World Without End

I’ve discovered an odd trend in myself these days: I’ve been yelling at the TV a lot. Even more oddly, the things that make me yell at the TV the most (besides Scott Brown political ads…ugh) is the show Revolution. Now, I’ve already ranted a bit about how I find the basic premise ridiculous, but there’s more to it than that. There is a cynicism hidden within and behind the show that makes me pretty frustrated with what is, apparently, the writers (or perhaps modern society’s) attitude towards human endeavor. It isn’t just Revolution, either. I find this frustration present in most zombie franchises, too (another premise I find ridiculous) and, indeed, with much of the apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic sub-genre. Again, it all has to do with what these folks think of human nature and human’s capacity to survive.

In my most recent yell-at-Revolution escapade, I caught an episode where Maggie describes how she tried to get home to her family in Britain after the blackout. There was lightning in the episode, too, which prompted me to yell “DO LIGHTNING RODS STILL WORK?”, but that’s besides the point. The point is that Maggie explains, tearfully, how she couldn’t find anybody to take her across the Atlantic. She meets a fisherman in a flashback who exclaims ‘there are no steam engines, no tall ships anymore, and those we had were broken down for firewood’ and basically explains that no one can sail across the ocean anymore. Even presuming the non-existence of tall ships (false) or assuming we broke them all down for firewood (though you would think having the only ocean-going vessel would be put to better use), I have this to say:

Do you know what you need to cross the Atlantic?

  1. Food
  2. Water
  3. A Compass
  4. A Sailboat that doesn’t leak
  5. Guts

Given the number of fiberglass and aluminum sailing vessels in the US (in the millions), if even 10% of those are large enough to safely cross an ocean, that’s hundreds of thousands of potential boats. There are a lot of sailors, too, and it isn’t all that hard to learn, and you’d imagine if the power went out, sailing would become massively lucrative and important almost immediately.

These facts, though, aren’t what the purveyors of apocalyptic literature are interested in, though. That isn’t what the writers mean, precisely, when they tell us Maggie can’t cross the ocean. They’re trying to sell us on the idea that humanity is helpless without modern civilization and that only the very strongest of us can achieve anything without it. They’re trying to say that element #5 – guts – is a rare and unusual diamond among the detritus of humanity. This, right here, is what makes me start yelling at people.

Look at this guy:

To Be Submitted Into Evidence: Humanity Has Guts

If you think Felix Baumgartner is unique and alone, you’re wrong. For every person watching his jump on Youtube saying ‘I could never do that’, there were others who were saying ‘that is totally awesome’. Hell, many of the team that put him up there are probably cut from similar cloth, in that they invested time, blood, and treasure into this ‘ridiculous’ scheme – you don’t do that unless you admire it. Maybe they’re not likely to jump out of weather balloons, but they’ve got the desire to make their mark on the world. In Felix Baumgartner, we see the thing that the apocalyptics don’t seem to like acknowledging: humans do some pretty amazing stuff, no matter the circumstances. Ever heard of Shackleton? Hillary? Magellan? The Wrights? Eriksson? The Venerablefucking-Bede? The Felix Baumgartners of the world would look at Maggie the English Doctor, crying for her children, and say “Sure lady, I’ll get you across the Atlantic. Might take me a little bit, but I’ve got a plan.”

Humanity is nothing if not adaptable. Even in our darkest times, we accomplished wonderful things. We, as a species, do not crumble in the face adversity; if anything, it makes us better. When I look at scifi stories that refuse to acknowledge the beauty and wonder of humanity’s potential, it saddens me. It reminds me of what Michael Dorn had to say about these days in which we live. To summarize, he thinks we need more Star Trek. We need more optimism. We need people like Dorn and Baumgartner and to remind us that, no matter how bad it gets, so long as there are people, we’ll make a comeback. And the odds are pretty good that we won’t run out of people.


About aahabershaw

Writer, teacher, gaming enthusiast, and storyteller. I write stories, novels, and occasional rants.

