Posts Tagged ‘collapse’

I’ve let this concept slide for a while, so it’s time to get back on track.  I’m going to try to shift my focus to include more bloggers, small websites, and positions I disagree with from now on.

“Batman and the Problem of Constituent Power” – David Graeber (guest post at De Dicto 10/28/2012)

I’m a fan of David Graeber as a critic of capitalism; as a critic of film and pop culture, however, I’m much more ambivalent.  This is his take on The Dark Knight Rises (and superheroes in general) vis-a-vis the Occupy movement.  The main problem with the essay is that it starts out with cliched and at times incorrect or overstated claims about the superhero genre. To put it bluntly, Graeber comes across as someone who is not well-read enough in the existing criticism of superheroes to be writing about them.  Because of this, I’m guessing this essay will lose (or enrage) most comic fans and critics early on as he seems to be appropriating something without studying it thoroughly, and doing so in order to make a point about one specific film that he could have made without such overgeneralizations.  That said, the concluding arguments about how The Dark Knight Rises ends are worth pushing through to the end and considering.

“The Myth of Meritocracy” – Christopher Powell (The Practical Theorist 11/14/2012)

Powell is one of those relatively rare, practicing academics whose public writing is written clearly, with a minimum of jargon, and without arrogance.  He often deals with difficult theory but doesn’t try to make concepts harder than they need to be.  I’m a big fan of that.  In this essay he lays out the structural inequalities that affect student academic success.  Upon reading it, the points he makes seem so obvious that you tend to just nod your head like you knew this all along, which you probably did even if you never articulated it clearly.

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Most people have probably heard that NBC has jumped on the post-apocalyptic bandwagon with a new show for fall called Revolution.  Helmed by executive producers including J.J. Abrams, and kicking off with a pilot episode directed by Jon Favreau (the Iron Man films and, of course, Elf), there appears to be a fair amount of anticipation for the show (and NBC is doing a ton of promotion, including theater pre-screenings of the pilot in select markets).  The anticipation might just be studio-generated hype, or earnest and ongoing interest in the post-apocalyptic genre, but, in my mind at least, there is also the fact that network tv has an abysmal track record with the genre, and I expect some are probably interested in whether this show will totally trainwreck despite the big names attached.

The series premier (ie, the pilot episode) will air on September 17th, but the studio has already posted the full episode, which I watched this past weekend, on their website and Hulu.  Here it is (link below if wordpress drops the embed):

Watch the pilot on Hulu

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Back in 2006, Derrick Jensen wrote,

A few years ago I began to feel pretty apocalyptic. But I hesitated to use that word, in part because of those drawings I’ve seen of crazy penitents carrying “The End is Near” signs, and in part because of the power of the word itself. Apocalypse. I didn’t want to use it lightly.

But then a friend and fellow activist said, “What will it take for you to finally call it an apocalypse? The death of the salmon? Global warming? The ozone hole? The reduction of krill populations off Antarctica by 90 percent, the turning of the sea off San Diego into a dead zone, the same for the Gulf of Mexico? How about the end of the great coral reefs? The extirpation of two hundred species per day? Four hundred? Six hundred? Give me a specific threshold, Derrick, a specific point at which you’ll finally use that word.”  – Endgame Vol. 1 p. 3 (excerpt available here)

This question of statistics, degrees, and thresholds is an important one, and the gradual nature of the changes we are living through is part of why so many have been so complacent for so long.  Rhetorically, the inability to covey the seriousness of the problems in a powerful way without sounding like one is over-reacting is part of why thinktanks and energy companies have been so successful at sowing mistrust of climate science (and all science), and how the financial industry and their media mouthpieces have hoodwinked people into the ongoing belief that they are what John Steinbeck supposedly called “temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”

The ongoing, multi-faceted crisis, which will lead to a dramatic change in how we live, lacks a singular event and, therefore, doesn’t feel apocalyptic the way we have been taught to expect it to.  This apocalypse, and I’ll use the word, lacks the theatrical, dramatic elements that make everyone stop and pay attention.  However, this doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.

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First, I’m not going to be nice and polite about this video and its “star.”  Second, this has nothing to do with literature, film, comics, or similar things I usually post about on here.  Third, while I too usually skim through video posts, you have to watch the video–with the captioning (“English transcribed”) ON–to get any idea of how awesome/bad this is.

Cool story, bro. But let me fix that for you:

I have the sense of humor (and photoshop skills) of a 9 year old

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Thoughts on Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake by way of wilderness and post-apocalyptic genre traditions
"Snowman wakes before dawn"

“Snowman wakes before dawn” – Oryx and Crake fan art by Jason Courtney
More images: http://www.perdador.com/f6update/illustration_f9.html

I gave a guest lecture yesterday on Oryx and Crake for a colleague’s 200-level Environmental Literature course.  My presentation was organized around the ways that the book participates in genres, challenges some of  their conventions, and updates the “classic” dystopia (WeBNW, 1984, et cetera) by moving the locus of power from the centralized state to a more nebulous net of corporations and their mercenaries.

