Cassette Futurism

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In works created in sometimes mid-late The '70s, The '80s, The '90s, and occasionally The Nills, the fashion, architecture, and technology will have a certain... aesthetic. Whether it be the loud, bright colors and geometric shapes, the tendency towards stark plainness, or the the lack of powerful computers and cell phones, it is clear that this is neither the Raygun Gothic of days past nor the Everything Is an iPod in the Future aesthetic that would follow, but a bridging point that contains elements of both styles.

As the name implies, a good way to judge if this trope is present is the frequent use of cassettes, which were used in the decades named above to house magnetic tape ubiquitous in technology of the period, and later on often contained ROM chips for game consoles and occasionally add-ons for computing hardware. Other technologies to look out for are CRT displays, computer systems reminiscent of microcomputers like the Commodore 64, freestanding hi-fi systems, small LCD displays as opposed to full color screens, and other analog technologies. The Internet or some analogue may exist, but if it's more frequently used to exchange large files than physical media, chances are that the work isn't using this trope.

Expect many high-end electronics to come in beige box cases.

Contrast Everything Is an iPod in the Future. Compare to Retraux, Retro Universe and Raygun Gothic.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Advertising 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Cowboy Bebop has a very 1970s aesthetic, including computer files that look like long-playing records, which is appropriate since it is set in the '70s- the 2070s.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion is a very high-tech setting, but set in an alternate future where a catastrophic asteroid impact (or so the public were told) and a number of ugly resource wars sparked by the resulting climate change significantly hampered the development of consumer electronics. It's telling that Shinji's SDAT mini-cassette player is easily his most sophisticated possession.
  • AKIRA has chunky computers without touch screens still in use in 2019. Partially justified by technology being held back by The Tokyo Fireball and subsequent conflicts. Also, no digital cameras. Ryu at one point gives Nezu a roll of film to develop.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The store in Back to the Future Part II is an in-universe example. The whole 2015 segment in the same movie heavily features this kind of aesthetics, but it's implied that they also have some form of advanced digital technology (though we never see it directly in the movie itself).
  • The Fifth Element has a distinctive aesthetic that looks like a lot of '90s music videos. It's deliberately futuristic-looking but also quite campy.
  • Johnny Mnemonic future fashions and aesthetics in the year 2021 are based on 1980s and early 1990s fashions (especially the bright colors and heavy makeup on characters in Ralfi's club). Fax machines and VCRs play a more crucial role in transferring information than the Internet, and the design of the Internet is based on conceptual designs of cyberspace and virtual reality, as popularized by William Gibson's Neuromancer.
  • A Clockwork Orange uses Brutalist architecture, which features stark, blocky and concrete shapes, to represent the future. Fashions are also very bizarre, with colorful wigs and bodysuits being fairly common. Alex plays music on a microcassette.
  • Strange Days is set 20 Minutes into the Future, in a dystopian society that was only a few years away from the time of filming. The future aesthetic is mostly conveyed with loud, shiny clothing and punk stylings amongst the hip and degenerate crowd. Information is distributed by hand on discs, without any mention of the internet. Possibly justified, since the amount of information on one of those human memory disks has got to be vast.
  • Hackerman from Kung Fury is probably this film's most representative example.
  • Space Mutiny has this aesthetic, with the space ship filled with CRT televisions, rows of computer keyboards stuck to walls, and New Wave fashions. The fact that much of the film was shot in an old factory makes the space ship seem technologically very analog and mechanical.
  • Cherry 2000 has a very 1980s view of the future. The main character is a Mega Corp. executive for a cable television station, and his swanky apartment is very cassette futuristic.

