Beyond Phlebotinum

Phlebotinum is the versatile substance or incomprehensible technology that causes an effect needed by a plot in a work of fiction. Phlebotinum basically does everything, except solve specific limits and dangers required by the plot. Without it, the story would grind to an abrupt halt. In the film Downsizing by Alexander Payne the phlebotinum is provided by a high tech machine and some speculative science abracadabra. A full sized person goes in the machine and after some wizardry comes out as a 13 centimeter person. It’s great fantasy, and it serves a purpose in igniting our imagination about the possibilities of being small. However, the problem with introducing phlebotinum into speculations about downsizing the human species is that it reinforces the prejudice that shrinking our average size is unrealistic and can only be achieved in fairy tales and fantasy stories. It creates a certain blindness for the fact that proof of the real possibility of becoming smaller is everywhere. No need for shrink beams, sci-fi machines and magic potions. If we are to embrace becoming smaller as a species we must move beyond Phlebotinum, and realise that this is something that could and perhaps should be achieved for real.

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