Not too long ago I went on a sci-fi bender and confessed my love for post-apocalyptic fiction. So it was really only a matter of time before I checked out last year’s new TV drama Jericho (and thanks to the joyous world of glitchy online video, I can catch up for free). The show focuses on an isolated Kansas town after nuclear blasts (war? terrorism?) leave the United States decimated.
It’s basically the story I imagined again and again while playing G.I. Joe during summer vacations in Kansas. At one point I even plotted my own post-apocalyptic/Christian end times crossover novel. It involved turning the state of Kansas into a concentration camp for Christians and a young convert running supplies in a beat-up Mustang. The hero even had a bloodied Bible that belonged to his martyred parents. Not exactly my best work.
Anyway, I’m enjoying Jericho. The first half of the season is kind of slow and awkward. It’s not very good storytelling and not very plausible. But I think they found their rhythm in the second half of the season and it keeps getting better (it helps that towns folk start dropping like flies). It’s certainly no Lost or even Heroes, but it’s interesting stuff.
What appeals to me is the post-apocalyptic ideas and what people have to do to survive. It’s kind of amazing how addicted we are to a consumer world where everything is delivered to us and ready on demand. How screwed would most of us be if suddenly we couldn’t pick up groceries? If we couldn’t rush out to a restaurant for dinner? If water stopped magically coming out of the tap? (And yes, I’d be screwed right along with you–I’m not trying to point fingers. I can barely go a day without a pop.)
The difficulty of these stories, of course, is that we don’t live in a post-apocalyptic world and we don’t have to make those kind of decisions. We don’t have to get by with less. We don’t have to ration our food. We don’t have to save our water. We don’t have to be careful about our energy usage.
And I’m not suggesting we live that way. There’s something a little creepy about the guy stockpiling supplies in a bomb shelter. But there is something about getting by with less, about not being wasteful. It’s interesting how the “green” or “crunchy” people would have a better chance of survival in a post-apocalyptic world (something I’ve yet to see portrayed, and am frankly surprised hasn’t come up in Jericho). Equally as interesting that the hunters and NRA folks would also fair well. We’d be dependent on our extreme right- and left-wing nutcases.
I guess it really hits home for me when I think about the rest of the world. Certainly we have everything on demand–clothing, food, energy–but it’s not that way around the world. Very few places today would resemble a post-apocalyptic world, but there are certainly places where food or clothing or energy is not so readily available, or at least not affordable for the people who need it.
Suddenly the post-apocalyptic world comes to life and it’s a question of whether we’re going to help those who need help, or leave them outside with the mutants and scavengers. It’s tempting to play the hero who must save himself and look past those bleeding on the side of the road. But those heroes either end up dying or having a change of heart. And since we’re not in a post-apocalyptic world, self-preservation doesn’t have to come at the cost of the least, the last and the lost.
Post-apocalyptic fiction is about discovering humanity when everything else is stripped away. When you take away all the stuff, who are we? What are we made of? I guess as we drown in more and more stuff it becomes more and more important to ask those questions.