Revolution and The Walking Dead: Dystopian Cultural Fantasies

The Walking Dead on AMC (image from AMC TV)

Beau and I have been immersing ourselves in post-apocalypse, dystopian horror/fantasies. I’m not sure how it started. I’ve always had a thing for fantasy fiction, Science fiction, and a lot of Buffy (she gets her own category, because Buffy). I’m just not sure what kicked off this binge. I’ve been yearning for some good stories and decided to take a stab at Revolution when the current season started. After seeing a preview it looked like something I could sink my teeth in (wait that’s The Walking Dead… Hardy har har). After watching a few episodes I was totally hooked, we needed to double back and start at square one.

Dear daddy came to visit just in time to hook us up with Apple TV (a wonderful invention). The gateway to alternate realities, the perfect winter present when there is not much to do outside.

After binge watching until fully caught up on Revolution, the itch for a good narrative was scratched, but instead of relief I found myself with a yearning for more. Sure, Rachel Matheson wiggles her lips a bit too much and her moods change as fast Michigan weather, even despite her the show had us hooked and ready for more. But what to do? We were mid-fall break in the season with no new episodes in site (they start up again on January 8th).

Revolution on NBC (Image from Revolution facebook page)
Revolution on NBC (Image from Revolution facebook page)

Beau and I have both read The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Knowing full well what we were getting ourselves into, we decided to watch the movie (released in 2009)  to see what horrors they brought to life. It was a harsh switch from the sunny but violent electricity free future painted in Revolution into the dark horrid and terrifying abyss of death that is The Road. In some ways the future looks pleasant without electricity. Back to the basics, right? Cut out the static and as long as you survive things aren’t too bad, you know? Well, in McCarthy’s future things aren’t so rosy. The most horrifying scene from the book is missing from the film (thank goodness, because I like babies), but I was still left with a lingering fear of cannibalism and greyness.

After a brief hiatus to binge watch all of Scandal (Also a good show. Perhaps it’s the politics and social dynamics in Scandal that land us in these post apocalyptic futures? Think about it.), I googled “best tv shows like Revolution” looking for another alternate existence to ponder and found The Walking Dead at the top of every list.

We love The Walking Dead (TWD from here on). This is one really well done show. Unlike Revolution, which feels like a TV show in it’s production value, TWD definitely has more of a high production, premium channel feel. Where Revolution is a troubled, but still somehow comfortable version of the future, TWD’s post-zombie-inducing-disease-outbreak Georgia is wholly unsettling. The fantasy is regularly and harshly interrupted by horror and gore, but the characters and actors are fabulous. Ok, Andrea will drive you a little nuts with her bad choices and lack of intuition, but she can be a bad ass and isn’t as hard to watch as Rachel and her wiggle lips. I haven’t read the comic book series the show is based on, but it looks from the character wiki that her character’s story has been changed a bit in translation. I love the way the social dynamics of the group play out with the changing circumstances and ever-growing pile of threats, and Beau loves the action. We made it through the first 3 seasons in no time at all and are impatiently awaiting the DVR recording of the first half of Season 4 that is airing during the New Year’s marathon happening tonight.

With nothing to do but wait, we watched Elysium. Ugh. Really? The premise for the film and the experience of the future is so thinly painted it seems trite. The heroes ending seems poorly thought out and overly simple. What will healing everyone on earth do when there is already no room to make a life on earth?? What good will making everyone a citizen of Elysium do, it’s hardly a big enough solution to even things  out on earth! I get the gesture, but where does it go from there? There needed to be more lead to the story, more meat to the how and why of things, and an ending that offered something more substantial than “if everyone can’t have it, no one can” kind of solution. I was not a fan. Like the recent movie interpretation of Ender’s Game, I felt in the end, the audiences they are playing to in movies these days are a group much younger than me, and treated as less capable of understanding complex story lines than I hope for (not to sound snobby, but the plots seem to be shaved down to more and more simplified versions of themselves).

After thinking it over, I’m not sure that it was entirely our doing that we found ourselves in this post-apocolyptic futures fantasy fit. There are an awful lot of options with this theme on the market right now.  There have been for a while, but they seem to be coming at a fever pitch recently. What is it that culturally our media choices right now belay a longing for some change? For some drastic change for that matter? For heroes to challenge the established hierarchy. To fantasize about dire outcomes and our own end. Or is it that we sense a change coming and are expressing our fears and fantasies for what that will hold? With a seeming onslaught of superhero fantasies and dystopian futures in our cultural media, with Doomsday Preppers and Hunger Games, there’s got to some sort of dis rest a rumbling in our bellies. Most likely, and it seems a little obvious that it’s a natural outcome of the recession, the once eminently bright futures we thought we were promised are in question now. Historically, I wonder what other period in history our current entertainment choices are most similar to. The Great Depression? Post or Pre War times? I’m sure there must be an American Studies major out there who can tell me.*

*I was an American studies major. Damn the day I lost access to social studies scholarly journal databases. Thank goodness for the inter-webs.

UPDATE: Revolution has not been renewed for another season. It’s not surprising, the show went downhill around mid-season. The story line sort of dried up and was only sustained by the overall concept of the show. It’s too bad, it was a pretty cool idea for a show and I would have loved to see it executed by someone with as much skill as Joss Whedon.