Sunday, September 14, 2014

True Detective and Philosophy

Post-apocalypse stories, at least those that use the theme as more than set dressing, fall along an axis. At one end lies the ultimately positive story of life continuing after a Bad Thing happened. At the other lies the last struggling survivors and they rail, ultimately futilely, against inevitable death. In other words, optimism vs. pessimism. In different other words, existentialism vs. nihilism. I suspect that where the popular culture of the times fall into those spectra can say something about people's outlook on the world.*

HBO's recent series True Detective is not, strictly speaking, post-apocalyptic. Rather, it is heavily Southern Gothic, with the themes of mystery, decay, and dissolution twining through the cinematography and writing like wysteria covering an old tree. It does contain elements of the apocalyptic though, especially in the "revelation" sense of the word, as the main characters see the nature of their world revealed to them. And since it also draws from the classic weird story "The King in Yellow", you would not be wrong if you guessed that the revelation is not an entirely pleasant one. Rust, one of those main characters, is a self-described pessimist, in the philosophical sense rather than the colloquial one, and so it is very clear where he falls in the spectra at the start of the show. Where his arc takes him, I will not reveal here.

If you are looking for some horror viewing this autumn, you can't do much better than True Detective. And for more, and better, discussion about the philosophy behind horror and some nuggets on why nihilism can exist in pop culture, I refer you to this week's Radio Lab podcast, entitled "In the Dust of This Planet", which got me started thinking along these lines.

* Now that I have written that, I suddenly realize that which pair of philosophical struggles you more identify with might also tell you something significant about your religious beliefs, or lack thereof. But that is another topic, for someone much more educated along those lines than myself.

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