-faced and young becomes old and haggard.

We’ve been told for the past half century that Britain’s future lay in the EU. But since the Brexit vote, that particular future looks unlikely. Britain is having to redefine its own future. Nobody knows what that future is right now.

We’ve also been told for the past half century that the future is going to be “smoke-free”. But is that really any more likely than Britain’s future in the EU? All it’s going to take for that smoke-free future to vanish (quite literally in a puff of smoke) is for someone somewhere to call the bluff, like the Brits did with Brexit. Sooner or later some country – France or Spain or someplace – is going to kick out Tobacco Control and repeal its smoking bans. And when one country leads the way, and shows how it’s done, others will soon follow. And with that the illusion – the so-very-carefully inculcated belief – that the future will be smoke-free will dissolve.

The smoke-free future was always an improbable future anyway. Just as an alcohol-free or meat-free or fat-free or sugar-free or salt-free future are all equally improbable. Or a carbon-free society running on sunshine and windmills is improbable. All these things are little fragile bubbles that have coalesced into one singular, wobbly, enormously improbable bubble which is going to burst sometime very soon. And when it does, that particular vision of the future will instantly belong to the past. And people will write books wondering why anyone ever believed in the first place that the future would be like that. Did they all go mad? Or had they just watched Star Trek and Star Wars and A Space Odyssey?

We probably need a vision of the future – where we’re going – just as much as we need a vision of the past – where we’ve come from -, like a compass course on a map. It tells us who we are. We need imaginative people to come up with fictional futures. We also need imaginative historians to come up with fictional pasts. Because, in its many ways, the past is just as much a fiction as the future: it is open to more or less infinite re-interpretation. At any one time, most people will be captives of one particular fictional binary past and future. But they would do well to remember that they are all illusions, not set in stone. They are all fictions that are continually being re-written.


About Frank Davis

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42 Responses to Defining The Future

  1. mactheknife says:

    Can’t remember if it was Mitrokhin, but one of the major Soviet defectors of the eighties remarked: (I paraphrase) “I know about the eggs, I saw the broken shells; but I never met anyone who tasted the omelette”…

  2. petesquiz says:

    Unfortunately, you’re only half right about Star Trek – whilst I don’t recall any smoking in any of the series (apart from when they went back in time!), there was a fair amount of drink about. In the Original series, Scotty liked his Scotch and Saurian Brandy; there was also Romulan Ale (that was blue!) and somewhere along the line there was something called Synthohol which was like alcohol in its effect, but with no adverse after effects. (and as life imitates art here is a link to an article about the real life development of Alcosynth! – )

    Later on there was Star Trek: Deep Space 9 and a fair slice of the action took place in Quark’s Bar where there was plenty of drinking, gambling and general debauchery…but no smoking that I can recall! There was one episode where some of the regulars got sent back to the 1950’s at Roswell and the Americans from that era smoked on screen…with suitable anti smoking propaganda expressed by our heroes – (The episode was titled “Little Green Men”)

    Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future was very idealistic and didn’t even include money until much later on when subsequent writers (after he’d died) realised that a complex world/universe couldn’t actually run without money! As you say, this sort of Utopian future looks (on the surface) to be very appealing, but what would it really be like living in the Federation? It does strike me as being a Super Nanny State, but you never get to see what ordinary life is like in that universe, only from the viewpoint of their equivalent of the Royal Navy/Air Force!

    • harleyrider1978 says:

      In a tv series on now is tom selleck as the new York police commissioner and 2 days ago my wife had taped the show. I never watch any of the crap shows on tv anymore and haven’t much in the last 20 years. But this one caught my attention Tom Selleck had openly in front of everyone chewed a policeman out on duty for get this………the crime of smoking and texting on duty. Tom selleck claimed it was dereliction of duty and reprimanded the man in front of everyone and suspended him,meanwhile the smoker had said screw this crap and quit the force!

      • harleyrider1978 says:

        Blue Bloods Recap 9/30/16: Season 7 Episode 2 “Good Cop Bad Cop ……/blue-bloods-recap-93016-season-7-episode-2-good-c...

