So Hollywood, in its wisdom, has decided we want more eschatology. According to Drudge, the networks are busy construction End-of-America series for next season. Previously, end-of-the-world stuff was confined to a sweeps-week miniseries. “The Stand” comes to mind, although I didn’t see it; right away it felt half-arsed, and I let it go. I saw “The Day After” the night of, and was duly depressed.
Now, there's nothing really funny about this, but it's important to remember that he cites "The Stand" and "The Day After" as his big examples of the last round of eschatalogical drama. Keep that in mind as we move on.
Now, let's move on to the important question of who would do better in an end-of-the-world scenario: good honest working people from the pure, true-hearted midwestern small towns, or a bunch of elitist paper-shufflers from the contemptible coasts? Go on, you'll never guess.
If they were smart they would run two shows Tuesday and Wednesday night, one set in Midwestern town of medium size, the other set in New York. The latter would collapse into anarchy, I suspect, and the former would do nicely. A town like Fargo, for example, doesn’t need elevators. New York is rather dependent on them. Elevators and money.
Bunch of snooty big-city jerks, with their elevators and their filthy lucre. We all know that people in small towns have special spiritual qualities that make them immune to lawlessness, whereas New Yorkers (despite being forced, like all metropolitans, to cooperate and depend on one another every single day) are removed from the earth-magic of the heartland and would instantly degenerate into savagery in a crisis. Even though one might make the argument that New Yorkers actually have faced a fairly major crisis more recently than Fargoans.
Take them away, and what do you have? More good people than bad, but guess which side has most of the guns.
Wait, if the bad guys in New York have more guns (and how come guns are only evil when people in big cities have them? Isn't it the heartland who so fiercely protects its right to k.&b.a's.?), how come they don't just take over now? Are we assuming that in a doomsday scenario, the cops would disappear? Or turn evil? Or forget where they keep all their shotguns? I don't even begin to understand this statement.
The Fargo series would be different, of course. Smaller towns tend to be more socially cohesive.
Which is why, of course, western civilization has coagulated around small towns, and not cities.
Plus, all that wheat and all those guns.
Which they respectively process and make themselves, using machinery they grew in their back yards. And, again: the guns in small towns seem to carry with them the qualities of goodness and justice. It's a Valentine's Day
Not many trees to chop down for heat, but you could get by for a while with Duraflame logs. You can see people coming, too.
So you can kill them! The damn interlopers, probably coming from the city to rape our women and steal our Duraflame logs to fuel their non-stop doomsday drug parties.
So I understand why Hollywood wants to do it: money. I don’t think, however, that they’re responding to some horrible sense of doom in the zeitgeist. Maybe they’re responding to a horrible sense of doom and loss in their own small worlds, a place where everything seems to be going wrong. No one likes their movies, their candidates lose, those inexplicable red-staters want gung-ho happy-clappy jingo theater, and they’re not getting that.
Whoop, there the culture-war is! They're making these doomsday movies because they are miserable and unhappy, those Hollywood liberal jerks. No one likes their movies, even though they somehow manage to live in those huge mansions. Their candidates lose, sort of, with assistance when needed. And the red-staters apparently only want to watch It's a Wonderful Life, Why We Fight and reruns of "Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C.", while a few dozen malcontents in Boston and San Francisco turn stuff like The Road Warrior, The Day After Tomorrow and "Lost" into massive successes.
No, that’s too broad.
What the...?!? Can this be a rare moment of self-knowledge from Lileks? If only he could go back and change what he wrote, to make it less of a cartoonish stereotype. But the words are already on screen! He can't possibly change them now, even if he wanted to. Might as well make them even more ridiculous:
But the last time we had this wave of dystopian plots, it was a time of general malaise.
Now is the time when we remember the examples he cited of "the last time we had this wave of dystopian plots" -- specifically, "The Day After" (made in 1983, when Ronald Reagan was president) and "The Stand" (made in 1994, when Bill Clinton was president). The former was made at the dawning of Reagan's 'Morning in America', hardly a time that people like Lileks want to go on record as calling malaise-filled; the latter was made at the beginning of the tech boom, the biggest period of economic expansion in American history, when a lot of people just like Lileks got very rich. So, once again, Lileks doesn't seem to have a clue as to what he's talking about, and refutes his own argument while he's in the middle of making it. But will that stop him from pressing on? Hell, no.
It’s as if they think we lost the war and the economy is in tatters. It’s as if they want us to be unhappy.
Right! Because if there's one thing you can bank on from Hollywood, it's a lot of feel-bad movies that try to make people miserable. Now THAT'S what puts asses in seats! James Lileks likes to scoff at mush-headed liberals who seem to think that conservatives are part of some monolithic conspiracy whose aim is to kick every puppy in America, but he doesn't seem to have a problem with the conception that liberals' entire aim in life is to make everyone sad.
In any case, I’m more amused than depressed by the total & complete attempt to revisit the 70s, because it seems like something imposed from above by the skittery blatherskites, not a response to General Despair.
Now, you well might ask, "revisit the 70s"? What is he talking about? He's writing about programs that will be released in the late 2000s and comparing them to other programs that were released in the early 1980s and the mid-1990s; what does that have to do with the 1970s? Ah, but you are forgetting: one of the three things James Lileks knows (along with "lower taxes help everybody" and "Muslims are going to blow up Seattle") is that the 1970s were bad. Therefore, if something in contemporary culture is bad -- even if he hasn't seen it, even if it hasn't been done yet, even if it never gets made -- it must, obviously, be a callback to the '70s, even if it is from the '80s or '90s (or the '30s or '60s, for that matter).
I don’t detect a lot of General Despair. Then again, I don’t go to the office that much.
As Mario Cuomo memorably put it in a speech that I never forgot, "There is despair, Mr. President, in the faces you don't see from your shining city on the hill." Lileks, who is a rich stay-at-home dad with a cushy job in the wealthiest urban area in the country, assumes that any residual despair in this golden time of late November 2005 must come from snotty pinko elitists like the ones who work in his newspaper's office. He certainly doesn't detect it coming from the heartland, goodness no! Those people are rah-rah gung-ho happy-clappy patriots who know how great everything is, and wouldn't think of falling prey to despair! It's not like their pensions are disappearing, or their jobs are moving to China, or their kids are dying in Iraq, or their unions are being broken, or their support systems are vanishing. What would they have to despair over, these good plain folk of the red interior?
Another quote Lileks might want to remember, this time an anonymous father who lost his son in Vietnam, quoted in Paul Fussell's Class: "I'm bitter. You bet your goddamn dollar I'm bitter. It's people like us who give up their sons for the country. The business people, they run the country and make money from it. But their sons, they don't end up in the swamps over there, no sir." Remember this, you right-wing shitheels who play your red-state/blue-state game, who whoop it up in your big-city comfort about how the great unwashed are the pure and decent backbone of conservative America: it wasn't people like me -- liberal big-city intellectuals -- who finally got America out of the Vietnam War. It was your precious red-state real Americans, your valorized common folk, the ones you claim feel no despair, who know how great this country is. It was them who got tired of losing their jobs, who got tired of getting no help, who got tired of sending their children to die. Next time you're looking for despair, look a little closer. You'll find it.