Yes, TV series, a global phenomenon and a key indicator of contemporary culture, tell us about the United States, its beliefs, its illusions and its certainties better than any sociological study. Apocalypse Show thus launches some avenues that are worth exploring.
It is a fact that was well known in the past, when film criticism was a “serious” discipline, and had not yet dissolved in the shameless promotion financed by the production and in the great bath of peremptory opinions assassinated by everyone. on social networks: it is essential to properly analyze popular cinema, to consider it as one of the most reliable indicators of the state of society, one of the most accurate measures of the major trends in our world. Either something that the cinema qualified as Art and Essay, or author, has never been, its artistic approach, and even sometimes elitist, separating it in a more or less radical way from “real life”. This sociological approach if you will, often political, of the 7th Art is less lively today, and we often hear moviegoers – without even talking about the general public – violently reject theses which would put forward in particular the political messages under – related to a popular movie – or series – arguing that this would be “just entertainment”.
This long foreword to celebrate the in-depth work of the house Playlist Society, which stubbornly publishes reflections, more or less powerful, but always fascinating, on what Art – whether we are talking about Cinema, TV Series – a medium that has largely replaced Cinema at the top of the public’s preferences – but also Music and Literature, say about us, our society and our future. The title of the essayAnne-Lise Melquiond, Apocalypse Show, When America collapses, is particularly stimulating – especially since we still have in mind the formidable Zombie geography from Manouk Borzakian : the multiplication in recent years of apocalyptic or postapocalyptic fictions in the USA, and their success throughout the world, deserves to be stopped there, and that, precisely, we are not satisfied with the very banal psychological explanation of their attraction , revolving around catharsis or the exorcism of our repressed terrors.
Apocalypse Show was originally a thesis, that Melchiond has simplified, shortened, restructured, as she explains in the preamble. She attacks the subject of the TV series “apo” or “postapo” from three angles: geography, a little – a subject which joins the work of Borzakian -, but above all History (of the United States) and politics. Starting from the origins – religious of course – of the concept of Apocalypse (” Literature of times of crisis, the apocalypses were born in a context of messianic hope »), Melchiond refocuses his analysis on the USA, on the concept of “border” (” limit between savagery and civilization “) Inherent in the conquest, and the preservation of American territory (the famous walls dear to Trump), and above all – and there, the book is fascinating – on the eternal principle of US society:” apocalyptic fictions ceaselessly replay the erasure of those who were present before by violent means: we must kill the other … “. Again and again, US society repeats in its fictions the need for violence against others, even close (the never-healed wound of the Civil War), perpetuation of a ” mythology American and constant justification for the military export of this violence to other territories.
Even more interesting is the latter part of the book, which focuses on the “political messages” – largely extremist, in fact – conveyed by TV shows like the need for the US government to protect the nation from invasions (Walking Dead being clearly a series which supported the messages of the republican administration, even Trumpian) and against contaminations; the importance of strong leadership, even if it means abandoning democratic principles and basic individual freedoms; the central role of arms in the hands of “real Americans”, and so on. With two essential elements, in our opinion, which would have deserved a more ample development: first of all the blind spot which constitutes for the US fiction the real current apocalyptic risk, the ecological question – superbly ignored! – and then, the fact, linked to the previous one, that it is possible to imagine the end of the world, but certainly not the end of Capitalism, which seems more than ever for the US to be the inescapable mechanism of some human society …
The importance of analyzes conducted by Anne-Lise Melquiond does not prevent, unfortunately, Apocalypse Show to suffer from some faults, which reduce the impact. By limiting ourselves to only a few series (mainly The Walking Dead, The Leftovers, Battlestar Galactica and The 100) to illustrate his point, Melchiond In our opinion, misses richer points of view that could have been brought by also integrating genre cinema into the analysis. We can also regret that the embryonic reflection undertaken on time management – flashbacks, ellipses, etc. – does not lead to much relevant, in particular if one refers to more substantial work on cinema time which may have been produced elsewhere.
But these are minor points in the context of a work which, if it does not clearly cover the question raised, is proving particularly fruitful.
Apocalypse Show, when America collapses
French essay by Anne-Lise Melquiond
Publisher: Playlist Society
160 pages – 14 Euros
Publication date: September 7, 2021
Zombie Geography: a test to devour to the fullest!