Did you feel that? A kind of a tremor, as if some cosmic tumbler clicked into place? Or maybe it was a thunderclap of air being displaced by an object that wasn’t there a moment ago. Whatever it was, it brought with it a definite sense of… arrival. As if the world has finally caught up to something…
If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you obviously didn’t spend any time on social media today, because it seemed to be the only thing on everybody’s minds. You see, today — October 21, 2015 — is the future date to which Marty McFly and Doc Brown time-travel from the year 1985 in the Back to the Future movies. The Internet being what it is, this was reason enough for today to become a sort of de facto online holiday. The memes and jokes were inescapable on Facebook, as was the complaining about how our actual 2015 doesn’t much resemble the one depicted in Back to the Future II, which was released in 1989. (I would argue that 2015 actually does have much in common with the fictional one. No, we don’t have hoverboards or flying cars, but our society is consumed with nostalgia, modern cars are pretty funny looking, and we are all eagerly awaiting the next high-numbered sequel in an old film series from the 1970s…)
Naturally, commercial entities were eager to hop onto the event’s coattails. Pepsi rolled out a limited edition “Pepsi Perfect” collector’s bottle like the one seen in BTTF II, complete with a retro-futuristic commercial that’s pretty entertaining. Nike announced it was coming out with self-lacing sneakers like the ones Marty sports in the movie, and made certain that Michael J. Fox got the first pair. (I have to confess, the video of him trying them on made me a little teary-eyed, as his Parkinson’s Disease is obviously advancing; it’s so damn sad what’s happening to him.) Toyota introduced its Mirai automobile, powered by a futuristic hydrogen fuel cell, with a long-form video featuring Fox and his co-star Christopher Lloyd, as well as some familiar-looking locations. Marvel Comics unveiled a cover design for an issue of its Deadpool & Cable title that mimics the familiar Back to the Future poster art. And there was a sweetly sentimental spot with Lloyd delivering a “message from Doc Brown,” which of course ends in a commercial pitch for a new BluRay collection of the trilogy.
Even the White House got into the spirit by declaring today “Back to the Future Day” and hosting a series of discussions on futurism and related topics.
Closer to home, Salt Lake’s arthouse cinema, the Tower Theater, held a marathon screening of the trilogy (complete with a Delorean out front!), and my own corporate overlords ran the movies on the big flatscreens in a couple of our conference rooms. Too bad I had too much work to do.
You know, the funny thing about all this is that I was working at a movie theater when Back to the Future II came out, and I remember it doing fairly well at the box office, but it was hardly a tremendous phenomenon. And even the original film, as big a hit as it was — and it was huge back in the day — never struck me as being, well, that big a deal. Don’t get me wrong, I loved it. I had the poster on my bedroom wall, the soundtrack in my Walkman, and a Marty McFly-style denim jacket. And it’s a movie that has remained reliably and pleasantly watchable over the years. But if you’d have told me back in 1985 that three decades hence we would be making such a big fuss about a date we briefly glimpse on an LED readout in an old movie… well, I never imagined there would be a bigger uproar over a reboot of Ghostbusters than friggin’ Star Trek, either, so what do I know?
Some people have been kind of churlish about Back to the Future Day, posting that it wasn’t a very good movie anyway and they’re sick of hearing about hoverboards, etc. etc. I can see that. But personally I found today’s silliness a refreshing break from the usual hostility and political sniping… for one day, we were all posting about something other than gun control, abortion, and Donald Trump.
There’s only one thing that bothers me. Now that this momentous date has finally passed and we are most assuredly living in the unwritten future… what now?