Starting with The Empire Strikes Back and continuing to the grimdark Nolan Batman movies, the idea that ‘darker’, downbeat stories are what people want, are what are real got so pervasive that it became a joke. The end of Se7en, or Spider-Man blowing away as dust at the end of Infinity War. That shit was real, the good guys lost, and that’s how you know it’s serious.
But in real life, the good guys losing sucks. In real life, the bad guys suffering no comeuppance sucks. In real life, the consequences are not dramatic and moving and limited to costumed superheroes, they’re mundane and shitty and are disproportionately heaped on people who can’t afford them.
On a lot of days in this dismal fucking year, it sure feels like the falling action of one of those middle movies, the build to the cliffhanger that gets you amped up for the years-away denouement of the trilogy by imperiling your favorites in the moment. There are too many enemy fighters, the walls have been breached, a key hero has lost their nerve or even turned heel. On a lot of days the news, social media, the doomscroll as a whole just make it feel like defeat is assured.
Terrible things keep happening. Our government is doing a lot of them intentionally.
Conspiracists are salivating at the prospect of a race war in the streets, and the occupant of the White House on down to trigger-happy, racist, bully police soak in the validation of their habitual abuse of minorities. The shining light of so many people righteously protesting is ignored, and unfortunately the pretty justified rioting plays right into their hands. There are tanks on the streets, secret police, government abductions and executions. All of this is covered in detail in the press and it doesn’t matter.
Public health malpractice is costing tens of thousands of lives, and they’ve so successfully tied it to identity that people who might be most vulnerable to COVID are the ones howling in protest of measures that might save them from it. The red-faced old white men and retired women braying about how their freedoms are being trampled and injecting themselves with bleach. Every time some wave of stupid is beaten back he just invents a new one. Old people are getting sick, young people are getting sick, governments won’t shut down, or ones that do won’t pay people not to work, or businesses to stay open. My city’s hollowing out and so is yours. It’s going to be a decade before things come back to where they were a year ago. It may get worse before it gets better. It may cost anyone like you or me something even more if we’re unlucky. Nothing is being done other than an inevitable fake dog and pony about a vaccine that isn’t done yet that might be a just-good-enough fake to get him reelected.
And let’s not forget the election itself. Twenty years of Republicans engineering victories from elections they deserve to lose by denying a say to people they don’t like and scaring just enough people into voting for their worst impulses. Their coalition is stagnant, fetid, aging, dying, and being peeled away, albeit too slowly by the very things i’m describing. But they’re still going to win. Maybe everywhere. This is probably what’s most frustrating. They cheat faster, better, and harder than people who don’t cheat can fight. People who don’t cheat are fundamentally ill-equipped with the imagination to conceive of all the ways you can cheat. But cheat they will, from doctored videos pumped into people’s Facebook feeds to scary men at polls to drive people away, to Russians tampering with the totals. To our founding fathers and the goddamn Electoral College and the fact that somehow Wyoming gets to tell Massachusetts what to do in life.
The odds are stacked against us. We are too naive to stop cheating. We’re too weak to actually beat COVID as thoroughly as we must. We’re not anti-racist enough to see how these things are affecting people who aren’t us. We’re too lazy or beaten down or tethered to jobs and children to actually fill the streets when outrages occur; maybe nothing would get us out there, and maybe we’ll find out soon when the ultimate outrage occurs. It may happen that he steals the Presidency, or refuses to leave office, or encourages ‘our’ jackbooted cops to billy-club us into submission, and it may be that we can do nothing about it. But perhaps more likely, we will do nothing about it.
In short, the movie reference that applies is from Spaceballs: “Evil will always triumph, because good is dumb.”