This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Power of Overpopulation in Movies and Literature

If you've seen the wildly popular movie "Avengers: Infinity War" you know that the plot revolves around the issue of overpopulation. Thanks to Todd Gardner (@PopGeog on Twitter) for linking me to a story in The Guardian that digs into this a bit:
There are 7,622,000,000 people in the world today, and not all of them are superheroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But even though rising population figures are good for box-office receipts, it is a real-world trend that has sparked alarm and controversy for decades. And, while it is still a somewhat peripheral concern in contemporary politics – unlike, say, climate change – overpopulation has nevertheless become the crisis du jour in modern blockbuster filmmaking. As a movie-plot issue, population crisis exists between a plausible future and an imagined dystopia, offering Hollywood a force of moral nuance that exceeds the brute power of pure evil’s wrecking balls.
The makers of Avengers: Infinity War (2018) actually grappled with a double-pronged population crisis in the latest instalment in the Marvel’s Avengers series. First, they had to ram dozens of standalone superheroes, from Doctor Strange to Black Panther, into a tolerable length of film, and second, only anxiety over population growth could provide sufficient moral complexity for the franchise’s big boss, Thanos.
The term "dystopia" (essentially Hell on Earth) is of course the opposite of "utopia" (essentially Heaven on Earth) and the role of demography in dystopias was labeled "Demodystopias" by Andrew Domingo in an article published in 2008 in Population and Development Review. Indeed, it seems that dystopian publications are typically the inspirations for the movies.
Hollywood’s interest in population crises reflects a publishing trend. Back in 2013, in the space of a month, two books were published with near identical titles and subjects: Stephen Emmott’s bite-sized, apocalyptic, vision, Ten Billion, and Danny Dorling’s longer, more optimistic, Population 10 Billion. Both posed the question: when the global population count hits 10 billion, as projections suggest it will around 2050, can we sustain life on Earth at current levels of consumption?
As Dorling observes, “At some point we should begin to get low fertility apocalyptic films, when a director realises that average human fertility is falling rapidly and not set to stop at two babies per couple but below that after 2100 (if not before 2100).” As Luthersdottir says: “Popular culture reflects that which is popular – and as such it will always reflect that which is the perceived reality … rather than attempting to enlighten us about actual reality.”
In his 2008 article Domingo talks about these kinds of low-fertility scenarios, and in particular mentions Ben Wattenberg:
Ben Wattenberg presented himself as a prophet of the disasters that demographic implosion would bring to the planet in his book The Birth Dearth (1987), although with far less popular success than Ehrlich on the population explosion. In 2004 he returned to the theme in Fewer: How the New Demography of Depopulation Will Shape Our Future.
Hollywood producers haven't yet jumped on this... 

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