        Oct 1, 2016 – Tonight on CBS their hit drama starring Tom Selleck Blue Bloods airs with an … actions are questioned when he reprimands a disrespectful police officer. … that it was against regulations to be both smoking and texting on the job. … proper respect to the commissioner by saluted him as the commissioner left …

        • waltc says:

          That that plot summary (link above) was written start to finish by a complete illiterate is beside the point- -point being that he keeps referring to a discarded “cigarette bud”. Makes me wonder if the author is some kid from the illiterate Star Wars future who never actually saw a cigarette. Or if, in the future, cigarettes grow on trees.

      • mikef317 says:

        Who writes this stuff? It probably takes longer to read the synopsis than it does to watch the show.

      • Lecroix says:

        Sellek does some defense of smoking in a couple of episodes. In one of them he’s seem smoking in a restaurant in NY (I have read there are something like 17 hospitality businesses that can allow smoking in NY, reasons unknown to me). In another he’s smoking by the pier, while fishing. A police officer approaches him to remind him smoking is not allowed by the pier either. And then the officer realizes the smoking fisherman is none other than his Police Comissioner. “How about I just let it go out?” says Selleck. “You have a nice day, Comissioner” nervously responds the officer.

        Nonetheless I quit watching the show because it seems that Selleck is not in charge of this one (or he’s gone “soft”) and the series depicts all the usual New World Order proganda, slightly dulled by a “conservative” veneer (Selleck’s doing, I guess). So I would not be surprised if the show has turned antismoking.

        It is my greatest fear (tv shows wise) that if a new Jesse Stone movie is produced, Selleck might buckle and allow antismoking propaganda.

        • harleyrider1978 says:

          ”) and the series depicts all the usual New World Order proganda,

          That’s why I quit watching all the crap shows 20 years ago………

    • Frank Davis says:

      you’re only half right about Star Trek

      Well, I’m only thinking of the original series with Captain Kirk and Mr Spock. And I didn’t see all of them. I’m no Trekkie. It’s entirely possible that Scotty liked his scotch, but I don’t remember ever seeing any. But I do remember the blue-green liquid, and the 3D chess, on several occasions.

      • petesquiz says:

        Fair enough, I am a bit of a ‘Trekkie’ so I have watched almost all of it. (I’m not an obsessive fan, so I’m happy for criticism of it and you’re mostly right about it!!)

        If you want to see smoking on current TV you should have watched “Peaky Blinders” on the BBC. Set in the immediate post World War I era in Birmingham, almost everyone smokes almost all of the time. It’s a bit violent, but you can probably get some of it on the iPlayer before you have to pay for it!!

        Another one where smoking was prevalent was in the very early series of “Last of the Summer Wine”…and then it mysteriously disappeared!

      • Bucko says:

        Scotty and an alien get right royally pissed in one episode of the original series. I’m an avid Trekkie and have seen it all. They did touch on a bit of righteousness about smoking an eating meat in the very beginning of the Next Generation, but left it alone after that.
        The thing about the Star Trek future is that it’s set a few hundred years into the future and after a good nuclear war. Maybe that’s what we need to sort things out – big bombs and a bit of growing up?

    • beobrigitte says:

      and somewhere along the line there was something called Synthohol which was like alcohol in its effect, but with no adverse after effects.
      The reason why synthohol had no adverse aftereffect was that it contained 0.5% alcohol.
      Only one alien species managed to get drunk from it in “Next Generation”.

  3. Lecroix says:

    Reblogged this on Contra la ley "antitabaco" and commented:
    Frank tiene toda la razón. Ayer precisamente estaba yo tomando notas para una nueva entrada que se titularía “Las series de tv que nos destruyeron” (o algo parecido). Y me había centrado en dos: “Cheers” y “Friends”, por su duradera y nefasta influencia sobre la sociedad.

    Pero me olvidé de la principal, en efecto: Star Trek.

    La franquicia de Star Trek ha durado mucho más que cualquier serie de tv. Y aún sigue en marcha, vendiendo todos y cada uno de los elementos centrales del Nuevo Orden Mundial.

    • Frank Davis says:

      Si, si!

