Friday, May 22, 2009

The American Youth That Never Were

The first engagement in the Little War took place at Fifteenth and K street in front of the Sheraton Bar and Grill in the heart of Washington. For over a month young people had been pouring into the city, massing for a huge demonstration to protest the Thirty-ninth Amendment to the Constitution. Like other prohibitions before it, this Compulsory Birth Control Act was impossible to enforce, and youth had taken the stand that it was a direct infringement of their rights. Bitter resentment was directed against the two arms of Governmental enforcement, the National Council of Eugenics and the Federal Birth Study commission. Washington had no business regulating the number of children a citizen could have. Bitterness turned to talk of rebellion.
~ Logan's Run by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson
In 1967, the year Logan's Run was published, tens of thousands of young Americans descended on San Francisco for the fabled "Summer of Love", and it must have seemed like teenagers really would take over the country. It was the perfect backdrop for William Nolan and George Clayton John's future dystopian youth culture, where all upstanding citizens went voluntarily to their death by their 21st birthday.
The seeds of the Little War were planted in a restless summer during the mid-1960s, with sit-ins and student demonstrations as youth tested its strength. By the early 1970s over 75 per cent of the people living on earth were under twenty-one years of age. The population continued to climb - and with it the youth percentage.
In the 1980s the figure was 79.7 per cent.
In the 1990s, 82.4 per cent.
In the year 2000 - critical mass
But, as Charlie Stross has pointed out, it's extremely difficult to write near-future science fiction that stands up to history. As it turns out, in 1967 the 25- and under population was at its peak, and only declined from that point on. Today the US the population is older than it has ever been, with the largest group age 25-44. The reason is a combination of longer life spans*, aging of the baby boom generation combined with the increased availability of effective contraceptives and declining fertility. Teen birth rates are the lowest level ever.

So while the novel is still an entertaining read, the backstory hasn't aged very well. It makes me wonder how the on-again off-again on-again off-again on-again movie remake of Logan's Run will approach the material. Director Joseph Kosinsky claimed back in 2007 that the story would "hew closer to the book than the 1976 movie." That wouldn't be too difficult, since the movie didn't follow the novel much beyond its basic premise. In particular, I think the original movie's shift of the age of death to 30 from 21 significantly changed the tone of the story - for some reason I find 16-year-old enforcers more disturbing than 26-year-olds in the same role.

While the new movie will supposedly be released in 2010, there probably won't be any official word until later this year as to whether it's actually being made. Until then, enjoy this trailer for the original film, that really captures it's cheesy 70s goodness:

* Life expectancy at birth was 47.3 in 1900, 70.8 in 1980 and 77.8 in 2005 (See Table 26)

Image: Sexy-but-significantly-older-than-21-year-old Michael York in the original Logan's Run movie (via the excellent City of Domes web site).

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