Because nearly any lower-level survey of environmental literature will necessarily include readings drawn from the mostly-American, white male-dominated, wilderness tradition, my prep also involved looking for ways to connect what is going on in Oryx and Crake with those texts that students had recent familiarity with.  I’m not sure how well the lecture worked in setting this up, but the result was something that, in retrospect, seems quite obvious.  However, I hadn’t previously fleshed it out, which was kind of weird (I guess wilderness writing hasn’t been on my mind much recently).  My main take away point is this:  Post-apocalyptic protagonists share a number of traits with protagonists or narrators of the wilderness genre.  This has interesting implications for connecting a reading of Snowman in Oryx and Crake to both genres.

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Thoughts on Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Drowned Cities and Julianna Baggott’s Pure

I picked up these  two books in close succession and read them back-to-back (actually, I didn’t exactly “pick up” Bacigalupi’s book; I preordered it because his work is probably the most exciting world building- and idea-wise of any current author I’ve read).  I was mid-way through Pure when The Drowned Cities arrived, and I plowed through both rather quickly. The two share enough similarities, despite huge differences in set-up and execution, that I thought it was worth looking at them side-by-side

My short take is that both are strong, mature entries in the currently booming young adult dystopia/post-apocalyptic genre (to be fair, Bacigalupi’s is better defined as “post-collapse”; and Baggott’s book doesn’t seem to be tagged by the publisher as YA even if the label really fits); I’d strongly recommend both to fans of the genre.  They are both plot-driven in typical YA fashion, but the ideas behind the worlds, and the development of dark, relevant to our world themes that reflect on our own situation, stand up well enough for honest, open-minded adult readers to not dismiss them. From a ranking point of view, Bacigalupi’s book is hands-down the superior work, partially due to the amount of work he has put into developing the world in which it takes place (the same world as his earlier YA novel Ship Breaker, which shares a main character, The Wind-up Girl, and at least two stories from his collection Pump Six and Other Stories).  I’d recommend The Drowned Cities to anyone, and everyone concerned about the future should be reading his books, but Pure, as good as I think it is, may be more of a genre fan novel (its rights have, however, already been picked up by Fox Studios, due undoubtedly to the genre’s popularity; I have no idea what the status of Bacigalupi’s YA books being adapted is, but they would work very well in the hands of a good director).

So both books are arguably “post-apocalyptic,” but what exactly does this mean?  As I mentioned, The Drowned Cities takes place in the same post-peak-oil, climate change and rising sea-levels, salvage-as-capital world as his prior novels (after “the accelerated age”), and this world is fully fleshed-out, thoughtfully considered, and a downright frightening view of where we may be in a matter of decades.  Pure is more of a throwback; the destruction of civilization (at least in the post-apocalyptic North America setting) is due to “the detonations,” a missile exchange more reminiscent of cold war-era science fiction than contemporary visions of the end of the world as we know it.  If this were the extent of Baggott’s world-building, it would be a mediocre read, but she adds in two factors that make the world far more interesting than another Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior rehash.

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Few of my friends and acquaintances would find it surprising that I was interested in how the new National Geographic show Doomsday Preppers would portray prepping for reasonably likely disasters and their overall take people concerned with/planning for the collapse of our industrial infrastructure.  Nor would most be surprised at my skepticism of the show’s intent or my assumptions that it would be exploitational and misrepresent the concerns of average preppers.  Reality TV is, after all, about sensationalism and laughing at the subjects presented in order for viewers to rationalize their own positions in this messed up world as “normal” and “sane” (being normal and sane in this world is a strange thing to strive for in my book).  It also is surprising to me that anyone who preps would agree to appear on that show given how it makes you less secure since everyone has some idea what you are doing.  But the bulk of the selected subjects seem more interested in showing off their arsenals and knowledge of unlikely apocalypses than actually helping others with the move to self-sufficiency or preparedness.

So I was quite pleased that I had the opportunity to write two short articles related to the show and prepping in general for a site that should reach more than few people (queue score for aspiring self-importance).  The first was a kind of defense of prepping as a reasonable response to real concerns about our heavy reliance on conveniences delivered by fragile infrastructure combined with our usual expectation on outside help in disaster scenarios.  This was contrasted to the overall sense of political weirdness, millenarianism, and racism in many of the show’s subjects, which is a marker of the fringe, right-wing, Christian elements of the prepper movement but not representative of the preppers I know.  If you are interested, you can read that here.

While I liked writing the first one, the second article was more fulfilling because it actually allowed me to articulate some of the most basic concerns folks like me who worry about this shit have and how someone who never thought about this before might begin to address them through basic and (relatively) inexpensive steps.  It’s not perfect, but it gets the major points right, I think.  And the pictures are actually amusing if you are familiar with the references, which probably no one who would read this is.  That article is available here.

What I elided in both articles (among other, lesser things) was addressing real and more complicated steps for self- and community-sufficiency necessary for a longer-term crisis.  This is not because I think collapse is a wingnut fantasy, far from it.  The chances that we will see huge changes in our status quo standard of living and access to needed resources are very real and unavoidable, and well-documented enough that I won’t dwell on them now.  The point of the articles, however, was to point those who are new-ish to thinking about this stuff in a relatively accessible direction so that they might actually take steps that I took years ago.  Ultimately, I’d hope they would move forward into basic preparedness and think about longer-term plans.  This is probably folly on my part, but every little bit of discussion on the topic, especially that removed from the lunatic fringe portrayed by shows like Doomsday Preppers, seems worth the time.
Anyway, I’m curious as to what you all think about the articles or this topic in general.  I’m thick-skinned, so pointing out things I missed or how nuts I might be is quite welcome.