If anything has caught me off-guard about today’s political climate, it’s the rising dislike of celebrities and intellectuals. Once upon a time, these were the heroes. Movie stars like James Dean smoked, so everyone had a pack of cigarettes tucked in their rolled up t-shirt sleeve. Jane Fonda said we need more exercise so everyone started aerobics. Remember those “The More You Know” PSAs? They featured everyone from Tom Brokaw to Matthew Perry speaking out about issues like conservation and education. Stars trying to use their star status to make a difference in the world.
In 2016, it felt like all that changed. All of a sudden, conservatives wondered out loud where athletes and movie stars and, God forbid, writers got off having political opinions. And why should they be allowed to speak out about the every day world of politics? Movie stars should just act, singers should just sing, athletes just play their sports (and stand for the National Anthem). The other day, Rob Thomas tweeted that he was shocked to see a reporter’s White House press credentials taken away because he asked the president a question the president didn’t want to be asked. The response Thomas got from fans was less than encouraging in many cases.
But the worst of this is that suddenly writers aren’t supposed to have an opinion. Writers aren’t supposed to speak out against what looks like certain doom. Writers shouldn’t remind the public of what has come before and what it wrought. The press is “fake news” because they are trying to report what’s happening to us. This seems a particularly dangerous attitude, honestly. To prove my point, I’ve compiled a partial list of things writers (mostly in science fiction, but not all) predicted, for want of a better word, in their fiction.
And after reading this, maybe you can understand why I say, listen to the poets. Otherwise, you may live to regret it.
1726 (Jonathan Swift) Gulliver’s Travels predicted the discovery of Mars’s two moons.
1818 (Mary Shelley) Frankenstein predicted organ transplants.
1865 (Jules Verne) From the Earth to the Moon predicted solar sails and lunar modules that launch from Florida and return to earth as splashdown capsules.
1887 (Edward Bellamy) Looking Backward predicted credit/debit cards and shopping malls.
1898 (Morgan Robertson) The Wreck of the Titan: Or, Futility predicted the sinking of the Titanic—by iceberg in the month of April—fourteen years before it happened.
1899 (H.G. Wells) When the Sleeper Wakes predicted motion sensing doors.
1903 (H.G. Wells) The Land Ironclads predicted tanks.
1909 (E.M. Forster) The Machine Stops predicted video chatting.
1910 (Edwin Balmer and William MacHarg) The Achievements of Luther Trant predicted the lie detector test.
1913 (H.G. Wells) The World Set Free predicted the atom bomb.
1923 (H.G. Wells) Men Like Gods predicted phones, email and television.
1924 (J.B.S. Haldane) Daedalus; or Science and the Future predicted in vitro fertilization.
1932 (Aldous Huxley) A Brave New World predicted genetic engineering.
1961 (Robert Heinlein) Stranger in a Strange Land predicted water beds.
1968 (Arthur C. Clarke) 2001: A Space Odyssey predicted the iPad and its use to access news media.
1968 (John Brunner) Stand on Zanzibar predicted satellite tv, violence in schools, and, eerily, President Obama (Obomi was the character’s name). Interestingly, it is set in 2010.
1984 (William Gibson) Neuromancer predicted computer hackers.
1990 (David Brin) Earth predicted broken levees in the Deep South and the meltdown of the Fukushima power plant.
1994 (Tom Clancy) Debt of Honor predicted the use of hijacked jet planes to crash into U.S. government buildings.
Donald Trump’s rise to the presidency has been predicted by everyone from The Simpsons to Philip Roth. In Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Talents, her presidential candidate even used the slogan “Make America Great Again”.
Are these all coincidence? Life imitating art? Possibly, though Stand on Zanzibar and The Wreck of the Titan sound like blatant fortune-telling to me, and how Jonathan Swift could know Mars had two moons in 1726 is beyond me. But what is my point here, anyway? Should Stephen King and J.K. Rowling be allowed to say whatever they want about Donald Trump and the fools who voted for him?
Yeah. Probably. Because true poets have a knack for looking at things a little closer, opening themselves up to the universe a little more, feeling things a little deeper…and seeing things a little clearer than others do. I’m not saying me. I try, but I haven’t gotten there yet. But I do believe we are given poets and prophets and visionaries by a God who wants to help guide us.
And if the overwhelming majority of those poets and prophets and visionaries are saying don’t go there, I suggest we listen.