A superbly written and researched article in VICE over the weekend carried the headline:
“IT’S NOW EASIER FOR US TO IMAGINE THE END OF THE WORLD THAN THE END OF CAPITALISM.”
I recommend you read the article in full, not only because it’s very good, but it also paints an indelible picture of where primarily Leftist academics (and Douglas Rushkoff) feel the apocalypse/post-apocalypse fever gripping Hollywood (and the world at large in their opinion) emanates from. And I note: the article is written very neutrally, it functions as sociology, allowing academics and media philosophers to vent their spleen unfiltered.
First. I do NOT believe it’s easier for us to imagine the end of the world than the end of Capitalism. This is a late-capitalist, post-post-modernist bumper-sticker courtesy of Slavoj Zizek and/or Frederic Jameson, and it’s sentiments have caught on with a specific segment of academia and bled out into current leftist thought.
The logical fallacy in this argument is that — WE DO KNOW what the world looks like WITHOUT CAPITALISM. We’ve seen that MOVIE. It’s called the Soviet Union, The GDR, Maoist China, The Khmer Rouge, current day Venezuela.
And not only have we seen that movie; that movie SUCKS. It’s hundreds of millions dead, famine, labor/prison camps, and totalitarian governments that kill and torture in the “name of love”. That’s why we’re able to paint such a realistic portrait of it on film.
I don’t think cinematic apocalypse/post-apocalyptic fever represents a CRISIS OF REPRESENTATION, or a FAILURE OF IMAGINATION. It’s what ALL places where CAPITALISM has been replaced by COMMUNISM/SOCIALISM tend to look like.
I’d argue the Leftist narrative regarding the END OF CAPITALISM and APOCALYPSE is more an existential crisis on their end rather than something gripping the world at large because: THE LEFT HAS NOTHING TO REPLACE CAPITALISM WITH. Modern-day LEFTISM exists as critique, but there are no bullets left in the REALITY gun. They have no response to a CRISIS OF CAPITAL. And this is their greatest fear:
If CAPITALISM FAILS, they have no redemptive plan to activate, and the world will look like HUNGER GAMES, and it will be their historical failing not have a program in place. All they’ve offered so far are concepts of local sites of resistance and reterritorialization, which isn’t exactly going to get the job done if the motor engine of GROWTH suddenly grinds to a halt. Oh and the aforementioned Zizek — and the Laurel to his Hardy — Alain Badiou have offered to resurrect Communism with a largely sidelined proletariat.
APOCALYPSE as LEFTIST anxiety and GUILT.
Ok. But let’s move beyond the existential role of the explicitly LEFTIST SECULAR APOCALYPSE and talk for a second about FEAR (because at least that’s REAL):
Why is HOLLYWOOD making so many apocalypse/post-apocalypse films? Because THEY’RE AFRAID. I believe it’s the all-consuming paranoia that their beloved industry may soon look like the set of one of these films.
They’re out of IDEAS, pirating is RAMPANT, TV and INTERNET TV are eating their lunch. Hell, even the illusion that there’s tons of money rolling into their coffers is largely delusional. More people aren’t going to the movies, and foreign box-office keeping things afloat is largely a mirage. It’s a weak dollar and favorable foreign money rates, but if China re-pegs or introduces inflation, those BILLION DOLLAR HOLLYWOOD RETURNS are done.
The fear coming out of HOLLYWOOD isn’t necessarily just ECONOMIC; TECHNOLOGY scares the hell out of them. They don’t see it as their friend (especially actors who fear being CGI’ED back to municipal theater). Hollywood sees technological change (in it’s CURRENT INCARNATION, it hasn’t always been this way) as the great gaping mouth about to devour them whole. Even tech people detect the overwhelming pessimism coming out Hollywood via their on-screen portrayals of technology. The entertainment industry luxuriates in anti-tech sentiment.
The APOCALYPSE is the state of mind out there. And I’m not sure I blame them, because not only is the INDUSTRY DRYING UP, so is the actual LAND ITSELF. California is in the midst of a water crisis, and even if you feel it’s largely the result of 30+ years of bureaucratic meddling, and not climate change — the reality is — THEY HAVE A DROUGHT.