    Literature 
  • William Gibson's Sprawl Trilogy features things as complex as human memories recorded on tape. Not to mention that three megabytes of hot RAM is apparently valuable enough to kill for.
  • Cybernetrix is set in a world where The '80s never ended, for better or for worse. Old Atari consoles are still in use, people ride around in DeLoreans and Ghostbusters has had at least seven sequels, the most recent having a buddy-cop Bromance between Ray and Slimer. The whole premise of the book involves hundreds of people trying to escape such cultural stagnation through the virtual world Cybernetrix, which is in it of itself named after a TRON mockbuster film.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Several skits on Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!:
    • Puppeteer and Cloudcuckoolander David Lied Hart holds a giant VHS cassette with a "VHS for sale" sign nearby.
    • Uncle Muscles show sketches feature 1980s and '90s icon "Weird Al" Yankovic, and feel like a warped version of a bad '80s cable access show. The "special effects" look like they were ripped right from old Genie analog editing consoles.
    • One sketch is made to look like an ad for a Midi file organizer.
    • One sketch is made to look like an ad for "The Innernette" (all contained on one CD!) and reeks of this trope. You have to see it to believe how deep into this trope it really is. (season 2 episode 8)
    • Its Spin-Off counts as well.
  • Babylon 5 featured lots of curved CRT screens disguised as flatscreens.
  • Space: Above and Beyond also had lots of CRT screens (not disguised) as well as CDs and other mid-nineties tech.
  • Max Headroom, the TV movie and subsequent series. Even though it's the Trope Namer for 20 Minutes into the Future, there's no flat-screen digital HDTV, computer graphics have a distinctly pre-Windows appearance and TV shows are still recorded on tape. The internet exists, but it's portrayed like a magical system of tubes with primitive graphics.
  • In the Red Dwarf: Back to Earth miniseries, Kryten explains that the human race flirted with DVDs but reverted to VHS cassettes, because unlike a small thin disc, a big boxy cassette is virtually impossible to misplace or damage.
    • Possibly a shout-out to the series two episode "Better Than Life", in which the crew are shown to use triangular cassette tapes for recording material.
    • Micro Cassette are also used to store one's entire memory. Just don't drop it into your tea...
  • Blake's 7. You have data crystals and microtapes, solid state computers with Billions of Buttons and esoteric talking AI's, clunky Used Future freighters and gleaming Cool Starships.
  • Battlestar Galactica (2003) initially is vague about how advanced Colonial digital technology was, with a backstory alluding to the Colonists downgrading their digital tech deliberately to fight the Cylons, who as artificially intelligent lifeforms were really good at hacking their computer systems. When Helo and Starbuck are stranded on Caprica and rummaging through Starbuck's old apartment, the microcassettes from A Clockwork Orange show up in Starbuck's possession; they contain recordings of her father's piano music. Later the series seems to imply that Colonial computer tech is about a couple years to a decade behind present-day Earth, but as the Galactica is an old ship from the first war, she is deliberately lower-tech compared to newer, more digitally advanced ships like the Pegasus. Various other Colonial tech (especially non-military tech) also has retro-stylings, like their art deco radios that wouldn't look out of place in a 1950s diner. The Colonists are Human Aliens, human beings from a parallel civilization who eventually turn out to be our prehistoric ancestors. Their technological progression (pre-war) doesn't strictly have to follow Earth's, but they are meant to be roughly similar to us culturally enough that we might expect only minor variations, like the microcassettes and vintage-looking radios, which might have been technological dead-ends in their own civilization's history, but probably are more resistant to Cylon electronic warfare than digital technology. At least, Colonial space travel tech does seem to have advanced by the time Galactica is set, but the civilian radios still look like early and mid-20th century AM/FM models with art deco stylings, and other episodes imply that the A Clockwork Orange-inspired microcassettes were a common storage medium for music, at least on Caprica, before the Cylon Holocaust.
    • In the prequel series, Series/Caprica, taking place several decades before Battlestar Galactica (2003), the effect resembles Schizo Tech, as the Colonial computer technology shown to exist before the war with the Cylons is clearly much more advanced than our own, or the tech that the Colonists apparently fell back on when the built ships like Galactica with no computer networks on board to make them more resistant to Cylon hacking. The people of planet Caprica (and presumably the other 11 colonies) have USB drives, flat touchscreens, fully immersive virtual reality and holotechnology, and artificially intelligent robot butlers that resemble iPods, but still make use of late 90s/early 2000s "flip phones" and even older rotary-style phones. This was probably more for stylistic reasons, as Caprica contains elements of Cyberpunk and The Future Is Noir that incorporate other retro aesthetics (Fedoras, cigarettes, etc).

