The faces of hope.
Boards of Canada released their excellent new album, Tomorrow's Harvest. Good stuff. It's hard to wrap my mind about what's motivating the somewhat harsher, less melodic vibe of the album, but in an interview with The New York Times, they give a hint: a sort of weariness with overcrowding.
There’s a definite theme on the record. Without blowing it all for the listeners, there’s a core to it about an apparently irreversible vector we’re already on as a species. The world population has doubled in my lifetime. If you really let that fact sink in, you start to realize why it is that in so much of popular culture, in books and movies and TV, we’re fantasizing about a depopulated world in one way or another. In terms of the actual textures and melodies on this album, we wanted to loosely evoke some familiar things from older movies that have touched on these ideas.
I'm intrigued by this idea that we're almost longing for a depopulated world, that even  dystopian entertainments (zombie apocalypse, meteor fallout, new shows such as Defiance, Falling Skies, Revolution) have at their core not only horror, but also the enticement of a fresh start (albeit one that faces several obstacles, typically in the form of zombies/threat of imminent death).

I always thought the sparsely populated world of, say, a zombie apocalypse, was part of the challenge of survival, not necessarily the secret draw of finally getting the chance to live without the oppressive clutter of humanity. Justin Cronin's The Passage, [SPOILERS, sort of] a world depopulated due to a government experiment gone wrong, is frightening precisely because of that looming dread experienced by an isolated community that doesn't even know if the broader human race exists anymore outside its settlement. But then, as that isolation ends, as more communities are found, the situation doesn't necessarily improve.  Indeed, it often gets worse.  Walking Dead hints at the same dynamic of "You might not want what you wish for." It's not always best to  find other survivors, because you never know the depths to which they'll take their newfound liberation from human customs and laws. Scary stuff.

And there's the rub. We dream of a life without the pesky constraints of an overpopulated world, with all its pesky laws and rules designed to allow us to rub shoulders without killing each other. But if that depopulated world were actually enacted, we'd come face to face with something we didn't expect--if not zombies or plagues, then our pre-social-contract inhumanity, that is, our bestial selves that aren't pretty outside those pesky laws and rules. There's the terror, too. We dream of escaping the crowd into the pristine woods, but probably wouldn't like what we find once we do, whether it's some vile predator out there or a vile predator within us.



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    A former student and teacher of philosophy, I write a daily stock market/humor column for a major financial organization from my home base north of Austin, Texas. If I find any words lying around after deadline, I stuff them into a novel-in-progress. It turns out that these are usually the wrong words.


    May 2013