You know it, I know it. Fallout 4 is on its way. And like all of you I will likely play it and love it, as I played and loved 3. But I’d be lying if I said a little voice at the back of my head hadn’t sighed with relief, that we could get this game out of the way and move on to my true love, the Elder Scrolls series, and the next game we are due (but for which, yes, we must wait through their post-apocalyptic franchise first).
I think unless you hail from some sort of cult or something, being a nerd among nerds and not caring terribly much for cyberpunk, dystopian futures, and post-apocalyptic settings is probably not destined to make you a popular individual. But thinking about Fallout 4 whilst filling up a teapot today, I came to a much briefer explanation for my dislike than many of those I’ve tried to muddle through on this blog before.
So here’s the deal. These gritty, cynical futures fill me with rage. Not some sort of noble righteousness, but a real nasty fury. Like as a kid, when I was told my sister was cutting herself. You fucking quitters, is my visceral reaction. This is all you think we can achieve? This is where you believe we are headed? This is the goddamn best you can hope for? Really, these aren’t pretty reactions. Nor are they easy to defend, especially when one doesn’t pull the blinders over one’s eyes when it comes to ecological, social or political malaise. When you don’t buy into some sort of messianic belief in the damnedness of earth being okay because, hey, pearly CareBear gates and an erasure of responsibility. Clean slate, as long as you went to the right pointy building every Sunday.
And I’m not trying to defend such a reaction, not really. I’m just trying to explain it. It’s true that I loved Fallout 3, yes–in Japan, alone and hating it, full of cynical wrath. Restored to an environment where I didn’t feel constantly hunted, I find it harder, more damning, to buy into that grim view of humanity. Again, it’s not pretty. Fuck you and your lack of hope, I think, watching various post-apocalyptic movies. Fuck you for thinking we would lay down and take this. Even when statistically we very well might. Even when I’ve seen people be such shits to each other–hell, even when I now am related to someone who thinks the answer to all her problems is to pull a trigger. That individual fetishizes guns, and has gotten my dad to buy into it, because he is lonely. I have a speech I will scream at him if he wants to end it with this weapon she has so vainly brought into his life. I go over it, after his darker calls.
It isn’t that I don’t see the darkness in people, or that I don’t see that one cannot always resist it. It’s that this gaudy succumbing to the idea that we can do no better is weak. Expect better of yourself! Of the people you love! Of the planet, and your ability to care for it! Wallowing in the idea of failure–no water, no air, most of us dead or mangled beyond self-recognition–is so defeatist. Yes, even if it is realistic. Even if such a future is statistically likely to come to pass. Hell, statistically, none of us should fucking exist. This blue world should be a noxious smear in the cosmos. And yet it’s not. We’re not. That statistical unlikelihood came to pass. Couldn’t you countenance the idea that we might yet save this planet? Must you grow weak-kneed at thought of just how much destruction, dehumanization, and gore we can produce as culture?
I don’t. I can’t. If you want to tell me that such stories are merely the vehicle by which we arrive at the same truths about ourselves you get from any good story, fine. But too much of post-apocalyptic tales’ time is spent bemoaning the loss of some kind of trumped-up idea of innocence. In their quest for “realism” they infantilize the now, insisting that we know oh-so-little of the darkness of mankind. That is such bullshit. We get it. We’re aware. You don’t need cyborg police to know where the care of your fellow man deflates and ceases acting upon his brethren. Just because we have the capacity to better document atrocities, now, does not mean we ever forgot we enacted them. But believing that that streak will ultimately win out–wallowing in that knowledge–is just a shitty outlook.
So take your dust and stuff it.
(ETA: I most recently realized how angry this genre made me toward the end of Bone Clocks. I really want to know if he wrote in a darker scene for Lorelai, or if his editor walked him back from it and said, “Enough, man. The knowledge of the threat is enough. You don’t need to demand we watch that happen to her. Rescue her first.” Yes, I’m aware of the similarities to this meme. I’m totally for the belief trumping the need to revel in that violence. But too often in dystopian tales, we are never shown to be capable of doing a damn thing else besides violate and destroy. If you think so fucking little of us, why are you still out there telling stories? And don’t go all Emperor of Dune on me. You’re not embracing these genres as cautionary tales. You storytellers, you makers, you’re cackling madly in the dregs that you think we amount to. And I demand that you demand better of us. No, not one little heroic spark at the center of your cute little story. A goddamn inferno.)