Thursday, March 10, 2016

Survivalism

With the recent release of Tom Clancy's The Division, I think now's as good a time as any to do a brief examination of the post-apocalyptic concept in fiction. Post-apocalyptic fiction is defined by a few major traits:

1) Regular people turn into unstoppable thugs, as if they were waiting their entire lives for an opportunity to become irredeemably evil and aggressive.

2) Everything is scarce except for guns and prepackaged food, both of which are commonly found for centuries afterwards.

3) People become incapable of building anything more complex than "a pile of corrugated sheet metal in the shape of a house".

4) Some people actually participate in communities and work together to make the most of their situation, but those people are boring. The interesting people are the ones who go around living off the land and murdering the aforementioned thugs from point 1.

"Post-apoc", is, in short, a fantasy for the masculine "self-sufficient" survivalist. It allows for the unrestricted use of violence and the machismo of the struggle for survival. It allows one to condemn the "coddled" modern world and see oneself as a lean predator who'd be manly as hell if only he had the opportunity. And while that makes sense in works like Mad Max and Fallout 3 - intentionally braindead, and designed to plug into that instinctual desire - the problem comes when it actually spills over into what people think is "realistic".

Take 2014's "This War of Mine", for example. Ostensibly patterned after the Sarajevo Siege of '92-'96, TWoM has less in common with the reality of that situation, and more in common with the average zombie survival game. Another writer covered the issues with the game pretty thoroughly, so I don't feel the need to go point-by-point about it, but in short: the game was patterned after the assumption of a scarcity scenario, not the reality of it.

TWoM is not a game about cooperation or negotiation. It is not a game about communities working together. It's not even a game about invaders versus inhabitants. It's a game built on a fictional model, because people at this point have seen that fictional model so often that they think it's real.

And then you get into games like "I Am Alive" or "The Last Of Us" or even "Alien: Isolation", where "hostile survivors" throw themselves at the protagonist until one party is utterly destroyed. Like, do you guys know what "survivor" means? Anyone who throws themselves into mortal combat with the first human they encounter is not actually going to survive very long. Do you get opportunists in scarcity scenarios? Yes, absolutely. But the thing about an opportunist is, they're concerned with self-preservation. They're going to run or surrender if the opportunity presents itself. That is how they survive.

The core idea that permeates our media of the "perpetually hostile, never surrendering antagonist" exists for one purpose: because proportional violence is boring, and disproportional violence is BADASS. So we craft scenarios where disproportional violence is wholly justified, and then, inevitably, we repeat that fantasy so often that we start to think it's what would really happen.

And then, in 2016, our society produces a game where heroic soldiers shoot evil looters, then heroically loot things themselves. Although really, "Dead Rising 2" had them beat on that account, but who's splitting hairs on that one?

29 comments:

  1. This is pretty timely, as I just finished watching The Road and The Rover in an attempt to catch up on all post-collapse/apocalypse/dystopian movies that begin with "The Ro".

    I don't have much to add other than to say I really appreciate your thoughts because often they articulate things I've never really been able to put into concrete terms.

    I've often just bristled at the word "Badass" and the people that use it and the context in which they use, the sheer, weird, impotent ejaculatory way, and then I think, this:

    "The core idea that permeates our media of the "perpetually hostile, never surrendering antagonist" exists for one purpose: because proportional violence is boring, and disproportional violence is BADASS."

    Really nails that to a wall. Not just in these not-Zombie stories, but in everything, it's where someone can kill a roomfull of people, etc.

    Have you seen "Blue Ruin"? I am not sure it's good, but I'm trying to think of examples in media of "proportionate" violence. (This might just be "Clumsy" and "Inept" violence because it still gets doofy by the end. It's still a "revenge" movie.)

    Anyway, thanks. If you ever wanted to delve more into the etymology of "badass" or it's pervasiveness in modern media, I'm all eyes.

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  2. You criticize disproportionality while engaging in it on a noetic intellectual level. The disproportionality of those who critique disproportionality against those who admire it is actually kind of comedic.

    People admire it because it is a way for them to express a suppressed masculine drive that is not allowed in our modern feminine "civilized" world. Words and Sports are the only avenues for conflict both of which are treated as toys by children which require no care for personal safety relative to previous forms of conflict.

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    1. Hmm...

      First off, how weird that a guy with a pretentious name like ENVOY OF THE END would take exception to my article criticizing pretentious jerkoffs who use video games to pretend they're deep and badass.

