Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.
When Alfonso Alfonso Cuarón's Children of Men came out back in 2006, I hailed the return of the dystopian sci-fi movie. I loved those things back in the late 60s and 70s. Soylent Green, Rollerball, Planet of the Apes, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Omega Man, A Clockwork Orange, A Boy and His Dog, from Kubrick to schlock, they were a seductive outlet for adolescent fears of pollution, governmental and corporate control, and nuclear war. So in Christmas of 2006, in the midst of the Bush/Cheney fiasco, I thought to myself, "Man, this is just what we need!"
Little did I know how hot the apocalyptic fantasy rush was going to be. I love lists, but even Rabelais would be daunted by the myriad. The Young Adult dystopian novels, movies and TV series alone multiply each season. Action, horror, comedies, psychological thrillers – every commercial genre has been colonized by camps of bleak futurologies.
I saw Logan, the final installment of the Hugh Jackman as Wolverine series, the other night. Didn't see any of the first however-many. The story is set in 2029. And this is not an anti-utopia per se. This is a Marvel Comics movie. Not that Marvel would be or has been incapable of weaving anti-utopian tales, and the X-men do exist in a world of allegorical ethnic cleansing, but even given that, there were a few almost unnoticeable but nonetheless remarkable passing notes on the way to telling the story. One, I don't even remember what it was – something about pollution, and the audience collectively, unconsciously, went, of course, it's the future, pollution got so bad it did that awful thing, whatever it was.
Okay, but this is twelve years in the future. The story takes place twelve years from now. My point is simply that it's all by-the-way now. You could set a story in next year, have most of the population dead of flesh-eating virus, and an audience would go, Yeah, that's plausible. Nuclear war has wiped out all humans except a handful of cannibal children by June? Could happen. John Cusack and Chiwetel Ejiofor had to save a handful of humans from the Mayan-prophesied end of days? Five years ago? Well, we all had to go sometime.
This trend is not recent enough to blame on the ascension to office of the Creamsicle Raccoon, although a rewatch of any dystopia is most certainly enhanced by it. Reality itself has been thus enhanced. A walk down a city street seems a prelude to Blade Runner. The scenery on a drive through the southwestern United States is a pregnant landscape ready to burst open and disgorge Mad Max: Fury Road's tribal skinheads screaming for blood and glory.
Everything is more. All things are over-fraught. The military is a false promise of economic security for those desperate enough to bargain their lives. The police crush dissent with military body armor and siege equipment, which suits the white supremacists who've made it a point to infiltrate their ranks during the past couple of decades just fine. A bank account is a necessity for a job and shelter, but they can tax you with random fees or simply collapse, burying your money, then re-emerge in another incarnation and demand it again. At any given moment there are a dozen competing versions of the official truth, tailored to entertain and aggravate the fears and prejudices of every demographic.
Layers of invisible owners extract rents from us, draining our communities of political and economic power, gambling with both our savings and our debts and extracting wealth from us every time they roll their dice. Pseudo-scientists dictate the limits of discussions about everything that matters to us, especially our money and the way we spend our time. The global economy is run according to mystical falsehoods meant to re-establish each morning the rights of those with power and wealth to more of it, and to control our bodies, what we put into them, what we do with them, and our minds, and to what uses we put them.
There's also an endlessly various spectacle, a massive arena in which some lucky ones compete to sell their identities for a chance at release from the global labor camp of meaningless toil. Air, water and farmland are being destroyed to an extent causing wars and mass migrations of refugees. And if the world were threatened with destruction should one more puff of carbon monoxide enter the atmosphere, there wouldn't be a damn thing we could do to save it.
We are telling ourselves a dire story these days. Not to say we're imagining everything. All the ills I've listed are true for some group of victims or another, and some of them are true for all of us. And there is no time that's too soon to fight against these immoral, inhuman oppressions. But all narratives are built around stakes. Vital narratives are built around threats to existence. It may be that, like our desire for extreme sour gummy worms, our constant dystopia is a symptom of our ever-increasing appetite for stimulation. Dystopia might be to advanced civilization what emotional drama is to bored high school romantics. It might be the bourgeois comfort of a segment of us shaping narration that lends already miserable circumstances a hue of hubris having pushed beyond the brink of inevitable disaster.
It's partly perversity on our part. It feels good to surrender to the worst possible outcome. Why worry over small details, such as whether we can help the homeless here or there, when, let's face it, we're all screwed?
The story of an irredeemable human project is something I adore. I recently felt completely justified in tweeting, "If water were brown instead of clear, capitalists would sneak in a pound of poop a day for each of us." What kind of way is that to talk about your fellow species members? No one really doubts the speculative truth of my hypothetical, but water isn't brown. Not yet, anyway. So why even bring it up?
Nevertheless, I came out to vote in the off-year election here in Los Angeles. But less than twelve percent of Angelinos joined me. What gives, if not thoughtless fatalism? What gives here, if not the moral license to do nothing? Who gives out these licenses? Is it me? Do I man a window at the DMV of constant dystopia? Me and my so-called Moment of Truth?
Well, excuse me. I have a god-awful work ethic and an all-around lousy attitude. Yet I made a point of learning a few things, finding out which of them weighed more to the good on a binary scale of yes or no, and got up and voted. I mean, Jesus Krauts, WTF? This is what we said we'd do, get involved locally and take back our politics from the ground up, and we can't even get our shit together to vote?
If this is all my fault, I'm sorry. But I have to believe this hopelessness stuff enough to actually create it, all you have to do is suspend your disbelief long enough to consume it. As many times as I've made caustic sardonic offhand comments since the election, I've been reminded by hopeful, constructive people, mainly women, or men I met through hopeful, motivated women, that it's all very esthetically entertaining but the real mission is still to do something, for goodness sakes.
Seems like most of Los Angeles needs to find better people to hang around with. And how has local political engagement been going in the rest of the country, and the rest of the Western World, for that matter? Pretty pathetically.
Let's go! Yeah, we're living in Brave New Clockwork Soylent Hungerball Metropolis 1984, no doubt about it. But damn, people, there's a resistance! Take it seriously! If we can't save the world from the fascists, at least we can get our licks in before the whole shithouse goes up in flames. At least we can win a few good years of public schooling for someone's kids. And, no matter what I or anyone else might tell you, nothing is inevitable. It just feels that way sometimes.
This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!