This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Back to the Future franchise. It’s a very important anniversary. Why? Because, as Doc Brown says “it seems like a nice, round number,” and it is the period of time that the protagonists leap over from their base time of 1985, either into the past, or the future (give or take 100 years for Back to the Future III).
Yes, fanboys and friends, we have arrived at the future, 2015, and have the benefit of being able to compare our current lives with what was predicted by Robert Zemeckis. Zemeckis claims, by the way, that he had no intention of trying to accurately predict what life would be like 30 years in the future, he was just trying to be funny. But Zemeckis doesn’t need to backpedal. Yes, we have no flying cars, hoverboards (well, just barely), mass produced sneakers that tie themselves, double-knotted neckties, popular clothing in holographic colors, or 18 Jaws sequels, but there is a good reason for this.
Marty McFly Changes the Future
As we see in Back to the Future II when Biff escapes into the past with the Sports Almanac, changing events in the past can massively affect the present (and the future). Biff goes from being a sap to kingpin and back again due to the characters’ various mucking about in past events. What we conveniently forget when Back to the Future II opens is that a massive change to the past has already happened.
George McFly: World Maker
If you’ll recall, in Back to the Future, Marty helps his dad learn to stand up to Biff, and as a result, George becomes a cool, successful guy rather than the milquetoast he was before. Given the McFly family’s psychotic reaction to being called “chicken,” one might have thought that Marty would have exploited this weakness to make a man out of George in 1955 and saved himself a lot of time and trouble, but perhaps this weakness skipped a generation, or Marty simply isn’t that bright and hadn’t thought of it.*
However, what we do not realize is that Marty’s changes extended far beyond making his family a success. As a result of Marty’s actions, George McFly becomes a (presumably successful) science fiction author. Now we all know that science fiction authors often provide the ideas and framework for what later becomes science fact. Star Trek gave us the model for cell phones. Isaac Asimov conceived of the e-Reader and much of the way we think about robots. I submit that the future technology that we see in Back to the Future II’s 2015 that we do not have today come as a direct result of ideas from George McFly’s novels.
Why Fax machines instead of the internet? Perhaps one of McFly’s adventures glorified this now-archaic device, encouraging scientists to put their efforts into perfecting it rather than other, less reliable-seeming types of wireless technology. Why were there 18 Jaws sequels? (A better question, why weren’t there 18 Jaws sequels?) Did you catch that latest George McFly best seller about the man-eating shark from space? How did the Cubs win the World Series? Well, that one I can’t explain, but you get the idea.
Back to the Present
The conclusion is inescapable. Before Marty McFly went back to 1955 to escape the Libyan terrorists, his 2015 looked exactly as ours does today, with the internet, cars and skateboards that stay rooted firmly to the ground, and a hapless Cubs franchise that will never get it quite right. By going back in time and affecting the timeline, he created the awesome 2015 that we in this world will never get to enjoy.
*And sorry, fans, but Marty McFly is not particularly intelligent. Observe how many times in the first Back to the Future he makes comments that suggest he does not realize that he is in the past although it should be abundantly clear at this point that this is what has happened. Also, Marty acts surprised when Doc Brown suggests his mother is romantically interested in him despite the fact that she has already overtly hit on him. In addition, he’s not creative enough to think of any fake names for himself that don’t already belong to existing famous people, and even at middle age he is able to be manipulated psychologically with tactics typically used on children.