Ages are marked by their paranoias and despairs, and we see those paranoias and despairs in the art an age produces. What we dread in earnest we enjoy in fantasy.
After Watergate, there were a series of very paranoid and nihilistic films — The Parallax View, Capricorn One, The Conversation on the paranoid end; then all the violent ones about a growing nihilism in the world — Dirty Harry, Death Wish, and so on.
Cultural observers had no problem pointing directly at Watergate (and the assassinations of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King, Jr.) to explain the paranoia, and nor were they so blind as to not notice the decay and malaise (and rising tide of bloody crime) of the seventies were responsible for the various violent retribution films.
Since 9/11, we faced a lot of movies about cataclysm and the end of the world. It’s easy enough to see that connection.
But the Age of Obama has not produced any uplift, nor any respite from the current preoccupation of people with the End Times. As a non-religious person, I don’t mean this literally (though many may), but it is impossible not to note the idea of Apocalypse and Cataclysm is in the air.
Look at the number of zombie films and zombie TV shows — as obvious a metaphor for decay and rot as can be imagined. Or the still-doing-bonzo-business cataclysm fantasies. Even the latest Man of Steel was about cataclysm.
And now add into that the large number of paranoid, rotten dystopia movies.
If the Age of Obama is so swell, if we’re all filled with Hope, why is this age not producing the spate of feel-good, have-fun, get-rich movies the 80s did?
Why are our collective fantasies in the Age of Obama so single-mindedly focused on the idea of dystopia, cultural decay, and ultimately cultural destruction?
Whether liberal cultural critics want to admit it or not — and they seem very much to not want to admit it, because this is so obvious it’s painful, and yet they fail to make this obvious connection — the Obama years are years of economic want, emotional depression, and spiritual chaos, at least as reflected by entertainments resolutely focusing on the end-times and the wretched dystopias that arise after the End Times, when civilization is dead but just hasn’t stopped moving yet.
The Leftovers, The Returned, Revolution, the Walking Dead not only being a top-rated show, but spawning a top-rated spin-off — I dare anyone to find any previous moment in American history, including in the years of paranoia after Watergate, in which our fantasies have been so dark, depressive, anxious and foreboding.
This is all very obvious. The people in Hollywood turning out one cataclysm-and-dystopia entertainment after another surely sense this, as do the talentless idiots paid to comment on the culture at fluffy magazines like The Atlantic and New York and The New Yorker; and yet, another aspect of the Age of Obama — that one must never admit the horrible truth; one must always pretend it away, and give only praise to Dear Leader — keeps people from stating what is so obvious it’s increasingly uncomfortable to remain silent about it.
Ace, “Going By Movies, America Is In An Apocalyptic Frame of Mind”, Ace of Spades H.Q., 2015-10-27.