Last week when I was Sick As A Dog, I took some therapeutic couch potato time. The Machinist encouraged me to eat a bit, even though food didn’t taste right. Season of the Witch posed some thought-provoking questions, such as: Is this the same Nicolas Cage who won an Oscar? And how can you put zombie monks in your movie and not have it be any fun?
The last thing I watched was Ultraviolet, a mini-series I remembered* watching upwards of ten years ago. The first time around, I realized it was Jane Bennet, Vampire Hunter but upon rewatching I was delighted to learn that it was also Steve† and Stringer Bell, Vampire Hunters. It’s an interesting artifact of the time: late nineties technology, where everybody has bulky cell phones that they use as phones, and the interwebs are referred to as “the Net” and are considered a wealth of information despite a paucity of basic statistical data.
It’s also unknowingly positioned midway between the Cold War and the War on Terror, not just temporally but philosophically. The vampires are an insidious threat to Our Way of Life (which works for either), recruiting adherents (sort of works for either, but the edge goes to the Cold War because the threat’s not racially coded; which perhaps has as much to do with it being a UK production as explicit historical parallels), opposed by religion-infused governmental institutions (also works for either‡), engaged in asymmetric warfare (War on Terror, with bonus points for nailing the boogeyman effect), and bent on genocide.
This last point is one of the things I found unsatisfying upon both viewings. Up until the final episode, the series managed to keep the morality nice and gray, but then we are left to believe that the vampires are planning to nuke the planet. Superficially, this conjures images of the Cold War gone hot…but, crucially, lacking the “mutually assured” part of mutually assured destruction. That, I think, kicks it out of the Cold War column and prefigures the War on Terror. Off the top of my head (in my admittedly faulty memory), popular culture has a lot of “us fighting communists” (“Wolverines!”) and a lot of post-apocalyptic survival (paging St. Leibowitz), but isn’t heavy on actual fears of Soviets intentionally launching nukes. Perhaps it’s apocalypse fatigue, or because “weapons of mass destruction” don’t have to be so very mass in their destructive capabilities, or the fact that the Enemy is now presumed to expect seventy-two virgins rather than being a godless heathen who hates apple pie, or the fact that “genocide” is a term that now gets tossed around§ a lot, but now the sense is that somewhere, someone would push the button if Jack Bauer doesn’t make it in time. I wonder if future historians will make a distinction between the Cold War and the War on Terror or if it will all be seen as a continuum: constructs in opposition, unbalancing the world, precise names and details irrelevant to the underlying process.
* In some ways, my memory was spot-on, or easily jogged. In others, it was way off, to the point that I wondered a couple times if I’d seen a remade or recut version. My gut, and the interwebs, tell me this is not the case, and my memory is in fact that suspect.
† Sadly, there’s not a Susan-from-Coupling font, but imagine that it exists.
‡ My reaction to the Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith chapters we read, and Andrew Preston’s CENFAD talk, is one of mingled dismay and relief. On the one hand, being someone who feels government and religion should be treated like oil and water rather than chocolate and peanut butter, I am not comforted by convincing arguments that Recent Crazy is not an aberration that may just stop. (Never mind the fact that looking closely at one’s beliefs is going to reveal ways in which they are tied to social and culture Stuff that one might not care for.) On the other hand, if Recent Crazy is the sort of thing we’ve all survived in the past, then perhaps the only casualty is a progressive narrative (and we all know how problematic they are, anyway).
§ The only thing worse than people using the word without proper consideration to its weight is when people use the word after having given proper consideration to its weight, because it is correct.