Saturday, October 13, 2012

Blackout: what will really happen when the power goes out

Since there are only three or four (or nine or seven) degrees of separation between this topic and another-this, I thought I'd relate the above brilliant re-conception of the audio player to a new hit TV show that I don't really like.

I had high hopes for Revolution, that show where the power goes off. I mean really off, permanently, everywhere, all over the world. You can't even use batteries, for God's sake, though they don't explain why (though after 15 years, when the story actually starts, my guess is that they'd all be used up, except maybe a few reserved for Camilla Parker-Bowles' vibrator). The concept seemed chilling and full of possibilities, so I promised myself I'd watch two of them, in case the pilot was a dog.

I confess I didn't even get to the second one. It was one of those warlord things, one of those, how-do-you-call-'em, the kind I don't like anyway, violent and paranoid, full of border patrols and big guys with chains around them, guns n' weird tattoos n' stuff. I wanted to know things like, how do you make toast without a toaster? How do you blow-dry your hair in the morning, and how do you avoid freezing to death in the winter?

This series, the premise of it anyway, plays on an underlying fear (WAY underlying - most people have pushed it down so far it doesn't even register) that some day, the worldwide power grid will fail and we will be up shit creek without so much as an electronic paddle. This may not happen all at once - or maybe it will - or maybe it'll rotate here and there, just as the collapse of the world climate is poking up here and popping up there: a flood, a drought, a horrendous mudslide, a freak snowstorm in July.

Then I saw what the network did to that great premise, bored it down, dumbed it out, turned it into yet another one of those gritty "things", what's the genre called anyway, but it sure has nothing to do with the ingenuity people would have to summon up to survive a complete and permanent blackout.

Well, it's silly, isn't it? For millennia, that's all there was! For millennia, all during our evolution, all during recorded history prior to the late 1800s (and when was the lightbulb invented? Do you think I'm going on Wiki just for that?), nobody had so much as a flashlight. We were choppers of wood and hewers of water, or whatever the saying is. We made clothing out of blobs of cotton, we squeezed cows and took down squirrels with a slingshot. Some of the greatest geniuses who ever lived never had a Smartphone. 

I love the video above, I love the primitive brilliance of chopstick-and-paper-cup sound reproduction. The only thing stranger is the theory that clay pots somehow recorded sound, I mean hundreds or even thousands of years ago, as the decorating spindle etched grooves in the rapidly-spinning wet clay.

In theory, it could work.

In the last few years some scientist or other discovered he could play back tiny etchings made on paper covered with soot. These went back to something like 1860, and at the time they were made they weren't play-backable, but the guy - do you think I'm going on Wiki for THIS? Forgettaboutit - at least had the principle down. Pointed stylus, rapidly revolving glass drum covered with sooty paper to capture the vibrations. Problem is, this guy was mainly interested in seeing the patterns. A few bricks short of a genius.

I remember eons ago - speaking of low technology, this is the lowest - WHAT show was it, anyway? It wasn't Monty Python, but one of those British comedies like Morecambe and Wise or The Two Ronnies (and I am sure we got more of them here in the True North than the States ever saw), with Spike Milligan, people like that, and maybe Dudley Moore, and. . . anyway, the sketch showed a giant record lying on the ground, and some idiot - maybe Peter Cook - running around and around it with a big stylus and playing it.


I wonder if I have a point here. If technology fails, which it seems to be already in the general dumbing-down of the populace, who will thrive and who won't? I'd say the paper-cup-and-chopstick guy will do all right because he has found a way to think outside the cup, so to speak.

Most people are soft - nowadays they are, I think - and selfish - look at the shameful Vancouver post-Stanley-Cup riots -  and will panic and loot and smash and grab and treat each other like shit. Those people will sift out, eventually, having killed each other, leaving behind the real survivors, the reverse pioneers, the retro-explorers who are tough but able to share their resources. And by resources, I don't mean just food but innovative ways to adapt to huge change. This is how we survived as a species, not by fucking destroying each other over a handful of batteries.

Those nutty survivalists, by the way, the crackpots with more arms stashed than the Unabomber, will very quickly be winnowed out. Do you think they're going to share even one can of beans with a starving family? The crazy will NOT inherit the earth because they're inflexible to the point of lunacy. If there isn't any government left to be paranoid about, they will lose the will to live. Just as Jane Goodall once said, "One chimpanzee is no chimpanzee", in the huge scheme of things, one human being is no human being. Without each other for social and practical and even technological support, we're sunk.

I'd be willing to give Revolution another try if it got past all the "my-family-is-alive-and-I'm-going-to-find-them" stuff, the gun-totin' gals with tangled tawny hair who still look sexy without a stylist (and, I assume, still smell nice without running water or deodorant) and the woman with the ludicrous hamster-driven Commodore 64 computer flickering in her basement. But I think it would have been braver of the writers to start with the actual blackout and not just flash back to it for a few seconds here and there. To actually live through it would create the kind of doomsday gut-lurch that futuristic drama is all about.

We have felt the wind of the wing of this particular madness. We're brave enough to glance at the subject, but not to wade right in.


  1. You're scaring me, Margaret. I didn't want to know there have been genii down thru the ages who DID NOT HAVE IPHONES??? Well, I don't have one, but I've never claimed to be a genius. I haven't watched the show, either. I saw The Road and that was enuf futuristic dystopia for me for awhile.

  2. Yes. This show is about as exciting as watching your freezer thaw out.