Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Reviews and Reflections on Revolution

Kristi and I tuned into the series premier of NBC's "Revolution" last night. 
I started to use the superlative "much anticipated series premier..." but I then remembered that a prolific advertising campaign is distinct from actual viewer anticipation. In other words, we tuned in because NBC spent millions of dollars telling us all summer that we couldn't wait to see this show.

I actually held some interest in the show because anything even casually associated with JJ Abrams has hooks in it for me. Though when I heard JJ talk a few years back about his love of the mystery box principle in a story, I lost confidence that he or his disciples ever really know, or care, about where a story is heading. Nonetheless, I love his mind and am hopeful his mind got on this show.

Revolution is set 15 years into a dystopic American future. Society has crumbled. The reason? In short, all man-made power was suddenly unavailable. Electricity. Battery power. Solar power. Combustion engines. Even hydro-electic and wind power are seemingly unavailable. The only available explanation in the premier came from Hurley Aaron; "Physics went insane, the world went insane over night, and nobody knows why..."

It's a bit early to tell, but the people seem to have only the power to boil water for their coffee, but not for locomotion. Hard, confusing times these folks find themselves in.

Kristi and I were enthralled within minutes. The story's conflict was laid out in a riveting way within the space of the opening credits. I will forever be in awe of a storyteller's ability to draw suspense and emotion out from viewers before they know they're invested. Brilliant opener. The rest, not so much. But well opened for sure.

As expected, the story depicts power becoming suddenly and ubiquitously unavailable. This results in all Amish breaking loose. Cities go dark. Cars die on the highway. Ice cream turns milkshake turns cheese and there's nothing anyone can do about it. And as planes fall from the sky part of me thought, Oh look, JJ Abrams is funding a story that opens with crashing airliners followed by the reduction of middle-class folks to tribal living. 

Earth goes prehistorically dark, and the next scene is titled "15 years later".

The story showcases a young girl named Charlotte (Charlie), who shows much prowess with a crossbow and at keeping her dystopian hair and wardrobe impeccably clean and fashionable. She has no sponsor that I could tell. The premier set up some of the show's conflicts with family member's dying, a militia that's bad for bad's sake at this point, suspicion in every relationship and a general sense of lost hope. Apparently, when the power went out just a decade and a half earlier, all pruning shears were lost too, because the world's concrete and asphalt jungles are already looking like the other kind of jungles. And the meanies of the militia must believe that ammunition presses are electronic because they were using muzzleloaders to forcibly advance their big mean agenda.

For now, I think I'll stay with this show. It has 6 episodes in its first season and I'm 6 episodes worth of intrigued to see how Katniss Charlie and her friends fare against the Others Capitol Galactic Empire Militia.

But there's an interesting assumption being made that I've been thinking about all morning. And it's simply this: the show seems to be ground in someone saying to us, 

"Hey, ya know how if we lost all of our power and the gadgets they fuel, how everything would go to hell in a handbag? Well that fact is the background in this story."

But what if that's exactly backward? What if that's not the fact? Why do we believe that society is on knife-edge and our inventions are what keep us balanced? Sure, for a few years after a global disruption where physics went "insane" rendering our watches bracelets and 747's immobile homes, things would be tense for sure. And perhaps there would be a long season of re-adaptiing to life with so little distraction. Business and convenience and communication and medicine...all of it would have to be rethought. Maybe for longer than 15 years humanity would have to grow up and learn to look itself directly in the eye. Like children with their video games torn from their hands so they'll address Grandma with an attached courtesy, perhaps there would be an awkward season of us figuring out how to to do relationships with no superficiality to hide behind or triangulate off of. But, generally speaking, why do we believe we're doomed if we're unplugged? Don't we actually, with all our complaints about texting and TV and "friends" on Facebook and CGI vs puppet Yoda, believe the opposite? Don't we kinda want to be unplugged?

As I think about it, maybe this is where Revolution is heading. Maybe it's a show that depicts people growing into better versions of themselves because "power" has been removed so they can discover what power actually is. If it's not, it should be. We could use a species-wide, decades long electricity-fast so we could regain ourselves. Maybe we need stories that remind us that an acoustic Dystopia has Utopia in it, and we all know it. If we'd dare live in the difficulty, connected to each other and truly together, many of us would prefer it.

The former Dean of Duke Chapel, Samuel Wells, said that technology, and its constant state of improvement, fools us into thinking that we, the possessors of this technology, are improving too. But it's a lie. We hide behind our producing, hoping people will think "new and improved!" apply to both gadget and owner. In this, we risk becoming worse versions of ourselves as the work of our hands is perfected. 

Electricity isn't evil, but anything that makes us think that without it there can be no peace might be. In that case, Dystopia probably has a well-functioning power grid. A loss of power might be the only way to real human revolution. 

Or it's by another tough girl with arrows. That's been effective too.

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