Dystopian fiction – from Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange to Russell T Davies’s spectacular recent BBC1 series Years and Years – is usually intended to take elements of the present and then imagine a future in which they have become inescapable, so as to warn us of what might already be in our midst.
But the 21st century is challenging this technique in one bracing sense: the way the world now seems to race beyond the wildest aspects of our collective imagination before we have even started to think about what might come next. Consider last week’s news about Facebook, and the fact that three years of corporate disgrace – and rising noise from legislators about bringing the tech giant to heel – have yet to slow its terrifying quest to insinuate its workings into every area of our lives. Now, in a move that could have been taken from a futuristic novel, it wants to create nothing less than a new global currency.
The administration’s decision to postpone the $20 makeover has inspired some Americans to make their own Tubmans. An artist named Dano Wall has been making stamps of Tubman’s face that can be used to blot out Jackson’s on the $20. (After Mnuchin’s announcement, the stamp sold out on Etsy, though you can also make your own.) Wall told the Washington Post that he’d like to get thousands of stamps out there: “If there are 5,000 people consistently stamping currency, we could get a significant percent of circulating $20 bills [with the Tubman] stamp, at which point it would be impossible to ignore.”
Despite the improbability of achieving widespread visibility, the idea of turning greenbacks into vehicles for political messages isn’t new.