‘Life After People’: The Unbearable Lightness of Not Being

[3 May 2011]

By Kerrie Mills

One of the more interesting ontological discussions of late centres around the Simulation Theory. This holds that, given the current rate of technological expansion – specifically, advances in computer animation and modeling—it’s reasonable to assume current humanity is in fact but a simulation being run by a highly advanced future version of ourselves.

There are many obvious issues with this type of assumption re: what happens when humanity gets access to technological wonders, not the least being the existence of iBeer. Even if you postulate an awkward phase future mankind will have outgrown, just why our most potent, wise and reverend descendants would then want to devote enormous amounts of time and resource to re-enabling Internet forums is unclear.

Maybe they’re history students, goes the official rationale… or possibly just really, really devoted Sims LCXXV fans.

This feeds into my main problem with the theory: that we are, in fact, right this very minute, devoted to recreating our past/present/future in fairly precise detail, in two dimensions going on three, and the net result is… the surprise mega-hit Life After People. Also assorted other lovingly produced and highly-rated Discovery Channel specials on possible Ends of Days. (They even – in an impressive display of existential thoroughness—went back and covered what happened to the dinosaurs when the meteor hit. This thing had precisely zero point besides “Hey! You know all those super-awesome dinos you obsessed over as a kidlet? Time to watch them disintegrate in agony!”)

OK, you say, but this is a science channel. When we truly use technology to help set our imaginations free, we… churn out mega-hit CGI apocalypses by the boatload. (Or, for a change of pace, mega-hits about how we’re the cancer destroying other planets’ paradises.) The disaster-movie genre has been big ever since mankind figured out how to shake a camera. Even Disney/Pixar has conceded the point with their Serious Statement movie, Wall-E, the cutest darn celebration of world-shattering nihilism in, like, ever. (Also, the Toy Story trilogy works nicely as an extended meditation on the futility of play in the face of the inevitability of death and/or decay. But that may be just me.)

There are other interesting real-life signs that this kind of outlook is growing, as manifested on the Internet. I am thinking here of the growing ‘urban exploration’ art movement, which is nowhere near as chic as its name indicates. What these people actually do is haunt abandoned scraps of civilization – apartment blocks, malls, warehouses—with cameras, in the hopes of catching deeply ironic light beams shining through the cracks. We have looked through quite a lot of these photos now, and the effect is kinda like that decaying steampunk future in Brazil, except now with 95 percent less chipper hopefulness.

Albeit I must admit, and this is the thing that makes me supportive of the idea, it’s compelling decay. If you ever wanted to realise just how little our modern on-demand culture matters to the universe, try Googling the Dixie Square Mall of Harvey, Illinois, aka That Mall From the Blues Brothers Movie Chase. Y’know, Tangled may teach important life lessons and all, but it just doesn’t make us think the way a rotting ‘Thom McAn Shoes’ store sign can.

Thus, every day without a zombie plague descending can be asserted as further proof that we are, in fact, currently masters of our own domain. Unless the definition of ‘geek’ changes radically in the next few centuries – and this is unlikely as long as their childhood toys are there to be ironic about—all signs are that the better homo sapiens gets at faking it the less we care to conscientiously work within reality; and frankly, having lived through the uber-conscientious reality in the form of Canadian federal elections, I don’t blame them.

(It has just occurred to me, in fact, that many of the most cutting-edge animation geeks are currently being produced up North. Postulating Canucks running the universe does go a long way toward patching the holes in the theory…)

So that’s your affirmation for today, folks: real life is boring, interesting is watching what happens when it all goes boom. Or poof, or AAAUUUUGGGHHHH, or whatever the hell happened in the Life After People pilot to set up the premise. I am frankly too existentially creeped out by the episode with the abandoned grocery store to go back and check.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/post/139844-unbearable-lightness-of-being/