After beginning this series with a hard look at the contemporary Church’s shortcomings, you may have expected us to proceed by outlining how the religious institution should revamp itself to more fully reflect what God desires of His Churches. Not to worry—we will get there, but as mentioned in the introduction, this project is about more than just Western Christianity. This is a vital point, because modern culture is made up of more than just those who follow Jesus. In fact, a vast majority within our society today are unsaved. So if we speak only to the Church, we are “preaching to the choir.” Furthermore, since many Christians have, in recent years, found it difficult to maintain relevance to secular culture, anything that isolates the religious institution as a topic fails to bridge the cultural and communicative gap when it comes to the world outside the Church. While we believe that God’s transformative power has the means to change the world when people look to Him for direction, we also understand that God has allowed humanity to be agents of free will. As such, when we look for answers within the four walls of the church that would apply to the troubles that pillage the world outside, we often hit a disconnect. The transformative power of God accompanies the willing heart, and society is filled with those who aren’t ready to surrender. Because of this single element, our biblical solutions are limited outside the Church or the Christian home. For the Church to become relevant to culture again, we have to understand where people are, and where they’ve come from.
In the meantime, we’re able to see fairly accurate reflections of where our society is headed when we study the media. Movies, books, television shows, and other means of storytelling outline where society has previously projected itself to be, and how we have fared along the journey. When fiction writers construct a good story, they often imagine where mankind’s depravity and technological advances will take us in the future. Then, based on their imaginings, they approximate a story they believe will be thrilling, scary, or engaging. At the time they’re written, many of these speculations seem impossible; yet, the possibilities become more realistic as the years go on. In this article, we’ll show only some of the many ways that we’re currently living the sci-fi movies our grandparents were afraid of. Likewise, we’ll reveal how dangerously close we are to living—in the not-so-distant future—the seemingly impossible entertainment that viewers take in today.
If we were to say that we’re living in a horror or sci-fi movie, most folks would probably say, “No way.” After all, such productions reach for the fantastical, while combining out-of-reach technology with an escalated and even dehumanized level of human depravity. The blend of such things, in the realm of entertainment, is what makes a great book or movie. In fact, the perfect balance of these elements is often what sets a work apart as really gripping or even downright scary. Yet, once a piece of media crosses over completely into the realm of what viewers perceive to be the impossible, it’s no longer considered “scary,” but mere “fantasy.”
For example, a criminal in a Superman movie may kill many people and terrorize a city, but viewers—many of them children—never really experience fear. In fact, many moviegoers leave the theaters with smiles and laughter; they never believed they were in any kind of real danger. On the other hand, those who take in a movie about a calculated serial killer often watch with intense facial expressions, sitting at the edge of the seat and even jumping at sudden, unexpected encounters with the antagonist. As these patrons exit the theater, they’re often wide-eyed, discussing unforeseen plot-twists or the fearsome depravity of the murderer. Additionally, we would wager no small children will be seen exiting that particular film, even though far fewer deaths appear in the movie about the serial killer than in the superhero flick.
What, then, is the difference between these two types of movies? It’s the notion of fantasy vs. reality: the possible vs. the impossible. Anyone watching a Superman movie feels secure in knowing that they won’t ever see a day when a boy from another planet possessing special powers, including that of flight, will land on earth and fight global terrorists. They can explain to their children that the characters are a product of mere make-believe. On the other hand, serial killers do exist, and they have terrorized populations before. These individuals are real people, whose maladaptive minds are the places where real nightmares are made—and few is the number of parents who would expose their kids to such brutal reality (even on the big screen). There is nothing pretend about it. It is a completely possible scenario, which is why such films cross the line from exhilarating into scary.
When viewers walk away from a production saying “that would never happen,” they usually report their experience in terms of whether or not they were entertained: “That was fun!” “An enjoyable movie, highly recommended!” When they’ve experienced a sense of threat, however, reports tend to be more emotional: “That was scary!” “I’m so freaked out right now!” They may even describe a physiological response: “I screamed when [insert frightening event here] happened” or “I was on the edge of my seat!”
Often, as mentioned previously, what makes such productions successful is the perceivable balance between the real and the possible. Truly successful sci-fi, thriller, and horror works take the audience to the height of suspense and fear by borrowing realistic notions from the real world, then launching them into the realm of what is barely speculative. For example, a film might portray something that could happen, then leave viewers with the exhilaration and relief that accompanies the return to the “safety” of the real world. The fear lingers beyond the close of the film, residually, based on how close to actuality a portrayed scenario comes. In a nutshell, the audience’s response is determined by the thrill of fright incited by events that could potentially happen, while enjoying the security of knowing that cinematic events aren’t currently occurring. While some productions and series such as Star Wars or Superman succeed on the mere fantastical and gather generations of loyal followers, others draw crowds who are titillated by the knowledge that the fearsome events on the screen aren’t completely out of the question in real life. In these cases, there are often only two elements that bar the storyline from creeping into our daily reality: the advancement of technology and/or the depravity of mankind.
To say that today’s movies and books could become tomorrow’s reality may seem sensationalistic. Yet it has been mentioned, in many ways, that we are currently living the sci-fi our grandparents feared. Great minds of yesteryear who dared to imagine what the future would look like drew similar responses to their writings in their own time. They, as it turns out, were closer than even they might have expected to the future reality, which reinforces the notion that, should history repeat itself, the media often foreshadows our culture’s future.