      Cheers and Friends are other great examples. I can’t remember anyone ever smoking in them either (and I liked both shows). Here you’ve got two imaginary contemporary societies in which nobody smokes. Cheers is set in a bar, but nobody ever smokes, although they do actually drink beer. And Friends is set in a Manhattan flat and a coffee bar (Central Perk?), and there’s no smoking in either of those either. I don’t think there’s any drinking either in Friends (but I’m not sure).

      The difference from Star Trek is that neither of them are set in the future. They’re set in the present. And they make you believe that there are functioning societies that are non-smoking (and maybe non-drinking).

      But the real Jennifer Aniston was (and probably still is) a smoker in real life.

      Does anyone ever smoke in the Muppets or the Simpsons?

      • Barry Homan says:

        I hope this appears, it’s King GoshPosh from the Tales from Muppetland tv specials.
        The King always had a big stogey, plumes of smoke wafting everywhere:

      • Lecroix says:

        Cheers is subtly against smoking. Those were earlier days (80’s) and they couldn’t show all their true colors. There is some smoking in Cheers, even Sam smokes a cigar once or twice. But there is subtle propaganda against cigar smokers in the bar. And of course there’s Rebecca, who’s “addicted” and can’t quit. There’s also some smoking in Friends, but the antismoking propaganda is kicked up several notches (it’s the 90’s now), including long rants by Monica against Chandler’s smoking (you see, he’s also “addicted” and can’t quit). By the 2000’s, there was not longer any subtlety. Smoking does not exist. Or only bad guys and bums smoke. Or maybe one good guy, always trying to quit, the poor soul.

        There’s one notable exception: the Jesse Stone movie series, starring Tom Selleck that I wholeheartedly reccomend you. There are a few, very very mild concessions to antismoking. I guess Selleck does so in order to disguise his message of freedom. Apart from that… it’s a normal universe, where people smoke. And drink. A lot.

        Another notable exception is The Sopranos. When Dr. Melfi (visibly drunk) complains in a restaurant about a woman smoking next to her, she’s scolded by the smoker, who correctly points out they both are in a restaurant where smoking is allowed. Dr Melfi is “invited” to leave.

        There is smoking in The Simpons. And also lots of antismoking propaganda. But there’s one episode you should watch, set in Ireland. Homer ends up owning a dying pub. And decides that the way to bring up business is to allow smoking:

        Good stuff starts at 16:20 in the video.

        I could go on forever, since now I look at every episode of every series very carefully, in order to understand how the New Shinny Smoke-free World was imprinted in our minds, one episode at a time.

      • Darryl says:

        South Park ‘Butt out’ episode has plenty of smoking and takes the piss out of the anti-smokers.

  4. zippgun says:

    Ironically Roddenberry himself was a heroic smoker/drinker and was also known to use a lot of prescription and non prescription drugs. He was also a serial womanizer. Gene may have foreseen a future which looks anodyne and pc, but he himself was only ideologically something of a SJW, in life he was pretty different.
    Gene L Coon, who many see as the best producer of Star Trek TOS, died pretty young from cancer – he was a heavy smoker.
    Both Shatner and Nimoy were smokers at the time the original series were made.

  5. Barry Homan says:

    Remember the tv series UFO? The underground headquarters, lead by the top-secret SHADO organization? Also very futuristic-looking, but by golly, Commander Straker (Ed Bishop) had everybody smoking in the command center, around the clock! It was probably to give those scenes a NASA look and feel.

    • beobrigitte says:

      I do remember UFO, I just do not remember smoking or not. But back then I did not pay attention to things like that. It wasn’t important.

      Nowadays smoking in a film gives it some sort of authenticity.

  6. alanxxxalanxxx says:

    There’s a film called High Rise that features heroic levels of smoking

  7. Joe Jackson says:

    Just thought I would respond to one of the above posts by clarifying the situation in New York. When the smoking ban was passed in 2003, about a dozen bars were exempted on the grounds that a certain percentage (maybe 25 or 30%?) of their profits came from the actual sale of tobacco. In practice this meant mostly posh cigar bars. I believe someone had a word in Mayor Bloomberg’s ear and suggested some kind of ‘safety valve’, to head off protests from any rich and well-connected cigar smokers (which included the previous mayor, Rudy Giuliani). Anyway, the ‘cigar bar exemption’ (which exists in some other US cities, too) only applied to already-existing establishments (you couldn’t open a new one). And since then, quite a few have closed. We’re now left with about half a dozen. NB it’s also illegal to smoke at outdoor tables, unless the establishment is able to set aside a small section which is physically separated from the main one. In practice, very few places are able to do this.

