The Age of Stupid

Director of The Age of Stupid, Franny Armstrong, could have treated the complex subject of global warming as a conventional documentary, something that she had planned to do, but the final product was left without the necessary impact that she needed to get the message across. So she did what science fiction writers have been doing for decades, she created a dystopic future, one where our current behaviour is extrapolated forward in time resulting in a doomed humanity facing certain extinction.

In the film a lone archivist of human history, played by Pete Postlewaite, is collecting together interview, news and documentary clips in order to transmit an explanation to any alien intelligence as to how a formerly bountiful and biologically diverse planet Earth could suddenly become so bleak and desolate. The film becomes the result of his work and, as the audience, we take on the role of the bemused ‘aliens’ trying to come to terms with why any ‘intelligent’ species could do that to themselves. This is precisely what science fiction is able to do, to make us look at the world we take for granted in a different and revealing way. It is what Darko Suvin, the academic and critic, describes as ‘cognitive estrangement’ and is something that allows us to create an alternative imagined frame of reference from which to view a subject, such as Global Warming.

London in The Age of Stupid

This technique of presenting a serious topic from the view point of it being too late to do anything about it is far more effective in terms of impact regarding long term effects because it puts us there! Human beings have evolved, like most animal species, to be opportunists constantly on the lookout for quick and easy meals. At the same time most of our politics works on short term goals, constrained and focused by the next election. We find it very difficult to look at the long term consequences of our behaviour therefore, even when these will have a disastrous effect on future generations.

By presenting us with a dystopic future Age of Stupid follows in the traditions of other texts that warn of complacency like George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (surveillance technology), John Brunner’s The Sheep Look Up (pollution), William Gibson’s Neuromancer and Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth’s The Space Merchants (corporate power). The question is will we listen to this warning and save the world or will we remain too selfish and lazy to save ourselves when we have the chance?

The Age of Stupid, reviewed by Peter Grehan

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