So HOLLYWOOD is undergoing an ECONOMIC COLLAPSE, it’s TECHNOPHOBIC (and shares state space with SILICON VALLEY for irony), and the LAND IS DRYING UP. No wonder they’re in an APOCALYPTIC MOOD. But there’s more…
And this is what happens when you boot out GOD. And I’m not suggesting re-inscribing an omnipotent deity; however, there is a cause and effect here. All RELIGIONS need a reckoning, an eschatological timeline MARKING THE END. There’s a reason most CLIMATE CHANGE DENIERS ARE RELIGIOUS. They’ve already got an APOCALYPSE written into the literature (there’s horseman and archangels blowing horns, etc…). What we have here are two APOCALYPSE’S (one secular, the other religious) butting heads. And the religious people are getting really annoyed they have to take shorter showers because secular humanists have decided to double-down on their apocalypse getting here first.
So Hollywood has all the apocalypse ducks in a row: Failing industry, parched Earth, and the church and it’s loudest apostles screaming impending doom.
REMEMBER: 15,000 books are released every year, thousands of scripts are written. Hollywood DECIDED to go all-in on APOCALYPTIC YOUNG ADULT LITERATURE. No one forced them. Other books DO SELL WELL. This is the NARRATIVE they are choosing — AND THERE’S ANOTHER VALID REASON FOR THAT, and it requires a pivot to DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF and his thoughts on NARRATIVE.
I think a lot of what he has to say about narrative in “Present Shock” is dead-on and valid; however, I disagree with his notion of NARRATIVE APOCALYPSE being a question of SCALE. He claims this strain of thought is the result of a “sped-up world” where “tomorrow is always in a state of happening”. The future is so far-off that we need a SHORTHAND to find one again. Therefore crash the economy, blow it all up, ACCELERATE THE FUTURE. He sees it as a LONGING.
And I don’t necessarily disagree, but he’s missing one piece:
Hollywood is in the business of GENRE MOVIES and it largely always has been. Most genre films have been rendered moot by technology. FORENSIC TECHNOLOGY has buried the DETECTIVE THRILLER, GPS AND SURVEILLANCE TOOLS have largely buried SPY/THRILLER FRANCHISES except one’s that existed prior to the GPS EXPLOSION (Bourne and James Bond) which have adapted to it (although none to successfully in my opinion). CRIME FILMS are largely anachronistic. HEISTS are rarely conducted street-level anymore, most of it is ONLINE, and you try and make typing visually exciting.
SCIENCE FICTION (especially of the APOCALYPTIC STRAIN) is the only GENRE that has survived the wholesale conflagration of narratives rendered useless in the age of DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY.
And a side note: The only other genre impervious to the TIME DEBACLE is HORROR. Because it’s about INTRUSION. Therefore it’s well-suited to deal with the mutations cinematic narrative is suffering through. And they seem to be making fewer of them. That genre is TEFLON to time. I don’t get it…
If you want to make a film in any of the aforementioned genres outside APOCALYPSE, you have to set it in the PAST. When was the last time you saw a current day MYSTERY, or a current day CRIME FILM (outside Liam Neeson movies, which are sold on being ANALOG RELICS) set in the PRESENT?
The apocalypse/post-apocalypse RE-INSCRIBES TIME back into traditional HOLLYWOOD GENRE NARRATIVE, without having to revert to making museum pieces. It’s a literal MATERIAL RESPONSE, a return to a non-mediated duration to allow GENRE narrative to continue in the only FORM it has left. I don’t necessarily think the rush to APOCALYPSE is a desire to FAST-FORWARD to a tangible future, I think it’s a RETROFIT to allow genre to circumvent the flux of a post-continuity world. It’s a RETROGRADE operation, a salvage job. I don’t see the same LONGING underpinning it, the same desperation for a future that RUSHKOFF does. At least, not in the Hollywood version of NARRATIVE.
So even if you want to toss out my thoughts on capitalism, secular apocalypse, and climate-change, there’s one thing I believe you can’t ignore: Hollywood has gone full apocalypse, because:
IT’S THE ONLY NARRATIVE THEY HAVE LEFT THAT STILL WORKS.