Will it be commonplace for people of the future to get their skin colour artificially changed? Not just black or white or brown, but also orange and blue and grey? The 1972 documentary Future Shock, hosted by legendary director Orson Welles, imagined just such a world. “What happens to race?” Welles asks, when people can choose to be different colours?
The short documentary was a more dystopian and techno-reactionary version of Toffler’s bestselling 1970 book of the same name. And the section about skin colours was meant to alarm viewers about the radical changes that were to come:
Even more dramatic changes in the body: skin colour. Dr. William Epstein’s work raises the prospect of manipulating race.
In these laboratories we’re interested in the factors that determine skin pigmentation. The question comes up, could we change man’s colour? And the answer is probably we could, and will be able to in the future. If we could control the code, we should be able to make the person any colour we want, very much like a fish. But really, do you really want to do that? Why don’t you just go to the store, get some cosmetics, put yourself on any colour you want anytime and be anybody you want? Start a fad.
Will the human race emerge in a range of brilliant colours? Given the choice, would we want to look alike or different? What is beautiful? What happens to race?
The film only asks questions and doesn’t really answer that last bit. What are the social and cultural consequences of changing your skin colour or race? We’re certainly seeing that play out in real time thanks to a white woman in Washington who has been presenting herself as black for nearly a decade. So I suppose we have to consider this a failed prediction, at least for the year 2015.