The Art of Arthur Radebaugh

Arthur Radebaugh (1906-74) was a prolific midcentury illustrator, perhaps best known for his “Can You Imagine” and “Closer Than We Think” series, which were syndicated in newspapers across the United States in the years after World War II. The usually one-panel comics predicted various future scenarios, some of which, like remote working and electronic home libraries, came true!

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All Time Travel Authorities Look the Same

I finally watched Loki on Disney+ (it’s hilarious) and one of the things that stood out to me was the aesthetic of the show’s Time Variance Authority (TVA). Brutalist with a mix of midcentury graphics and 1970s decor, it reminded me of the Fallout video games as well as Counterpart, the most underrated science-fiction series of recent years. The Office of Interchange in that show also uses dot-matrix printers, rotary-dial phones, old computers, typewriters, and pen and paper.

The Office of Interchange isn’t a time-travel authority. Rather it manages relations between two parallel Earths. The Temps Commission in The Umbrella Academy (our review here) is, and it too looks midcentury. So does the Federal Bureau of Control in the video game Control. Brutalist architecture and midcentury American office furniture seem to be the time traveler’s favorites.

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Judas and the Black Messiah

Judas and the Black Messiah

Sometimes I think it was a miracle that the American civil rights movement didn’t lead to open civil war. We remember the resistance as nonviolent, but there certainly was violence, the 1963 Birmingham Baptist Church bombing being an infamous example.

Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered for advocating nonviolence. Not all African Americans agreed with him. Malcolm X called King and his followers “hand-cuffed by the disarming philosophy of nonviolence” in a letter to George Lincoln Rockwell, the head of the American Nazi Party, on the eve of the March on Washington.

Opposition to nonviolence was a reaction to the violence inflicted upon black Americans by police and organizations like the Ku Klux Klan. One group that wasn’t afraid to take up arms was the Black Panther Party, and it is the subject of the award-winning Judas and the Black Messiah.

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For All Mankind

For All Mankind

The first time I gave For All Mankind a try was not long after I’d seen Altered Carbon, and another ten episodes of Joel Kinnaman’s pent-up anger was more than I could bear.

I still find it off-putting, and his character in For All Mankind shows almost no growth over two seasons. But the rest of the series makes up for it.

It starts with the Soviet Union beating the Americans to the Moon and shows the Space Race continuing into the 1980s. Along the way, the Soviets land the first woman on the Moon, convincing the United States to train its own female astronauts; both superpowers built lunar colonies; and East-West tensions come to a head in a Panama Canal Crisis, which in this timeline is aggravated by Ronald Reagan winning the presidency four years earlier and refusing to relinquish American control of the canal to Panama’s pro-Soviet government.

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Back in the USSA

Back in the USSA

In some respects, alternate history is an examination of irony. There are many examples of serious alternate history. There are moments when characters reflect on how our own history is implausible or unthinkable. For something more tongue-in-cheek, Eugene Byrne and Kim Newman took the United States, capitalist and democratic and emerging victorious from the Cold War, and pasted the twentieth-century history of Russia, revolution and tyranny and eventual collapse, onto it in their 1997 collection Back in the USSA.

The history presented in the collection closely parallels our own only with the United Socialist States of America in the place of the historic Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, with the United Kingdom and a reformed Russian Empire splitting duties as the United States equivalent. This parodic take on twentieth-century history is peppered with existing objects from popular culture portrayed as real figures, rubbing shoulders with our own historical figures in new situations.

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Countdown

Countdown

The 1960s Space Race saw the United States and the Soviet Union engaged in an ever-evolving game of oneupmanship. One that saw them leaping from first satellite to the first man to the first woman and first multi-person crew to, thanks to President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 declaration before Congress, to putting someone on the Moon first. That goal was reached in July 1969, when Apollo 11’s Neil Armstrong stepped out of the Lunar Module Eagle onto the lunar surface.

In a different world, it might have been another astronaut taking that one giant leap using modified Gemini hardware with such a scenario depicted in Robert Altman’s 1968 movie Countdown.

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Remaking the World

It wasn’t until the modern era that would-be conquerors and do-gooders could think on a global scale. The discovery of the New World and the invention of steamboats, the telegraph, airplanes, television and intercontinental ballistic missiles made the world feel smaller. Egyptian pharaohs and Chinese emperors may have claimed to rule everything under the sun and the heavens; it wasn’t until the nineteenth century that an island nation on the western edge of Eurasia could acquire an empire on which the sun never set.

The potential of world conquest inflated the ambitions of political movements. Marxists called for a world revolution of the proletariat. Fascist Germany and Japan planned to divide the world between them. America sought to make the world safe for democracy.

If world war and world conquest were possible, then surely so were world peace and unity? Pan-Europeanism and internationalism flourished in the twentieth century, giving life to the League of Nations, the United Nations and what would become the European Union.

From the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas to the would-be EUs of the present day, here’s a history at attempts — few of them successful — to remake the world.

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