    Music Videos 
Most music videos from the '90s and early 2000s that incorporate futuristic settings, and even some that don't, dive head-first into this trope. Here is a good sampling of the "Y2K futurism" of many pop stars from that time. To quote one commenter:
"Oh my God they're wearing Bubblewrap."

    Tabletop Games 
  • Myriad Song is designed with this aesthetic as a tribute to the classics. In-universe it's stated that the Syndics only worked with analog electronics, no digital.
  • Modempunk is a simple role-playing game made by the 1d4Chan community about a dystopian alternate history 1980s where the 1990s internet boon came a decade early, owning a computer without a license makes you an outlaw by the police-state, and most kids are cool, savvy hackers. Players are encouraged to make cleaver uses of commonly available electronics from the 1980s, altered for hacking and "phreaking" by the characters. The game was inspired by the 1995 movie Hackers.
  • The role-playing game Retrostar urges you to invoke this as it guides you into making your own 1960s-through-late-1970s sci-fi TV show (with sample mini-settings homaging shows like the original Battlestar Galactica and The Six-Million-Dollar-Man) and then play as the show's cast.
  • Early editions of Shadowrun, being heavily based on the Sprawl Trilogy, have this aesthetic and technology level. Later editions updated the world to remove some of the zeerust

    Video Games 
  • Alien: Isolation does this deliberately as part of its Zeerust Canon, mimicking the original films' '70s/'80s vision of the future.
  • Done to a limited extent with the Fallout games. While the vast majority of the series' technologies, aesthetics, and geopolitical backstory are retro-futurist throwbacks to the science fiction and culture of The '50s, the designers recognized that this wouldn't fly for ubiquitous personal computers (which didn't really exist in '50s sci-fi). And so, the game features '80s-style computers with monochromatic, green, text-only displays, and "holodisks" being the main medium of transferring data. Fallout 4 adds games with simple graphics that pay homage to classic real-life games from the '70s and '80s like Missile Command, Pitfall, and Space Invaders, whose holodisks resemble old-fashioned Atari and Nintendo cartridges.
  • Quadrilateral Cowboy features clunky computers, Walk-Men that use records, and cyborg limbs.
  • Shadow Warrior 2 has a quite '80s aesthetic to the cyberpunk part of the setting. There's one major mission where you have to stop a paparazzo from releasing sex tapes of Ameonna by destroying vending machines selling VHS tapes, which would definitely not be enough in this Internet-connected age.
  • Classical futuristic id Software 3D shooters, especially Quake and Quake 2, are styled in this aesthetic.

    Web Original 
  • This article lists several movies that feature that kind of aesthetics.
  • Formica Punk is basically the Punk Punk version of this trope. The name inspired a Tumblr blog (in French).

    Western Animation 
  • Regular Show has a very '80s (and later parts with some '90s) feel to it, despite being set in the present day (around original show air is very likely early 2010s so show universe is likely based from) and even one episode from early season had the characters time travel to the actual 1980s.
    • All video graphics are 8-bit, the music is mostly Hair Metal, some episodes ape early-MTV music video techniques, there episode that Russia somehow still is USSR put not fully mentioned calling themselves while America's current president is very like Bill Clinton himself that and even two oldest main characters (Skips and Pops) backstories are like this with Skips's high school yearsnote  that are act directing from 1980s high school film even it happens take place in between either the early or late 1800s.

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