A portion of the internet was stunned and disturbed last week by the image above, which features a televised sunrise at Tiananmen Square. News sites reported the fact that the smog in Beijing had become so dense, this was the only way people could watch the sun rise. The story made me sad. As a writer who favours speculative and post apocalyptic settings, I could feel words crawling across my head. Or, that creeping sensation might have been something like fear. I couldn’t imagine living in a cloud of smog, relying on a screen to tell me the sun had risen and set. But I could imagine writing about it. In fact, I already was. My current project is a short story with an eerily similar theme.
The image stayed with me all weekend, poking and prodding. I recalled a recent read: Wool by Hugh Howey. Residents of a giant silo sunk into the earth watch the sunrise on a screen and take it as truth that the shining orb actually does arise from the toxic horizon. When they start to question that truth, their society falls apart.
Disturbed, I wondered if the sunrise televised to the viewers in Tiananmen Square was real. Were they looking at the sun as it rose that day, or the sun as it rose a month ago? Had someone recorded a perfect display of colour that would come to define the beginning of every day in Beijing? How many people actually, actively watch the sun rise? Could I tell the difference between a real and a fake?
This morning, I watched the sun rise through the trees crowding my back yard. It looked like a line of fire along the horizon, burning its way up and across. I took several pictures. Then I came inside and checked my morning news feeds, which generally consist of geeky concerns. If the world disappears one day, well, I’m done for. No preparation will save me. I do like to know what’s up with the next Superman movie, however, and if Gearbox has released any new Shift Codes.
Imagine my surprise when I saw an article on Kotaku calling bullshit on the televised sunrise story. With a sense of relief, I clicked through. The screens are advertisements–not of a dystopian future, but of China, today. There is a tourism logo in the corner and the sunrise picture appears all day, every day, as part of a montage of images aimed at tourists.
Still, I find myself reluctant to breathe out and start plotting the story inspired by the original report. The idea of a televised sunrise obviously touched a nerve, and I doubt I’m the only person left disturbed. Probably because it could have been true. It almost felt true, and it was a sad, sad reminder of what we’re doing to this beautiful planet of ours.