When we have nothing and no one but ourselves to blame, darker themes creep to the surface.
When the world as we know it ends, will it be our fault?
Broadly speaking, dystopian sagas diverge into two camps. On the one hand, you have your bleak future in the vein of Fahrenheit 451, where humanity’s plight is, for lack of a better term, entirely self-inflicted, i.e. the political processes hath wrought a state of grim dictatorship and social repression. The remainder of dystopian fantasy tales take place in a post-apocalyptic setting, where acts of god and the forces of nature conspire to render all the earth an inhospitable wasteland; although humanity often takes oblique credit for the devastation, as in nuclear fallout stories, such as Alas, Babylon.
Aimee Greenberg’s American Carnage: A Love Story fits comfortably into the latter camp, with humanity surviving along the rank edges of a blighted world bereft of trees and, presumably, arable land in general. Thanks, climate change.
The “man-made armageddon” narrative has apparently outpaced the “XYZ unforeseen and unstoppable obliterative force” narrative, and I think it’s because the extrinsic apocalypse lends itself to feel-good tales of human ingenuity. Is that a big old space rock hurtling towards the planet? Better summon a team of plucky roughnecks to save the day. Aliens systematically wiping out life on earth? Good thing for retired military heroes who just want to have a normal life. Geology trying to kill us all? How about we just have The Rock jump off some stuff for two hours and call it good.
When we have nothing and no one but ourselves to blame, darker themes creep to the surface. Maybe it’s because the kind of apocalypse where human intervention leaves the world a desolated charnel house might actually happen, and the next thing you know it, you have mad scientists trying to perfect the human species, and dictatorial figures hoarding the world’s pleasure for themselves. If we had to choose, I think we’d all take the blameless, extinction-level event over the anthropogenic disaster. Not all apocalypses are created equal.
American Carnage runs at the City Heights Performance Annex at the Weingart Library through November 26.