FREEDOM DIED, PEOPLEPosted: May 22, 2013
I’m a bit late on this—like, two months late—which means you’ve almost certainly seen this video by now:
It’s hard to take seriously, sure—it’s got a weird “expensive production values on a shoestring budget” aesthetic, and the final seconds are ridiculous (but, to be fair, it’s impossible to make “FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY” sexy, no matter how many flames you put behind it). And, of course, it was widely mocked as soon as it hit the internet, mostly for blatantly ripping off The Hunger Games (or the trailers, anyway) while simultaneously completely inverting the franchise’s ideology (or so the criticisms go: I’ve neither seen nor read The Hunger Games series, and have no idea what sort of political statements it makes).
The point I want to make—which seems (at least in my cursory reading about this … video) to have been overlooked—is that dystopian/post-apocalyptic narratives lend themselves much more readily to conservative agendas than to progressive ones.
I’m using the terms “conservative” and “progressive” fairly loosely, and—reductively, I admit—as shorthand for “change is bad” and “change is good,” respectively. But even if these definitions flatof socio-political nuance, I think they’re still sufficiently accurate to be useful. And while I tend toward the progressive end of things—”traditional” sometimes means “racist/sexist/oppressive,” and contemporary American conservative politics is based on inaccurate nostalgic fantasies about the early union—I also recognize that changes to complex systems (such as those that exist in a nation of 330 million people) often/always have unexpected/unpredictable results, which are not always positive.
Having gotten that out of the way: the dystopian/postapocalyptic narrative is, almost by definition, a conservative narrative¹—things are okay, something happens, then things are terrible. Change is bad. Were things better in The Road before the bombs fell? Of course. (Ditto for basically every narrative with nuclear explosions.) Were things better before Ingsoc? Yes. Did things get worse after Skynet became self-aware? Obviously! (Well, except for the robots. Ditto for the machines in The Matrix.) How about Independence Day? Sure, Bill Pullman and Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum saved humanity from the aliens, but only after the destruction of ‘every major city’ and the loss of countless human lives. (Roland Emmerich also destroys the world in The Day After Tomorrow and 2012, neither of which I’ve seen, so I can’t make accurate jokes about them.) Are zombies ever good news, or outbreaks of virulent and fatal diseases? No (unless, again, you’re a zombie or a virus).
Back to the video: what is it trying to sell us? Ostensibly, anyway, it’s trying to sell us “fiscal responsibility, Constitutionally-limited government, [and] free markets” (in all-caps, no less). I’m going to ignore those, because they aren’t what we’re supposed to take away—they seem like a complete non sequitur, in fact. The video is trying to sell us revolution—a repeat of the Revolution, which (even though the video shows nothing more violent than people glowering at each other) has violent, bloody connotations. The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, after all.
What happens after a revolution? After the execution of Charles I, Cromwell established a military
dictatorship protectorate; the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, the Haitian Revolution under Dessalines—all resulted in dictatorships of varying duration. The American Revolution is different only in that it resulted in an oligarchy (which persists to this day) rather than rule by .
The “people” certainly participate in revolutions, but they don’t organize them: cabals and juntas and provincial gentry organize them for the purpose of acquiring more power. A revolution results—in the short term, at least—in the transfer of power from elite to elite, and not in the dissemination of power from the elite to the people. That is: the people have, on the whole, no more liberty after a revolution than before, though they may have exchanged some liberties for others.
But, ironically, the Tea Party Patriots (like other ‘revolutionaries’ before them) are couching this movement in terms of greater individual liberty. “Limited government” is good, and (at least for libertarians) “limitedness” and “goodness” are inversely proportionate, so that almost no government is best (no government is anarchy, for fuck’s sake, and we can’t have that). Right? And with small government comes greater individual liberty—which reminds me, irresistibly, of the Hobbesian state of nature, in which individual liberty is completely unrestrained (nevermind that life is nasty, brutish, and short, and a war of all against all). So: governmental power should be consolidated (but not diminished), and individual liberty should be expanded, so we can all be assholes to one another. Cool.
I was going to write about The Walking Dead (the comic)—all those patriarchal, dictatorial tribes (Rick’s included) trying to make a “new life” in the brave new world of the undead—but I don’t think I can right now. The more I’ve tried to make sense of that video, the less sense it makes to me—maybe it doesn’t make any sense?—and I think I’ve already made the point I want to make … which is just that the dystopian tone is actually sort of generically appropriate. That’s all.