  8. Some French bloke says:

    “And yet the world’s revolutionaries invariably fail to construct their utopias”.

    Albert Camus certainly acknowledged that, and his Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech (1957), provides us with a pithy “quote of the day”: “Each generation feels it’s destined to set the world to rights. But mine knows it won’t. Yet it has perhaps an even greater task: to prevent the world from falling apart.”

  9. alanxxxalanxxx says:

    Link to trailer for the above. It can be a difficult movie to watch, arty, spectacularly self indulgent and sometimes just downright nasty, – so it’s right up my street.

  10. scot says:

    I think “The Prisoner” is more relevant to the way things are going these days, it actually stimulates the way you perceive society / goverment / the world, well it did to me then, and it still does to this day.

    Maybe if all those shiny young new bansterbators had watched The Prisoner, rather than Star Trek, they may have turned out the polar opposite?

    Like us?

    Just a thought, BCNU!

  11. slugbop007 says:

    All those PH fanatics should be sent to live in The Village, they would fit right in.


    • scot says:

      Strangely (or maybe not) McGoohan smoked like a chimney whilst making it, practically every behind the scenes shot he has a tab in his mouth…

  12. Pingback: Defining The Future, Part 2 | Frank Davis

  13. Pingback: ‘Owls With Laughter… – Library of Libraries

  14. From page 171 of Dissecting Antismokers’ Brains:

    Two more recent entries worthy of mention for their oddity include Citizen Ruth in which virtually the only smoker was a pregnant drug abuser who also liked to huff paint thinner and airplane glue, and another (whose name escapes me) where the evil space aliens all hung out and chain-smoked in a diner. Of course, the nice Earthlings didn’t smoke, and one poor Earthling waitress in particular was always escaping out the back door to catch a breath of air!

    Regular watchers of TV dramas and sitcoms may have also noticed how special episodes are sometimes devoted to Antismoking or Antidrug social themes. If you thought this was just happenstance, think again. According to Daniel Forbes, writing in Salon:

    “Under the sway of the office of President Clinton’s drug czar, Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, some of America’s most popular shows — including “ER,” “Beverly Hills 90210,” … and “7th Heaven” — have filled their episodes with anti-drug pitches to cash in on a complex government advertising subsidy.” (Daniel Forbes. A Salon Special Report., 01/13/00). {Basically they get excused from the requirements to give millions of dollars worth of free advertising time to public service ads!}

    One particular episode of 7th Heaven featured an evil twin smoking after his smoking father passed away from lung cancer, while one of the regular teen characters started smoking, influencing two toddlers to emulate him by pretending to smoke with crayons as another teen regular kept loudly proclaiming all smokers’ stupidity and another younger teen quit a newly acquired habit to prove that he wasn’t stupid. To top it all off, yet another smoking character was thrown into the mix to rudely blow smoke in a nonsmoker’s face at an outdoor café while the home she was house-sitting simultaneously burned down from one of her cigarettes… after which she simply lit up another smoke and stalked off with a comment about the place being insured and nonsmokers being uptight! (No, I am not making this up.)

    In more recent years, I’ve been following the BONES TV series and have casually made some notes about the drinking and smoking in its 200 hours of programming. During that time they have shown roughly 1,500 “alcohol drinking” instances, but only FIVE “smoking instances.” (With most of those five being antismoking in nature… including one where a bum tried to light up in an outhouse where a body’d been decomposing. The decomposition gases were a bit dicey however, and drunk, body, outhouse, and nasty old cigarette all got blown 20 feet in the air.)

    And, just in case you’re babysitting the neighbor’s kids and want to make sure they’re not exposed to any nasty smoke on TV, just tune into Hannibal and let them enjoy the child-safe dismembered bodies and the tasty human-recipes cooked up by Mr. Lecter himself. Not a wisp of smoke to be seen anywhere!

    – MJM

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