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How Star Trek Mistakenly Invented Retro-Futurism

How Star Trek Mistakenly Invented Retro-Futurism

With the release of the new Fallout show, we’re struck with the revival of retro-futurism. It’s one of the traits that endear fans to the franchise as if it scratches a certain inch in our psyche — one that can also be triggered just as well by Country Roads, Take Me Home like Jack snaps to attention at a “would you kindly” in BioShock.

Retro-futurism, also known as Atomic Age aesthetic, is far from a new concept in nearly all media. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, retro-futurism is a mix between mid-century aesthetics and futuristic concepts. It usually involves a lot of bright colours and sharp shapes, set on the backdrop of a space station or a spaceship. In the case of Fallout, there are no spaceships... Okay, there was that really weird DLC in Fallout 3 where the Lone Wanderer gets kidnapped by aliens, but I think we all agreed to forget that ever happened.



In lieu of a utopia where humans figure out stylish space travel, Fallout leans heavily on the “atomic” side of the coin. The alternative timeline of the game freezes society in place in a 1950s-ish era, which is locked in by the world nuking itself. Even the music choices on each radio station are all songs from the mid-20th century onwards, as if music simply stopped evolving after Elvis. It’s certainly a vibe, as long as you don’t think too hard about the logistics.


While Fallout is far from the only franchise to claw onto this concept, it’s intriguing to think about the why. Why exactly do we think of the future as being weirdly mid-century centric, even though we have no idea what design choices people in 200 years will care about? On that note, why choose the mid-century in the first place? Why not the 1920s? Why not the 80s? Why not the early 2000s, when we were all wearing far too much stretchy metallic material?

The answer, as always, is Star Trek.

The amount of things in not only pop culture, but technology that Star Trek has inspired is staggering, if not scary. I personally have a saying: If you go back far enough with fantasy tropes, you’ll hit Tolkien. If you go back far enough with sci-fi tropes, you’re going to hit Star Trek. Whether you like the franchise or not, there’s no escaping the fact that its essence has unwittingly become the bible of anything futuristic or sci-fi. And guess what? Do you know when Star Trek first aired? 1966.


If we’re looking at this from the perspective of a viewer in the 1960s, the sets and styles of Star Trek wouldn’t look retro at all. They would match the newest current designs, mixed with Roddenberry’s guess of what the 23rd century looked like. It’s only now, decades later, that the 60s are considered “old” and “nostalgic”. But because of Star Trek’s choke hold on the genre, those mid-century designs are going to be found in the abandoned houses in Fallout, or in Commander Shepard’s flat in Mass Effect 3 (Dear Bioware, naming the housing complex “Tiberius Towers” wasn’t subtle, by the way). Hell, the style is still used in Star Trek today.

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In conclusion, Star Trek’s hold on society will never loosen, and you better remember that next time you start singing that damn Country Roads song.

Tina Vatore

Tina Vatore

Staff Writer

“That's what I'm here for: to deliver unpleasant news and witty one-liners."

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