Posted on October 15, 2012, in Critiques, Theories, and Random Thoughts and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Well-said, Auston. I don’t think it’s even a lack of optimism or imagination, either. Rather, just as fantasy suffers from occasional bouts of GRIMDARK, post-apocalyptic tales suffer from bouts of GRIMREAL, where worst-case scenarios, sudden death, and nigh-on torture porn are used create quick and easy tension. One of the reasons that I tuned out of “The Walking Dead” as quickly as I did is because it descended into over-the-top extremism, barbarity, and caricature so quickly.

    • It does create quick and easy tension, but I would argue that the uptick in the popularity of such quick and easy tension (in contrast to other forms of more optimistic quick and easy tension) is a side-effect of society’s expectations of the future. We’re becoming more cynical and negative and it is being reflected by our art in every sphere. It is cyclical, yes, but so are these trends in society.

  2. As much as I really WANT to like Revolution…it’s really not living up to its promise. I was also baffled about there being NO SHIPS AT ALL to cross the Atlantic. Like, maybe if she’d found one but couldn’t get on board for some reason — bloodthirsty pirate-types, no way to pay for passage, just missed it, etc — the idea that NO ONE in 15 years is making regular crossings is ridiculous. The level to which civilization has been knocked down according to the show just doesn’t vibe with the one and only thing that went wrong (electricity stopped working).

    There are many ways they could make their premise make more sense, even if just by focusing on how this one section of the country has fallen under the rule of the “Monroe Republic” and they have no idea how widespread this even is because they have no way to find that information out or know if that information is reliable. They’ve painted this world in broad sweeping strokes but forgotten that the story they are telling lives in the details.

    And let’s not even get started on that general’s idiotic way of dealing with a sniper.

  3. I keep watching Revolution in the hopes that it will turn into the grand adventure the advertisements keep promising. I just don’t know if they will ever get to it.

    The boat thing really got to me because in the first episode when they go to Chicago the General’s son says he wants to go there to be a fisherman. That means there must be boats. I believe they also walk past a boat being built in the streets.

    I find a lot of TV has an anti technology bent to it. Not just post apocalyptic stuff either. Look at almost any crime drama and you’ll find the techy people to be speaking non-sense and be quirky semi-outcasts. It is usually only through “old fashioned sleuthing” that the criminals are caught.

    • The notable exception to that trend is CSI, but yeah, you’re right about a fair chunk of the genre. My problem with Revolution isn’t quite the same thing, exactly, but it’s similar – it presumes we’re too reliant on technology (specifically electricity) and without it we’d collapse into barbarism. Not quite ‘anti-technology’ as ‘anti-humanity’.

      All that said, I do feel there is a powerful sentiment of anti-technology and science running through our society and it is concerning. Granted technology isn’t going to solve all our problems, but doesn’t make it evil.

  4. So, you wrote this four years ago, and I’m so glad you did! I was up all last night trying to figure out if it’s possible/believable for a person to travel from North and South America, and Australia to ‘the big land piece in the middle’ aka Europe, Russia, India China etc. post apocalypse. I need characters in a book to all end up on TBPOLITM. I didn’t want magic, and I wasn’t sure if crossing from the Americas and Australia in a boat was believable. I don’t want it to be the focus of the action, which I assumed it would have to be in such a perilous journey. You laid it out so convincingly, with a duh!, so I’m doing it!!
    Thanks for your thoughts! BTW, all I did was do a search on Google, and this post popped up!

    • Glad it was helpful! It’s worth noting a couple things vis-a-vis Australia and New Zealand:
      1) The original occupants got there via big canoes, basically. By accident, sure, but they did it.
      2) The Spanish were crossing the Pacific Ocean in the early 1600s, before the invention of longitude.
      3) In a post-apocalyptic world, people would still know *where* Australia is, which is a significant part of the danger.

      It would be a long and dangerous trip, but it is totally within the bounds of reason to say people could get there post Apocalypse.

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