So long, and thanks for all the responsibility
Science fiction taught me everything I know about the world. As a kid in the 70s I was addicted to 1950s B-movies. They played late at night and I would sneak out and watch, scaring myself silly. But it's how I understood the hysteria of my childhood, the the Cold War. Books and education filled in the gaps later, but by then I already understood the paranoia, the misplaced loyalties, the frothing of hysteria. Thanks to Planet 9 From Outer Space, Earth vs Flying Saucers, Flight to Mars, It Conquered the World, Teenagers From Outer Space, and so many more, the fears of my parents generation were laid bare for all to see – late at night, in the basement, alone.
And so it went, from Star Trek (a stubborn clinging to the ideals of JFK’s Camelot) to Lord of the Rings (fallout and a reckoning with empire and imperialism) to the Hunger Games (the American class war). The Hunger Games, however, strikes me as the beginning of a particularly new phenomenon: violence towards children.
This takes me to The 100, a three-season CW series that can be seen on Netflix. It is astonishing and gets better each season. A fourth is slated for early 2017.
In no particular order, this is what I am seeing.
Adults are giving up the burden of their responsibilities and are hoisting it on to their children.
Parents constantly leave their children vulnerable to the horrible world around them, even occasionally betraying them. In one scene, a mother is forced to torture her own daughter. Just a few years ago that scene would have shut down the entire production. Today, it’s merely an example of a terrible thing that could happen to you.
American culture is now fully and entirely at ease with massive loads of gory violence and brutality acted upon and by children. In fact, it is now expected that children will be as violent as the most violent adults among them.
Morality shifts constantly. Repeated question throughout the series: I thought we were the good guys. Answer: There are no good guys. There is only doing what is needed to survive.
The defining and redefining and question of: Who is your people? Loyalties and identities are forever at question. There is no us vs them for very long.
The last couple of episodes of the third season involves a search for the Kill Switch – the switch that can end everything. “Everything” is never thoroughly defined.
Final lesson learned by our young heroine: You cannot have a life without pain, you can only learn to live with pain and overcome it. Death is never far.
I’ve been thinking about other books/films where children were let loose like this, such as Lord of the Flies or Village of the Damned, but in the end what resolved the chaos and violence were adults resuming their role as responsible gatekeepers and protectors. In The 100, there is no such thing. Adults are always making things worse.
It is over. We have fucked off and are making our kids pick up the pieces and deal with the fallout. This dialogue between two adults says everything:
Kane - We have to answer for our sins, Abbey.
Abby - After everything we’ve done do we even deserve to survive?