DREAMS OF A PHOENIX

Whenever I am standing outside the lavatory on a commercial flight, I stare down the long aisle at the 200 or so people watching TV screens inches from their faces.  They are in effect, dreaming dreams created by others, fulfilling a part of the purpose, I suppose, of ordinary, “organic” dreams; to occupy the mind while resting.
Hollywood has done much to illustrate events and circumstances that defy understanding, or strain the imagination.  
“The Dream Factory”, as Hollywood once advertised itself, is now exactly that, an industry that manufactures wholly imaginary incidents and characters that can play out with all the verisimilitude of an actual dream.
And VR hasn’t even hit its stride yet!
The fact that we can share the same “dream” is of course one of the attractive features of modern entertainment.  Another is that we can choose the style and duration of dream we wish to have, stop and start it at will, or view the exact same dream again and again as often as we like.
A movie, like a dream, can presage future events and offer form and substance to things that are as yet unwitnessed, but anticipated.  
Just as before a vacation one’s mind can conceive of a visit to a new country, for example, and create in a dream state mental pictures of what might occur in realistic mock up, so too can motion pictures, (which also have the human mind as a major part of the creative assembly line) predict, and even shape future events.
One area of the future that has been being mined exhaustively by movies of the last thirty or more years is The End of Modern Civilization.   
I’m sure you can with ease name a dozen movies that are vivid illustrations of the kind of world that might be just around the corner, where society has devolved into total chaos.
Usually, such stories take place in the desert (Cheap production costs.)  Some in abandoned cities (Hmmm… starting to get expensive.)  One rather famous example took place on an enormous raft in the Pacific Ocean (The most expensive film ever, for its time. Lesson: in the future, stay out of the water.)
When I was a boy, the future as dreamed by movie makers was not described as a wasteland, but a gleaming, utopian environment of sharp lines, smooth surfaces and reflective, (often skin-tight) fabrics.  
Clean lines dominated.  No one had wrinkled unitards or uncombed, un-Aqua-netted hair.  There were trees and plants, but no dirt.  There were vehicles, but no smoke and certainly no rust.
Ironically, Star Wars changed all that.  (I say “ironically”, because the Star Wars saga takes place in the very distant past, and yet it has come to predict our future in a more compelling way than did Sci Fi films before it.)
Suddenly the savage recognition that material objects– the vehicles, buildings, weapons and clothing of any future time– would be just as likely to get stained, rusted, torn and beaten up as their present day counterparts, startled audiences into consciousness.  
One could make the argument that the shock of that recognition has yet to wear off.
After Star Wars, storytellers began to envision a future on Earth that wasn’t so squeaky clean and modern, but looked as greasy and dilapidated as one might expect a space age society dissolving into shambles to look.
Now, after thirty years of such enthusiastic imaginings in film and TV, there  probably now exists strong worldwide agreement on exactly how bad the near future will be, and some freshly minted instances one could point to where that future has already arrived.
Man dreams, then creates those dreams in the real world.
But one vital aspect of the future has been almost totally ignored, even though any casual study of human history predicts it just as thoroughly as the fall of great empires.
When an old civilization finally collapses, something always takes its place.
What does a new civilization, rising from the ashes of the old, look like?  
Perhaps my question is best framed mythologically, in keeping with storytelling tradition.
As you no doubt recall, the Phoenix was a mythical bird that captured the imaginations of many pre-cinema storytellers, going back to ancient times.  
The poet Dante wrote:
Even thus by the great sages ’tis confessedThe phoenix dies, and then is born again,When it approaches its five-hundredth year
The Phoenix was variously depicted as having a halo of light around its head, with red legs and yellow eyes, and sometimes a crest like a rooster.  It was sometimes said to be the size of an eagle, or larger, like an ostrich.
When it died, usually in self-immolating flames, a new bird rose in its place from the ashes.  
Even Shakespeare, in the play Henry VIII (which, news to me, was a collaboration with John Fletcher, his successor!) references this rise:
Nor shall this peace sleep with her; but as whenThe bird of wonder dies, the maiden phoenix,Her ashes new create another heirAs great in admiration as herself;So shall she leave her blessedness to one,When heaven shall call her from this cloud of darkness,Who from the sacred ashes of her honourShall star-like rise as great in fame as she was,And so stand fix’d.
So the Phoenix was a “bird of wonder.”  Got it.
It was either eagle-sized, or huge like an ostrich. Cool.
Maybe it had a halo.  I can picture that. 
Fine.
But what of the bird that rises up from whatever is left of a burned-up, burned-out Phoenix?
What does that bird look like?
That’s a question that Hollywood isn’t helping us to dream about much these days.  
Perhaps it’s because history itself has been vague about the periods just after mass demolition of societies and cultures, except in the cases of the invasions of a Caesar, or in the conquering of North America by white settlers (who were greatly assisted by the bacteria they unwittingly brought to the New World for which Native Americans had no immunity.)
Or maybe it’s just that Hollywood thinks that dream about a new emerging civilization won’t sell.  (Or might be more expensive as Waterworld.)
Who does Hollywood think is watching?  Only pessimists?
I think it’s a worthy question: how would a new world, rising at the same time as the descent of the old one, look as it races to take its unfortunate predecessor’s place?
Can we imagine how that new Phoenix would look?
There are new futures to dream about, that might be more interesting, more hopeful and more practical than further dreams of future desolation.
What if “The Apocalypse De Jour” is not the only item on the menu?
If one takes a look at the innumerable civilizations that have risen and fell in man’s long history, it’s easy to get  one’s attention fixed on the Troys, the Carthages and the Pompeiis, (great for museum special exhibitions when donations ebb) and ignore the nascent cultures that rose from their ruins.
And here’s a question; what if that new culture moves quickly enough to replace the declining one, so that the business of living doesn’t necessarily have to start from scratch?
What does a new culture rising quickly out of the slow decay of another look like?  How would it act?  And if we could possibly dream it, how could we then make that dream into a reality?
That’s a dream I’d like to see shared, not just those random dreams being shared by strangers on a flight across the country in coach, while I’m waiting for the red OCCUPIED sign on the folding door to change.
What about you? Can you get a picture of what that dream might be like?  
How does that new bird look from where you are sitting?
I expect we will see one, and the sooner, the better.

By | 2019-02-11T02:29:11+00:00 February 11th, 2019|Uncategorized|

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