      Second off, you're wrong on both counts about "disproportionality". I know you shoved "noetic" in there to make yourself feel intelligent but since "noetic" means "relating to the intellect" and you put "intellectual" right after it, I'm afraid you just used an obvious buzzword with no actual meaning. In any case, criticizing a cultural concept is not "disproportionate", and if you think criticism is comparable to actual violence then I'm sorry about how much I'm hurting you right now because it must be a LOT.

      Third off, I'm not sure why you bothered with that second paragraph except to cement the fact that you do legitimately think you're some kind of masculine badass living in a ~feminized world~, which, for the record, you're not. Neither of those things are true and you genuinely have no real idea what "masculinity" is. You're a cargo cultist for masculinity - you go through the motions, but you don't understand the concept. Ultimately people like you who chase after a danger they can't have are the most pathetic of all, which really gets to the core issue at stake...

      ...which is that, fourth of all, you're trying to act like I'm over-the-top with my criticism, but you're revealing that you think this shit is real.

      Ciao,
      J.Shea

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  3. Pretty retarded analysis, J Shea. The way you try to politicize everything reminds me of my high school english teacher who, whenever he showed us a movie, would pause it every 5 minutes to discuss the symbolism behind it. Guess what, not everything in fiction is intended to have a real world meaning behind it. You can find symbolism in just about anything and manipulate it enough so that it fits a real world equivalent.

    "hurr everything is political and im always right about everything" -J Shea

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    1. Real question for you here: do you understand the difference between "symbolism" and "meaning"? Because they're not the same. Symbolism is about using vague imagery to *infer* meaning - a haphazard, unreliable process that I've actually denounced in several articles. Whereas meaning itself is much more direct. It's about the *direct forces* that motivate people's connection to the work; forces such as "power fantasy" and "greed fantasy" and "political ideology".

      My most recent article is about The Birth of a Nation. Perhaps you'd like to take a gander at that and try to explain to me how that movie isn't political? I mean, what you're essentially trying to argue to me is that people enjoy works of media for *absolutely no reason at all*. How well do you think that's going to work out for you?

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    2. If people enjoy fiction because it caters to their bias, as you claim, their heads would explode from the sheer amount of contradictory messages present in the fiction they consume. People enjoy media for a variety of reasons, I suppose one reason people like fiction is because it caters to them, my issue with you is that you try to act like everyone only enjoys fiction because of its political meaning and if they say they like it FOR ANY OTHER REASON they're being intellectually dishonest or some shit. You think that fiction shapes the way we view things and we are incapable of distinguishing fiction from reality. Your thesis seems to be that we only like things when "the moral of the story" is in accordance with our own viewpoint. I disagree. Feel free to correct me if you feel I am strawmanning your viewpoint, because I am genuinely not certain what it is.

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    3. "their heads would explode from the sheer amount of contradictory messages present in the fiction they consume"

      Yeah, it's impossible for people to be hypocrites, ostensibly praising one set of values and then reveling in another. You've cracked the case. Self-deception is inconceivable, which means I'm wrong about everything. Good job.

      Also: The messages found in the majority of media are by no means as contradictory as you seem to think they are. Have you actually read my "The Birth of a Nation" article yet? Because there's a reason that people don't make movies *exactly* like that anymore, but also, there's a reason that they make movies that are *sort* of like that.

      It's the same reason that we don't have WW2 movies where the Nazis are treated as the good guys. For all your talk of "people don't care about politics" and "fiction doesn't affect you", if you made a movie where the Nazis were heroes, the only people who'd like it are neo-Nazis and creepo gamers. People say that the media doesn't affect them because, who cares, it's just fiction, but they also probably wouldn't enjoy a movie where the protagonists are Nazis who rape babies or whatever. Everyone has a line. Get over it.

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  4. I honestly don't understand what point you're trying to make...

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    1. So can you explain your point clearly and concisely?

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    2. I did, repeatedly. Through every step of this tedious journey you've displayed a lack of understanding and yet a dogged, insistent belief that I'm 100% wrong. There is a point where you, yes *you*, need to look at yourself and go: "maybe I just don't get this". I have explained this to you. I have literally *hundreds* of articles on this blog. It is not my job to sit you down like a five-year-old and explain every possible concept to you word-by-word.

      This isn't me explaining things badly. This is you being an idiot. It's not my job to fix that.

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    3. Why do you care whether fiction is believable or not? Who the fuck cares? It's fucking fiction, of course it's unbelievable.

