The Retro-Futurism of “Back to the Future II”

So as of today the future of Back to the Future II is history. There are numerous posts and memes circulating the internet celebrating what predictions the film managed to get correct, but it is the outlandish elements that are the most exciting aspects of the film and the things that now make the film retro-futuristic.

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Just like the alternative histories of Steampunk or Dieselpunk, the 2015 of Back to the Future II as envisioned in 1989 now contributes to Cyberpunk being retro-futuristic rather than predictive. Much like the misinformed nostalgia of the film’s Cafe 80’s, with its Max Headroom style Ronald Reagan and Michael Jackson acting as robot waiters, Cyberpunk is becoming a darkly sentimental vision of what could have been . . . something that we explored in “The Paradox of Cyberpunk and Retro-Futurism” back in July.

Back-to-the-Future-2-2015A common thread that seems to run throughout all failed predictions for the future, be it Victorian, 1940’s, or 1980’s, is the notion that flying will be commonplace. Whether it be a personal airship, a rocket pack, or a flying car, the general consensus is “we don’t need roads where we’re going!” It is the flying DeLorean that gives us the first hint of what the future of 2015 will be like . . . that and Doc Brown’s outrageous colored outfit that screams futuristic 80’s. The first scene of 2015 in Back to the Future II is of sky traffic with lanes of flying cars and floating lights marking roads in the clouds. Intentionally designed cars and retrofitted cars zoom through the sky honking at each other with the same human failings of uncooperative drivers.

back-to-the-future 2015 680Other obvious differences in this future are the intelligent clothing such as the self lacing shoes and self fitting self drying jacket, and the hover boards; internet memes have been demanding this things for at least the past year. Less discussed projections included aspects such as weather control, rejuvenation clinics, Griff’s cyborg augments, and telescopic baseball bats . . . did the Chicago Cubs win the World Series with red retractable baseball bats? Does a more global future have countries other than the USA competing in the World Series?

bttf2_Future_Police.jpg~originalDespite the tacky bright colors of this future, and tacky styles such as double neck ties, there are also a few darker aspects of this 2015. Prosecution after arrest takes about two hours, as Doc Brown informs us, because lawyers have been abolished. While this is a joke about lawyers, it also presents a justice system where swift sentencing may come at the expense of a fair trial before one’s peers.There is still substance abuse and bad neighborhoods as we see that 2015 Marty McFly’s house is on a bad side of town. Theft and assault are still part of life in this 2015, but for some reason all the police officers we see are women dressed in far more casual clothing than the military style cops we’ve come to see in headlines today.

BackToTheFuture-GlassesThe future of Back to the Future II was always intended to be lighthearted, much like the future of Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, but a lot of the technology presented has commonality with Cyberpunk tropes. All the high tech is in this optimistic vision of the future, a sharp contrast to the low life of the dark alternative 1985 in which Biff is king (a horrible place in which people have to suffer hearing Sammy Hagar’s “I Can’t Drive 55”); together they supply a quintessence of Cyberpunk if they were ever combined.



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