I was watching a movie from the ’80s: it was set in the future. I found myself chuckling at the film’s vision of the world that would be, with everyone riding super-motorcycles and working with huge super-computers and wearing beige or gray clothes. Oh, and we’d all be using Japanese yen as our currency of choice.
You see, back in the ’80s, Americans were obsessed with the idea that the Japanese were taking over the world with its roaring economy. It makes sense, when you look back at the time in context. The manufacturing bubble was upon us. The Detroit auto industry was on the precipice of its descent, and its main competitor was the Japanese auto industry. Stories about Japan’s efficiency and demanding work culture peppered our evening news. Those people were machines! How could America possibly compete in the future?! The screenwriter of any futuristic film could reasonably project a world in which the yen was our national currency.
Because, after all, writing about the future is really about making commentary on the present as much as it is about predicting what will happen. I’m working on a futuristic play right now called THE DOMINANT GENE, and the world in the play is one in which Black and Asian populations have been made extinct through genetic manipulations, war, disease, etc. The themes of the play are of my usual variety: what makes a family – genetics or choice – and how do we identify ourselves. And although it has been fun to make up words and map out a history of the future, the crux of the play is commentary about our present society’s obsession with race (and to some extent, sex).
I got the idea for the play from reading a newspaper article on genetic testing being done in India, which some parents used to determine whether they were having girls or boys. The girls were aborted. In a patriarchial society, the advantage goes to the boys, and what parent wouldn’t want to give their child any advantage they can? As I thought along those lines, I thought about all the African-Americans who choose “light-skinned” partners to give their children that advantage and Asian women who wouldn’t buy “yellow” makeup, only white. How far would people go to change their skin and eye color, as medical testing and manipulations got better? To oblivion is my guess.
Will somebody laugh at my work in the future? Probably. I’ve likely made some goofy choices. (Though, I would like to take a moment to note that some family members have already started using my new words.) It’s all o.k. because I am satisfied that my play is making the statement I want to make about the present and what we should be doing to care for each other as human beings, regardless of our social constructs.
How does the saying go ... Tomorrow never comes. I think any writer must keep that in mind and think big when writing the future. Sure, you may be wrong, but that is fine, since no one will ever be right – only right now.
Pia Wilson’s play THE FLOWER THIEF will premiere in August as the first full-length production of The Fire This Time play festival.
This post is part of a weekly series from the Emerging Writers Group community of playwrights. The EWG is two-year playwriting fellowship at The Public Theater seeking to target playwrights at the earliest stages of their careers. In so doing, The Public hopes to create an artistic home for a diverse and exceptionally talented group of up-and-coming playwrights.