Monday, February 4, 2008

Life After People

I don't have a TV, and haven't for several months now. To be honest, it's not something I miss: most of what's on is crap, and on the odd occasion when there's something I actually want to watch, well, that's what bittorrent is for, right?

So a couple of days ago I downloaded the History Channel's 'Life After People', and last night, with some time to kill after work, I watched it. It left me with a bad taste in my mouth, the kind you get after you click one of those 'don't click these link' posts that leads to Tub Girl getting shat on by Goatse.

It starts out by magicking six and a half billion people off the planet. What happened to us is not explained; everyone just sort of disappears. Who knows, maybe we all transcended into hyperdimensional demigods, maybe Jesus decided we were all born-agains at heart and raptured us all up to the Kingdom of Heaven, maybe everyone just underwent spontaneous combustion. In the real world, of course, something more mundane would cause our mass disappearance, like cometary bombardment, nuclear armageddon, or the ultimate war plague.

Everything that follows in the History Channel's sick little giga-snuff flick is irredeemably tainted by this sweeping of the mass extinction of mankind under the rug. If the extinction was due to a nuclear spasm, then the every urban environment would be well fried, making the subsequent hour and a half of lovingly detailed exposition on the gradual decay of man-made structures somewhat pointless, as those structures would be, for the most part, gone at the same time we are.

If the species succumbed to biowarfare, the faults aren't quite so egregious, but one part - fairly early on - sticks out, in which the fate of mankind's pets is discussed (again, if it's nuclear war, the pets, like the buildings, are gone along with us.) It's mentioned that the dogs would have to scrounge for food in the city, though what, exactly, it is that they'll be eating is left unsaid. Well, to start with at least, the answer to that is obvious: they'll be eating human cadavers.

Most of the movie, like I said, comes down to an extended meditation on the decay of our buildings, our bridges, our monuments, and our cities, as the elements and the biosphere conspire over centuries to swallow everything every built by humans. The main point seems to be that nothing is permanent, and that should we disappear, every trace of our presence on this planet would be utterly erased in a geological eyeblink even shorter than the one that we called written history (except for Mount Rushmore, which David Brin points out may well last hundreds of thousands of years, carved as it is into solid granite. Then again, hundreds of thousands of years is still pretty short measured against billennia....) You might think that's rather obvious - ashes to ashes, and all that - but the producers didn't seem to think so. Indeed, the documentary seemed to positively exult in the way that nature would reclaim our cities.

One creepy moment near the end really sticks with me. One of the contributors, a cadaverous white-haired geriatric with the bright eyes of a mad scientist, his hands fluttering about like some sort of overstimulated British poof, enthusing about his vision of vines creeping over the Manhattan's skyscrapers as the forest eats the city. After that I had to ask, was this just a documentary? Or was it really extinctionist propaganda?

Hell, don't take my word for it. You've got an internet connection, and too much time on your hands (or you wouldn't be reading this). Watch it yourself.

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