Your politics may go dormant for a second or four

Saturday, October 28th, 2017

Lazarus demonstrates the difficulty, if not impossibility, of telling an anti-tech, anti-futurist, anti-inherited-wealth dystopic story in a visual medium:

It exemplifies a revised (rebooted?) version of François Truffaut’s maxim about the conundrum of antiwar war movies: they are too exciting and filled with triumph to convince the audience of war’s inhumanity.

Like the 1980s British comic Judge Dredd or the Hunger Games movies, the very nature of visually representing a dystopia compounds the problem, because the aesthetic requirements of the genre mask its political urgency. The ruling class, no matter how vile, will simply look cooler than the ruled. Exclusively textual depictions of dystopias like Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We allow appropriately wary minds to create fittingly forbidding images. We don’t have the same freedom with comics, movies, TV, or video games.

You can approach the series completely in sync with its political commitments, but when Forever Carlyle shakes off a grizzly rifle shot to the ribs and vaults over a tank like a super-powered Simone Biles, your politics may go dormant for a second or four. This tension makes for good entertainment — which Lazarus is — but can Lazarus’s creators really say they’re offering an earnest warning about neo-feudalism when the series makes the body armor look so good?

I don’t blame Rucka and Lark. The difficulty is baked into the genre. It’s extremely hard to guess what a truly political dystopia might look like. Typically, when an underclass triumphs against the existing order the story ends. There’s no blueprint for what comes next. And all too often, in life and in art, what comes after dystopia is more dystopia.

Leave a Reply