Lately I’ve been watching the Blacklist on Netflix. One of its episodes shares a theme that I have a hard time thinking of a show I’ve watched the past couple of years that doesn’t. Those shows are somewhere in the genre-pool of mystery, detective, and sci-fi; and, there’s a lot of them. At least one episode in each show tells the story of a criminal mastermind intent on destroying “the system” leading some sort of group that resembles an Animal Liberation, Earth Liberation, Occupy!, or Anarchist organization …BUT (dun-dun-duuuunnn), the mastermind has ulterior motives. I can remember episodes like this going back to the days of the X-Files…
This sort of episode tends to fall into a type of dilemma that is more general: the hero(s) don’t know if protecting law-and-order is the right thing to be doing; but, they eventually justify their actions by discovering something the episode’s character is doing that is ‘unquestionably’ wrong. Examples of this would be the criminal searching for a cure to their child’s illness, the revenge murderer that kills domestic abusers (or …the entire basis for Dexter), or the character in duress that has trouble choosing between prison and the revenge of the criminals that are using them. Any one of these tropes becomes a commentary on the justifications for strict adherence to the law …and depending on the show, it can go in a variety of directions.
The specific narrative that includes the activists and riots is a bit more interesting. With the idealist criminal and their activist following, you introduce political, economic, environmental, and other contemporary concerns about the organization of social life into the dilemma. In the context of these shows, the audience has already formed bonds with the main characters and their struggles. At the same time, the audience can usually identify with the struggles of the activists. The other dilemmas mentioned above do not offer such a broad range of applicability to the everyday moral questions the audience encounters concerning the organization of their own lives. The dilemma is also more complicated. It not only asks the audience to consider the extent to which they are willing to act for this or that social cause; but also, to consider in an Alex Jonesian way …who they are /really/ working for if they take to direct action.
There is also another aspect to the trope in question that ties into the format of these shows and the world which its characters exist in. All of these shows present a world that is too complicated for the layman to comprehend. Maybe it’s aliens, or a vast network of secret organizations, or technologies traded on black markets that could destroy everything. Whatever the case may be, a world such as this is the precondition for the main characters to exist as such: the keepers of society’s secrets who are protecting society against enemies that also know these secrets. In other words …shit is more fucked up than the audience can even imagine and the story-teller is going to reveal that world episode-by-episode through characters that are out there to heroically protect them. Protection in the case of this trope includes and is even sometimes substantially protection from the morons that think they understand the world enough to take direct action: the activist/anarchist/etc.
The moral of the story is always that while in the mediocre world of civilian life these issues seem important enough to act outside legal constraints for, it turns out that the actual dynamics of society are so far beyond civilian comprehension that there is a deeper purpose law-and-order is serving. Sometimes that purpose is usurped by some arch nemesis that seems to be behind all sorts of catastrophe. Sometimes that purpose is strictly the Jonesian /everyone is working for someone/ or /all direct action must be a false flag operation/ type of scenario. While that’s the overt message, the more subtle message of the activist episodes is really …these people are delusional fucking idiots that are only going to hurt people or at best, annoy the public to function as decoy for others who will hurt people.
For how long these particular episodes have been around, they only seem like they’re becoming more standard. I have trouble estimating the extent to which this trope alone serves to reinforce the suspicion of various activists, revolutionaries, or whathaveyou; but, I feel my own responses to these episodes and their psychodrama …and, I know that if people participating in direct action were an Other for me it would be easy for me to write off the entire lot of them as absolutely fucking bonkers.
What all of this allows me to contemplate is my own context; but, not from the angle this trope suggests. I contemplate how affected the individuals are by this trope whom people my context and what it would mean to consider that affectedness in my own struggles and adventures. For instance, I’m not convinced that journalists are painting anarchists in a similar light from their own moral convictions. I also contemplate the extent to which some communiques seem so out-of-touch to me, given the terrain of the public’s imagination when influenced by this and similar tropes. There’s lots of things …to consider.
Anyhow – I’ll be putting this in the “rambles” section of the Eternal Wretch when I can. Maybe I’ll resurrect Indigestion… Who knows! Maybe I’m working for General Ludd.