In George Lucas’ first film THX 1138, the future of the world is an ascetic’s paradise of monochromatic environments, clean lines, barren surfaces, and shaved heads. A similar future is portrayed in Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. In both movies, the future is sanitized, impersonal, and sterile.
These films highlight what life is like when uncluttering embraces the extreme and stops focusing on achieving a remarkable life and instead focuses on getting rid of clutter for no other reason that getting rid of clutter.
Over on the website Pop Matters, Bill Reagan talks today about these clutter-free, personality-free, generic futures in the article “Table Space: The Final Frontier“:
Realizing that no one else is making an effort to bring the junkless future to life, I reexamined Kubrick’s film, looking for clues for how our species was to conquer the ever-growing piles, drawers, and shelves of stuff. As I studied, I realized that the barren desktops and uncluttered counters resembled the austere interior landscapes featured in Dwell magazine, whose photo spreads show family living rooms with improbably bare coffee tables, the shelves in the children’s bedroom displaying one or two pristine toys like museum pieces.
What that magazine removes isn’t clutter – it’s life: the hoodie tossed lazily over the back of the chair, empty juice glasses accumulating on the kitchen counter, retired coffee cups stuffed with ball point pens, dog-eared catalogs accumulating in the corner. In the effort to portray simple, they err on the side of antiseptic.
The science fiction of my youth removed the same evidence of daily living, but went one step further: also gone are the photographs on mantles, preschooler paintings posted on refrigerator doors, handmade trinkets and cheap tchotchke mementos. It seems that as seen from 40 years ago, the world was to become increasingly efficient but decreasingly sentimental. Is that what we’ll be required to do to control our interior sprawl? Do we simply need to value the empty space more highly than the items currently occupying it?
If so, perhaps it’s better that the great minds of our generation remain focused on the jetpack.
Check out the article and then come back here and weigh in with your opinion in the comments. I certainly don’t agree with all of Reagan’s conclusions — dirty cups on a counter are an invitation for pests, not a reflection of someone’s personality. However, if you clear clutter to make way for what matter’s most to you, then photographs of loved ones are exactly what an unclutterer would likely want on his or her mantle. I’m interested in knowing if you wish the extreme-minimalist future would have become a reality, or if you think these depictions went too far.