Been meaning to link to, and write about, this (the History Channel show Life After People: The Series) for a while. I haven't yet, in part because I have been waiting for something substantive to say. I'll return to it later this summer when I come back to the question of the apocalyptic city. For now, all I want to say is a few disconnected things:
It is the ultimate wet dream of an Earth First activist, now transitioned from flickering no-future fantasies to big budget, CGI excessive, drawn out over an entire series: the strange union of primitivist ground-clearing deep time wishing and a station known for its borderline bellicose fetishization of all things World War.
Tarkovsky and those other merchants of apocalyptic melancholy could barely envision pulling off something on this scale, this pornographic in its lingering gaze on the evacuated landscape, this heavy-breathing, false restraint at the lustful gaze toward monuments and networks without upkeep tumbling and fizzling out, this slick drizzle, dust, scavenging claim-stakers and clamoring kudzu unmaking of the built world.
(For a good time, read the episode descriptions. A sample:
The post-apocalyptic fate of our cars, planes and roads. Oil refineries turn into time bombs. In the Motor City, harsh northern winters dismantles auto headquarters. While in Texas, the Alamo succumbs to a new invader. Also, animals adapt: armadillos spread, some dogs rekindle their hunting instincts, and long-horn cattle flourish once again.
Their use of the "Also" is quite funny. As in the description for episode 6: Also, Philiadelphia's Liberty Bell cracks for good and San Francisco's cable cars and bridges snap.)
Arguably the greatest and weirdest segment of the series: the survival of the Queen's corgis as they become dirty, scrappy little street-fighting bastards
Last, this series initially seems a genuine betrayal of what the apocalyptic can allow us to think, the processes of construction and becoming collective brought out in the always-hovering move to the post-apocalyptic. In other words, there are no humans left over to work toward becoming a people again. There are the assorted talking heads here to give a bit of master knowledge to validate the money shots of our national icons falling apart, and there is the carnival barker of a narrator. However, if we think of apocalypse in the proper sense, as a lifting of the veil, of the revelation of that which has been hidden, the series and all its indulgent melancholy gains traction. For what emerges is the eccentricity and idiosyncrasy of the leftover objects of capitalism, without their attendants and veilers, no one smoothing the cracks or moving the debris to other shores. No more circulation, no more abandonment, no more accumulation, subtle or primitive.
The caption provided by the show's website - "ONE HOUR AFTER PEOPLE: Built up vapors, normally regulated by workers, linger. Runaway temperatures in the reactor create sparks, and everything ignites. The fuel that once propelled mankind around the world now fuels a seemingly endless inferno."
And in this way, the series in all its drooling gloom and aesthetics of digital decay - you don't need computers to find these sorts of teeming messes and vacant mini-worlds, you just need to know where to look - nails the distinction between the end of the world and the end of days. It is the latter which is properly apocalyptic, in all its dialectical chances to speak the banality and wanting of our epoch, this sequences of days. (Indeed, as Don reminded me, the sense of the end of days as a unit of time measure: the work day, the end of our history and cycles consisting of interlocking 8-hour blocks.) All that remains is the world, not miraculously without humans anymore, but perhaps a lifting fog, not enlightenment but a slow feeling out for the first time in a long time of just what all this is before and behind us. The question, as always, is how to make this kind of groundclearing possible without waiting for us to be gone. Tactics born from dogs, fissured cracks bred from the unfathomable weight of this whole enterprise.
(And yet, at this moment when we see the creaks and groans in the calls for economic state of emergency, unemployment rising still, the extreme difficulty of imagining a way out that isn't ... at this moment, not to hold up the wrong figures, or hold them up wrongly, not to just think of ourselves as wolves and pigs, tactical bestiaries of those ready to rummage and run through the chaos of an order-ending time, or as the prescient witnesses to the slow car crash of this moment. Not to linger too long in the dusky prettiness and stale ferocity of collapse. Recalling instead some other aspects of whatever lineage we align toward, thinking about clean, open spaces, about careful construction, not junk piles but thoughtful, durable piles of concrete and glass to house more than just rich couples. Planning and care, welfare and distribution. Without this bedrock and commitment, our scavenging, hunting, and constructing capacities sniff around pointlessly, finding nothing but the scent of their own trail.)