Wednesday, March 26, 2014

What Dystopia Are We Heading For

People throw out the dystopia word or concept often now. Thinking what we are "in" now or where we are going to is a fun discussion over drinks. If you live in the West, we're living in a soft "Brave New World" now. If trends continue, the real battle is if the corporate crowd can win out and solidify the BNW setting, if the social justice warrior idiots win out and we get "Harrison Bergeron", or if those two groups are swarmed by the dum-dums and we get "Idiocracy". Who would have thought that "Robocop", which was a satire of trends in 1980s America, would turn out to be the most accurate dystopian movie ever? Detroit in "Robocop's" 2029 is crime infested to the point where a corporation wants robot cops to restore order and gut the city to rebuild a new corporate city. It is not just the decay physically but small tidbits like the TV sitcom within the movie where a wife gets her husband a new woman as a pet for a birthday gift, and it's just a standard sitcom punchline joke. There is a small dystopian world that feels like it could be a long shot entry on the Vegas odds board for where we're going, the world of American Flagg.

American Flagg was an independent comic in the mid '80s. It is the source from which I borrow the STD cure all idea and term "mañanacillin". Here's the dystopia: after a series of economic calamities and government overthrows, a conglomerate of corporate and government interests rule America from their main base on Mars and affiliate on the moon. Sometime in the early 21st century the phone company bought the government, and all media consolidated to one entity built into the government. Americans are dumbed down, overentertained and herded into giant metropolitan complexes. Social bonds have broken down, people act feral, sex is unrestrained. Crime is everywhere and a police state (protagonist was porn star becomes Plexus Ranger) tries to enforce the law... secretly holding everything together long enough for the elites to leech off the nation to become self sufficient. Wait, this feels familiar. It was good for twelve issues, then went bad, unlike Judge Dredd that stayed good long enough to become a mediocre, '90s action film. There are wonderful nuggets in the first twelve issues.

Howard Chaykin was the mind and force behind American Flagg. If conspiracy theorists could dream up a subversive, anti-Christian Jewish comic book creator, it's Chaykin. He is that guy; no embellishments necessary. Chaykin had substance abuse issues, constantly wrote of giant Christian-WASP conspiracies (avoiding any Jewish involvement), attacked Catholics at all turns, sex was a constant feature (and often deviant), every lead was a tall, handsome, strong brunette Jewish guy (hahaha), and women were always drawn curvy and sexxed up. By the time I was 16 checking his limited run works in the '90s as he bounced around the industry, I was thinking "Jeez, Howard, blonde WASPs running an evil conspiracy as plucky Jewish guy tries to fix things AGAIN". As stated in my post on Chaykin's Black Kiss, I loved the '50s pin up look of every women in his made up universes. They look like old Hollywood women. He had his strengths and weaknesses.

Where I am meandering with this towards is that American Flagg was a ridiculous fantasy world and over the top satire aimed at a slightly more adult comic reading audience but it does not seem absurd now. I'll give Chaykin credit that his ability to look up the socioeconomic ladder and recognize rent seeking leeches detached from the masses is matched by his ability to look down the ladder and see a mob, growing more feral and easier to manipulate. His dystopia is one I do not want. Give me "Neuromancer" or "Snow Crash". I discount the possibility of those dreams compared to the absurd police state ones due to the civilizational requirements to reach the technology in Gibson's and Stephenson's worlds. Chaykin's world of just enough media, just enough dope, and just enough sex as the blurry mass of humanity cracks up while the elite try to save themselves seems far more plausible. There just won't be a handsome, strong Jewish guy saving the day.


Mark Mitchell said...

Chaykin's splash/promo pages still stick in the mind years later.

Though Neuromancer also concerned the weirdly inbred ultrarich living offplanet in a protected asteroid.

On the subject of offplant 0.1%ers, I tell people "Elysium" is all coded references to the Palestinian/Israeli conflict and watch the shadows flicker as the white guilt struggles to reassert itself.

The dystopia we really don't want? Draka. Spartans with a Will to Power.

Anonymous said...

Great movie. Thanks for the reminder