The bleaker our reality gets, the more we'll need bright, sunny escapism in our entertainment. But even though things are already looking pretty darn hard-scrabble, and we're still looking at another few years of eco-disasters, zombie holocausts and blighted landscapes in pop culture. Just how long will we be seeing dark, miserable stories of people who descend into their own personal hells where morality is a forgotten luxury? A few more years, maybe. Blame the Hollywood development process. It's no mystery why pop culture is on course for more darkness and nastiness. That's what's done well in the past year or two. And the entertainment industry always wants to give us more of what we've already liked, even if conditions have changed in the meantime. Just looking at the "Dystopia" tag on io9, I see lots and lots of posts which say something like, "in the upcoming movie _______, everybody eats their own reprocessed shit and then bathes in the blood of their own parents, before being eaten by zombies." There are a lot of vaguely satirical movies coming, about people forced to compete in evil game shows or video games turned real, like Game, or Fortuna.
We also have a few years of apocalyptic movies on the way, including the reliably Irwin Allen-esque Roland Emmerich, with 2012. I tried to read the script for 2012 and found myself developing a spontaneous case of TMJ disorder. There are also several post-apocalyptic movies on the slate, including Wynter Dark and The Road. There are literally 10,000 zombie movies coming out in the next couple of years, enough to keep a zombie army entertained forever. And as for television? The shows that seem likely to be still on the air in a year or so are all pretty dark, including the increasingly twisted Lost and the quirky-but-dark Fringe. The new shows that are on the way are sardonic as fuck, including Ron Moore's Virtuality, a claustrophobic tale of astronauts trapped in a sardine-can ship with a virtual reality system that's getting scarier and scarier. And Joss Whedon's Dollhouse, a show about a woman who's had literally everything taken away from her, including her name and identity, so she can be a plaything for the rich. It's not exactly Pennies From Heaven, y'all.
If you're excited for another few years of bleak, no-way-out entertainment, then skip the rest of this piece. But if you're actually hoping for more fun, a more upbeat approach to storytelling, and maybe a bit of lightness, then read on. What could move things in that direction? First of all, hope that Star Trek and Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen are not just hits, but mega hits. It seems like a safe enough bet, actually. Both films seem much shinier and friendlier than the big films of this past summer, especially Iron Man, Incredible Hulk, Dark Knight and even Indiana Jones 4, which featured Indie being accused of being a Commie, plus lots of angst about getting older. If either Trek or Transformers does better than Dark Knight, then you can bet we'll see Hollywood rearranging its priorities pretty quick. Another possible oasis of escapist fun next summer: another toy movie, G.I. Joe.
Conversely, you may want to root against Watchmen, which features rapist superheroes and a morally ambiguous ending. And Terminator Salvation, which McG is promising will take place in a super-dark future: "This picture takes place after Judgment Day. It happened. Everything is gone. The story of the movie is the 'brink moment' Reese always talked about." You may also want to root against Wolverine, depending on how much Fox succeeded in watering down the Wolverine movie's allegedly dark tone. (Last we heard, there were vague rumblings the director and the Fox suits were fighting over just how dark and gritty the Wolverine film would be allowed to be, even down to the way the sets were painted.) Second, hope that Hollywood backs off its "all superhero films should be like The Dark Knight" meme pretty fast. Chances are, a slew of Dark Knight clones wouldn't be all that good, and they would mostly flop.
Third, accept that pop culture is always going to be a mix of light and dark. I shouldn't even need to say this, but I'll say it anyway. We need our Watchmens as well as our Incredibles. So what we're really talking about here is the ratio of light to dark. We'll always want both, and we'll always have both. Fourth, bear in mind that escapist fun often starts from a dark place. Look at the original Battlestar Galactica, or the Glen Larson Buck Rogers, both of which are post-apocalyptic. Oftentimes, the funnest heroes are the ones who come out of the worst bogholes and rise above. It's often part of the light-hearted heroic formula.
Fifth — and this may be the most important — support books and comics that are bright and optimistic. The book and comics industries have a slow development process, but they can respond to a hit faster than TV and movies can. Buy upbeat space opera novels about capable people surmounting problems. The next time Mark Waid psyches himself up to write something cute and fun like Brave and the Bold, do your part to make it a mega-hit. You'll be helping to support the source material for Hollywood's next sunny, cheery hit.