The Doomsday Channel

Anyone else concerned about how dark our tv shows and movies are getting?

I’m sitting here watching a series called The Fall, which shows steely X-Files alum Gillian Anderson chasing after an obsessed sex crime killer in Belfast. In the first season, after writers juxtaposed a strangulation scene with an explicit one-night stand scene frame by disturbing frame… I clicked Off, both literally and emotionally. Don’t get me wrong: I grew up in a very liberal arts home where I was allowed to watch Dirty Dancing when my teeny bop friends were not. My mom always defended this choice by explaining, “They are just dancing. And besides, Yes to sexual freedom, No for violence.” I’m far from prudish, and all for well-written female heras.

Yet this show was still added to my long list of new projects that are artistically provocative and well executed… but when viewed with a wide lens, show a sign of disturbing times. Most of my community hasn’t seemed to notice, as we binge on the shadowy caverns of our minds. A few have mentioned, “I only watch conscious media.” Other than that, everyone is glued to the shadow.

My soul is craving something else.

Archway Forward

Our movies are no better. The health of our culture has long been shown by the storylines of our arts, and we currently have a bunch of stories about people returning to destroyed worlds. Films are portraying a hungry, dangerous planet where nature is a system from which humans are exempt. The Doomsday approach has long been a favorite of writers due to the ease of conflict. It doesn’t take a lot of thought. And it stems from a civilization out of balance.

I’ve been studying this issue for a long time, starting with an undergraduate thesis I wrote in 2003 about Arts as Activism. With the full exuberance of my college rebellion, I wrote:

 “Solutions for the planetary crisis will need to be multi-faceted, embracing intellectual, spiritual and emotional change. The arts, in warning, can address all of these impressively and with imagination.”

The recently passed theatre pioneer Augusto Boal agreed with me that the arts “influence spectators not only with respect to clothing but also in the spiritual values that can be inculcated in them through example.” (Theatre of the Oppressed) The arts are the key to a healthy society because they envision change and see new possibilities for society. Even President Johnson once said that, “It is in our works of art that we reveal ourselves, and to others, the inner vision which guides us as a nation. And where there is no vision, the people perish.” In the case of our current planetary crisis, this quote could very well be taken literally.

Our films and tv shows are holding up a mirror to the worst of our world. The reason I’m interested in helping produce The Fifth Sacred Thing is that it shows both options: the worst the world can get, the best the world can get… and the option of another ending. I loved this novel as a teenager because I wanted to live in that community’s world! We’re not just sick and twisted like the characters on the popular Hannibal series, where your shrink is your serial killer. Perhaps writers don’t yet know how conflict can be shown without this window into hell.

Since you are are reading this, perhaps you’ve been craving that other vision for as long as you can remember too. It’s time our stories in mainstream media reflect the yearning in our hearts. What movies are you watching? Television shows? Netflix binges?

Please share and inspire us all.

– Maya Lilly, Co-Producer


4 Responses to The Doomsday Channel.

  1. Oh, yes, I can certainly relate to your craving! The only TVshow that I can think of right now which is funny, wise and beyond simple good vs. evil storylines is ‘The Legend of Korra’ (and it’s prequel ‘Avatar – the last Airbender’). While I find the idea that there is just one ‘chosen one’ problematic, I like very much the role spirits play (especially in ‘Korra’), the teachings of the elements and the feminist messages.

    Looking forward to more recommendations! 🙂

  2. Thank you, Maya! For stating my truth better than I could! Here’s how I pitch the same idea:

    Humanity is the consciousness of this living being we call Earth. Our art is how she dreams.

    We human beings must always first imagine anything we want to build. Time to dream of peace and what we WANT to build here.

    Art has led the way to shifts in human consciousness throughout our existence. We artists must do the same again now.

    But, as you say, the ease of conflict in dystopian story lines, makes far too many of our artistic visions into nightmares now. I also believe it’s revealing the patriarchal domination in our society and entertainment industry which has brought us to this dangerous point in our his-story.

    But, environmental pressure drives evolution. We have now created the environmental pressure on ourselves to force our own evolution.

    I trust Starhawk, force of nature that she is, to open the door for Green Science Fiction. I’m glad you are on her team, Maya!

    As for my favorite TV show. Once Upon A Time is it. Great strong female characters plus clever writing which makes me catch my breath at surprise twists every single week!

    I know it is dismissed by many as a fairy tale show. But, for me it is the return and rebirth of Sunday night Disney, on which I grew up. Though, Once Upon a Time is for grown ups, finding conflict without excess violence and with powerful heroines.

    However, you really need to watch from the first episode to follow it and we”re now in season 4. So, binge away!

    Onward to The Fifth Sacred Thing!

  3. Crowgirl says:

    I used to like the occasional dystopia/apocalypse/post-apocalypse story/movie/show. But now they seem to be so pervasive that it’s disturbing. It’s like the end is all we can think of. I used to love Star Trek because that was about a time when we’d gotten things right, solved a lot of the old problems (facing new ones, of course), but the end of the world/humanity wasn’t the end-all, be-all of the storytelling. And one of the reasons I’ve loved The Fifth Sacred Thing for so long is because it’s a bridge story – it shows people getting things right and BUILDING in the face of things having gone wrong, and facing wrongness and winning. I definitely want more of that.

    There really aren’t many (if any) shows or movies coming out that imagine how we get things right, how we not only survive the challenges that face us, but thrive and move forward. I want so badly to see people imagining how we survive climate change, cultural change, how we bridge the incredible divisions facing us, in realistic, communal ways. I want to imagine what I can do to help.

    So basically, I haven’t been watching a lot of current tv shows or movies. We saw Interstellar in the theater, and liked it a lot. It was very good SF, not completely devoid of hope, although I do wish there were more SF movies that weren’t about “escaping Earth” and more about fixing her. I’ve been watching The Walking Dead; the main point of interest to me is how the group bonds and where it pulls apart. I really like The Hunger Games movies because they show people taking a stand against an oppressive regime.

    If The Fifth Sacred Thing can make it onto the screen, I really do hope for stories like Earnest Callenbach’s Ecotopia/Ecotopia Emerging, and Ursula K. Le Guin’s Always Coming Home to be presented as movies or shows as well. Along with TFST, those are my favorite stories of humanity making it to a better place. I hope (and that word is so small for all that I feel) that more people will wake to and express their hunger for more hopeful stories of what we can accomplish.

  4. Fred Trafton says:

    Yes, TV has become so depressing I just can’t watch it. Movies ar no better, in fact because they have greater license by being rated R, they’re generally worse. The idea that we’re all doomed and the best we can hope for is escaping Earth is so pervasive that authors don’t even feel the need to explain it any more. Everyone just accepts it’s true.

    As for counter-examples, someone mentioned Star Trek. That was true originally, but as the series progressed, it jumped onto the “darker” bandwagon too, allegedly to be more “realistic” and “relevant.” But it’s not terribly hopeful any more. Heck, the last movie was subtitled “Into Darkness,” you can’t get much more explicit than that.

    One of my favorite examples of “we can get ourselves out of this by being true to our morals” without the need of a deity to sort it all out for us was Babylon 5. I still re-watch my DVD set of the entire series once every couple of years. It’s always inspiring. Even for the darkest characters, there’s redemption in the end. Even for the most goody-goody characters, there’s mistakes made that they have to own up to and try to fix later. Ans in a universe that needs no god, karma plays out as it should … as consequences of your actions, not retribution for breaking the rules. I love it.

    Thanks for this insightful article.

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