A Clean, White Tomorrowland: Towards A Critique of Syd Mead

RND/ To consider the recent death of ‘visual futurist’ Syd Mead and the telling lack of critical analysis of his glossy art and style.

In which its sinister underlying political ideology appears to mirror that of Disney’s hyper-corporate Tomorrowland:

In my premise [..] there were these enormous structures going up 2000, 3000 feet, and decent people never went below the 60th floor
– Syd Mead, On The Edge Of Blade Runner (1999)

Who exactly might these ‘decent people’ consist of? Perhaps William Gibson’s The Gernsback Continuum holds a clue:

But not here, in the heart of the Dream. Here, we’d gone on and on, in a dream logic that knew nothing of pollution, the finite bounds of fossil fuel, or foreign wars it was possible to lose. They were smug, happy, and utterly content with themselves and their world. And in the Dream, it was their world.

Behind me, the illuminated city: Searchlights swept the sky for the sheer joy of it. I imagined them thronging the plazas of white marble, orderly and alert, their bright eyes shining with enthusiasm for their floodlit avenues and silver cars.

It had all the sinister fruitiness of Hitler Youth propaganda.

For Gibson, the link between fascism and technological progress is clear – a clean, bold, totally synthetic totalitarianism bursting with innocent delight, entirely and proactively cleansed of all dirty human mis-relationships that decide who builds, and who gets to live within such (social) megastructures.

It was a very dim and dismal vision of what the future of America was going to be all about, and funnily enough we’re living it now. I mean, you just go down onto Skid Row and you see the squalor and the, the.. human waste that is down there, and the multi-national, multi-ethnicity of Los Angeles, is now very evident.
– Katherine Haber, Racist Production Executive (On The Edge Blade Runner)

Syd Mead’s future appears to be one entirely bleached of such multi-national, multi-ethnicity, and indeed comes across as a white wet dream – a 50’s retrofuture nightmare, as brilliantly polished as the teeth of the Stepford droids who populate it. A total, all-encompassing vision, fiercely guarded and heavily armored against outsiders, safely holding all who fit its ideal within its polished iron and Formica grasp.

Hell of a world we live in, huh? (…) But it could be worse, huh?

That’s right, I said, or even worse, it could be perfect.
-William Gibson, The Gernsback Continuum

It’s the kind of plastic perfection envisioned and expressed by rich white men of power; that 2001-esque, Dr. Heywood Floyd, All American Company Man style, all crisp, lint free and infinitely ready to take orders. Christ, what a drag.

Mead invents like Buckminster Fuller and executes his thoughts like pop art pioneer Andy Warhol. His narratives are believable and progressive. He started out with concepts ahead of their time and has stayed in front for all these 50 years. “Hypervan” (2008, gouache on paper) depicts a vehicle of serene aerodynamics and reflective surfaces, with a circular window over an inviting passenger lounge area. Elsewhere, super-fit humans are attended to by valet-bots. All of it is very convincing.
– Terri Martin, art historian and art critic

Very convincing indeed.

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