When we draw connections between the fiction works of yesteryear and today’s reality, we’re able to follow the shift in society’s mentality over the past decades. And, we are left with a notion more frightening than anything in past movies or books that has come true: The pattern can, and likely will, repeat itself. If we’re now living out scenarios that terrified and chilled past generations, then it seems reasonable that the Hollywood creations now showing post-apocalyptic, dystopian, or even post-Christian societies wherein the depravity of mankind runs rampant and unchecked could very well be the true scenarios of tomorrow. Could today’s media be a tool for shaping the masses to embrace the unthinkable? It’s not as unlikely as we might think. For those who still doubt the possibility of this statement being true, we ask you to join us as we look at a few examples of things that have already come to pass.
In 1949, when George Orwell wrote 1984, he depicted a world wherein one totalitarian leader, known as “Big Brother” (who, some say, is a predictive parallel to Antichrist), continually surveilled and controlled the entire population. People in this tale are subjects to the government through and through; their very emotions, ideas, and statements are legislated and monitored by the “Thought Police” and are constantly reminded that “Big Brother is [always] watching.” In addition to this nonstop, invasive monitoring, this speculated world is kept in a perpetual state of war. This condition best serves those in control of society by keeping resources sparse and personal ambitions minimal. All efforts and resources of the public are directed at the “war,” despite the fact that there appears to be no resolution in sight. The livelihood and individuality of the population remains suspended toward political efforts, while liberties are surrendered in trade for safety. The controlled populace then surrenders their sovereign rights for what they’re told is the protection of the population as a whole; thus, this submission holds the makings of a good citizen. Healing of the land is not a goal of those who are in control in 1984. On the contrary, the state of war is suspended for an intentional purpose. Consider Orwell’s seemingly prophetic words: “War, it will be seen, is now a purely internal affair. [Previously, when war had been built on international conflict,] the victor always plundered the vanquished. [Now, instead,] the war is waged by each ruling group against its own subjects, and the object of the war is not to make or prevent conquests of territory, but to keep the structure of society intact.… It would probably be accurate to say that by becoming continuous war has ceased to exist.” The truly spooky elements of the 1984 story rely on the same two elements mentioned previously: the notion that technology could ever evolve to this level of surveillance, and the idea that a government would become so controlling that it would dare to censor the actions, efforts, relationships, and even statements and thoughts of its civilians. Likewise, one of the dystopian elements of 1984 that lends a sense of “safety” to readers (thus balancing the negative components and allowing the audience to end the experience with exhilaration and resolve) is the idea that Americans would never be asked to submit to such controlling forces that there would be a place for the Thought Police. Likewise, many in 1949 never would have dreamed of a future wherein every action could be completely surveilled, because at that point, the necessary technology wasn’t yet in place. But, seven decades later, we live in a place where accusations of “hate speech” and surveillance methods are a thriving, rampant, and even complacently accepted dynamic of censorship and governmental control (more on this in an upcoming article). In many ways, we are living a type of parallel to the world portrayed so long ago in 1984.
Some question whether modern technology would even exist without its fictional inspiration. Certainly this is a fair question. However, it reaches into the realm of other questions without answers, such as which came first between the chicken and the egg. This is ultimately beside the point, because mankind will go everywhere that technology and ethical boundaries allow. When people feel inhibited, they press the boundaries within one or both of these parameters until they’ve created more room to evolve. We see evidence of this even within our lifetime; our modern innovations are the products of the imaginings of the previously fantastical. Think about it: Since the creation of The Jetsons, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Dick Tracy, inventions such as Skype and Facebook video chatting have been on the roster of things we hoped to progress to. The 1980 film, Superman II, starring Christopher Reed and Margot Kidder, visualized replayable video messages in hologram form, stored on crystal disk-type drives. The military drones of 1984’s The Terminator seemed to predict the ones introduced in the early 2000s. Countless futuristic cartoons and movies such as the already-mentioned The Jetsons, The Fifth Element, Blade Runner and Total Recall predicted flying vehicles and self-driving cars. The 1960s series Star Trek inspired the invention of many new forms of technology, not the least of which was the first cell phone: Motorola’s 1973 800 MHz. Other movies and TV shows such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Fahrenheit 451, and Star Trek foretold devices like iPods, tablets, and earbuds., Star Wars portrayed a world where lasers could be used for cutting and holograms could be seen as 3D visuals. Back to the Future II suggested interactive home devices such as automatic-entry ID via fingerprint, voice-command functions such as lights, flat-screened televisions, video chatting, voice-activated food delivery, and cars that run on recycled forms of energy rather than solely on gasoline.
UP NEXT: The Sci-fi We Are Living, Part 2
For more information on the topics covered in this article series, see Donna Howell and Allie Anderson’s book DARK COVENANT, available below:
 Orwell, George. 1984. (New York, NY: Harcourt, Inc.; 1949), 2.
 Ibid,. 156.
 Sloane, Paul. “How Star Trek Inspired an Innovation.” Destination Innovation. 2020. Accessed November 6, 2020. https://www.destination-innovation.com/how-startrek-inspired-an-innovation-your-cell-phone/.
 Costello, Sam. “How the iPod Got its Name.” Lifewire. December 10, 2019. Accessed November 6, 2020. https://www.lifewire.com/how-did-ipod-get-its-name-1999778.
 Engber, Daniel. “Who Made That Earbud?” New York Times. May 16, 2014. Accessed November 6, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/18/magazine/who-made-that-earbud.html.
 Westaway, Luke. “See the 2015 Tech That ‘Back to the Future Part II’ Predicted, and What It Missed.” CNET Online. October 17, 2015. Accessed November 6, 2020. https://www.cnet.com/news/heres-the-technology-back-to-the-future-part-ii-predicted-and-what-it-missed/.