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    4. ...this question is addressed by literally, *literally*, the first article on this fucking blog. It's at the very top of the archive list.

      http://exploringbelievability.blogspot.com/2010/11/importance-of-believability.html

      Are you intentionally going out of your way to parade your ignorance at this point? Because if all you've got going in your life is writing comments demanding that I explain everything to you, maybe you should get a fucking hobby, dude.

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    5. Maybe you should fight me irl

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    6. Considering you're a dude who opened with "this argument is retarded lol" and you're now begging me incessantly to explain simple concepts to you, I really don't feel the need to.

      If you want tutoring I'm gonna charge you for it. You've exceeded your allotment of free interaction time.

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    7. I find it funny how a degenerate nihilist like yourself tries to moralize works of fiction...to me thats hilarious

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    8. Nihilism just means there's no "objective" morality, not that there's no morality at all. It took you four months to come up with a line that mediocre? Jesus Christ, dude. Maybe you should have used that time to educate yourself a little.

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    9. Having subjective morality is the same as having no morality at all because you can use subjective morality to justify literally anything, even the most heinous acts.

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    10. I hate to break it to you but there seriously IS no objective morality. Again, it's really embarrassing for you that I have to explain things to you like you're a child, but all morality is based on subjective cultural values. And I can guarantee that whatever moral system you're about to name to try to argue against me has, itself, been used to justify "even the most heinous acts".

      The closest people have gotten to objective morality is religion (although really that's just subjective morality backed with assumptions of divine support that can never be proven). And if you're gonna try to tell me religion hasn't been used to "justify literally anything, even the most heinous acts", buddy, you're dumber than I thought.

      By the way: don't call people "degenerates", it makes you sound like a Nazi. Which is really ironic considering the argument you're now trying to make.

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    11. LOL I love how you just act like there are no universal moral facts, and that your nihilism is some kind of indisputable truth. Hilarious. By the way, how do you keep responding so fast? Do you just sit on your blog and hit refresh all day?

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    12. If you've got "objective proof" of "universal moral facts" I'd love to see them. The fact that you haven't offered them (and you displayed an OBJECTIVE failure to understand what "subjective morality" means) doesn't really sway my view. You're pretty overtly uneducated about a shitload of topics and at this point all you've got is responding "hilarious!!" in a sarcastic voice.

      Also: I get e-mail notifications when someone comments. I'd assume the same is true of you, unless you're admitting that YOU just sit on MY blog and hit refresh all day...

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    13. Its called moral realism you fucking degenerate

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    14. You'll notice "moral realism" is a concept propagated by philosophers and not by scientists, anthropologists, or anyone else who actually studies data for a living. The fact that "moral realism" is considered a philosophical *position* should clue you into the fact that it's just as abstract and unprovable (i.e. subjective) as any other philosophy.

      Also, please answer the question: How you are responding to these comments so quickly if you didn't know that e-mail notifications exist?

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    15. LOL nice pretentious stemlord ego you got there, Mr. Degenerate.

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    16. You're behaving like an obsessive troll, Wes S. You couldn't let this thread go and chose to respond four months later with ad hominem attacks. You continued to respond rapidly and feverishly until your disturbing behavior was pointed out, and then you purposely waited five hours just to attack Shea again.

      I'm not sure what it is that drives this fervent need for you to embarrass yourself in seemingly desperate attempts to cut someone down, but I ask that you stop. I also suggest that you get some form of help, because you're obviously suffering and improperly dealing with your problems. I hope you can find some measure of peace within yourself.

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    17. Why reply on an alt account Jshea?

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    18. Stephy are you Jshea's girlfriend?

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  5. I mean do you honestly think that all fiction has a political message and that interpreting it as a political message is the only *correct* way to analyze fiction?

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    1. @Wes

      In all fairness, the message might not have been *intentional*, but it doesn't change the fact that it's there. There's a reason why Unfortunate Implications exist.

      http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/UnfortunateImplications

      At least for me, I think most of the time, problematic tropes and harmful messages (I.e. dehumanization, toxic masculinity, trivialization/normalization of serious subjects into lighthearted entertainment, etc.) propagate through pop culture due to creators mindlessly regurgitating said tropes rather than actively condoning them.

      Usually under the pretext of "genre convention" or it makes for a fun story, and said problems are further compounded by fans who uncritically accept everything they absorb from pop culture as gospel truth, and in turn perpetuate the cycle by regurgitating said messages when they become creators themselves.

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