SOG of Moose Jaw, Sask submitted this question by email:
Dear Dr. Flavour,
I'm confused by the title of the movie "Back to the Future". Isn't this an oxymoron? Also, yesterday while trying to repair a lawn ornament I accidentally glued myself to a garden gnome. Does this make me an "epoxymoron"?
Stuck On Gnomes, Moose Jaw, Sask.
"Back to the Future" is not an oxymoron. It refers to an Ancient Greek metaphor for time. Whereas we moderns think of ourselves as facing forward in time, with our backs to the past, the metaphor was reversed in classical antiquity, that is, they thought of themselves as looking at the past with their backs to the future. This difference in imagery reveals our diverging cultural perspectives on time. Moderns tend to think of the future optimistically as an opportunity for relentless progress and we put little value on history. The ancients in contrast thought of the future as imperceptible and unreliably fortuitous, but revered their ancestors and cultural history to which they looked for guidance.
When Bob Gale wrote “Back to the Future”, he was indicating his own classically inclined admiration for the history of literature, in this case, the 19th work “The Time Machine” by H.G. Wells on which Gale based his movie. Wells’s character “The Traveller”, for example, is represented by Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox). The vile and cannibalistic monsters, the Morlock, are represented by Christopher Lloyd’s monstrously bad over-acting, which can have the effect of driving viewers to gnaw each other’s faces off in true Morlocky fashion. Finally, the imbecilic pleasure-seekers, the hapless Eloi, are anybody who sat through the entire “Back the to the Future” sequels.
As for your second question, “Yes”.