Apocalypse Right Now: The Dead Zone
Johnny Smith had his life figured out—the job was his calling, his significant other was “his” girl, and they were getting married very soon. Then, on his way home from what seemed like an okay date (and only okay because he uncharacteristically got ill on a ride he loved any other day), life threw him an 18-wheeled curveball that wrecked his car, wrecked his body, and his life.
When Johnny woke up, the world that greeted him wasn’t the world he’d blacked out in. His job was gone, the girl was gone, even the ride was gone. All he knew at that point was pain, emotional and physical simultaneously. He knew pain. And he also knew when things would happen, or when they did, though his warnings were at first greeted by skepticism and reassurances from people who didn’t know. They thought they knew, but Johnny knew. He saw where the roads led, or would lead, pointed it out. And when he wasn’t going to be heard, he took ill-advised, rash and destructive action.
Compare that synopsis of David Cronenberg’s adaptation of Stephen King’s bestselling novel The Dead Zone to say, a certain Secretary of State’s campaign for a certain public office, let’s say, last year. She had the calling, she had the spouse (arguable, but let’s roll with it for now), and everything looked like it was pointing her way.
Then a giant truck full of pumpkin spice racism comes barreling around the corner, blaring the worst talk radio has to offer, careening from lane to lane. “Well he’s never getting where he’s going, driving like that,” she thinks. Little did she know, that the other driver was only looking to get to where she was going to be, from the opposite direction. And was going to ruin both vehicles, the road, the ditch next to the road, probably pollute a stream, kill a unicorn, dance on the graves of historically respected people, and be incredibly petty and juvenile the whole ride down.
This certain secretary of state wakes up on November 10th with a massive headache, and it feels like the world has jumped through time without her. The comparison falls apart here because instead of jumping forward, like in The Dead Zone, the world has jumped back. To about 1950. Basic human rights are a matter of sophistry again. People, who only recently started feeling like, you know, people, begin to wonder if they’re going to have fight for those exact rights all over again, and at much steeper odds than before. Because a right lost is something they’ve never experienced. Nor any living generation. No, our recent history has been til now story after story of dreams no longer deferred, rights won, wrongs corrected (not always as stridently as could be, but any progress is better than none). On November 10th, she’s not so sure that’s the case anymore.
Johnny Smith takes an initiative to Do Something with the chances he’s given to do so. He warns a nurse about her daughter being in peril. Advises his recovery physician that his Holocaust-fleeing mother is in fact, still alive, and in the United States. He finds the killer of a young woman (and possibly a younger girl, it’s left somewhat unclear) within the very police department investigating the crime committed. He also sees the worst possible outcome on a global level, and takes that ill-advised, destructive, rash action to stop it.
The outcome he sees, when shaking hands with a senatorial candidate, is one of short-fused, egomaniacal, mutually-assured destruction. That the senatorial candidate should have three syllables in his name, have a ridiculous haircut, rile up the working-class voters while actively working in secret to undermine their every interest, bully the media, a vote fixed in his favor while somehow keeping his own hands clean in the whole mess, and being far too ready to make sure “the missiles are flying” has no comparison in our reality. None. Couldn’t think of a single name that would fit that. Nope.
But the comparison is there in our reality now. The best way to stop it is not to follow in Johnny Smith’s footsteps. Because our future isn’t fixed, or determined—that’s worry talking, and worry doesn’t get shit done like determination, focus of purpose and concerted, collective action to lobby, protest, appeal, oppose and stand strong against everything that would tell us, no matter who “us” is, that we are lesser than.
Like Johnny waking up, we took our time to mourn what we lost, we dusted ourselves off, and we’ve learned to take it one step at a time. We’ve learned to walk again, and not a minute too soon.
Now it’s time to run, and cancel the apocalypse.