October 26th, 2011
aka the obvious one…
Like Elephant, I didn’t see Threads at the time. It was deliberate this time, another video, borrowed years later on the strength of fearsome reputation. I think – but these memories could well be half invented, half-recounted – I think I can remember the day after Threads was first shown. Shocked and ashen elder sisters, parents bravely pretending everything was just the same as before.
We all knew we had a neighbour not 20 miles distant, forever an unwelcome megatechnological interloper into our innocently bucolic existence, who even if not an obvious first-strike target, still had that doorstep Chernobyl possibilty about it. Parents had explained roughly what it would mean if it went tits up, and I was shocked that there wasn’t something they could do about it. There was an apocalyptic timebomb just down the road. How did they go on without panicking? Why weren’t they screaming, shaking their neighbours and duly elected representatives by the shoulders, awakening them to the threat, begging for something to be done? How could normal life as I had always known it be so permanently close to the precipice of extinction?
Watching Threads again now, as the hardy among you will, that’s still the frightening thing – the destruction of the parental superego, manifested as the pathetically heroic, hopeless efforts of the municipal employees, those clerks and accountants, supervisors and secretaries holding onto the world, to save us all through continuation of a neat and orderly bureaucracy. The accumulated ballast of human society, those cultural codes and social securities, worthy words and high hopes, and all their inevitable extinction in the awful new reality beyond the opening of the atomic portal.
The sickest joke is the collapse of all those habits and symbols would not be instant and total. They’d persist in their broken, poisoned, ineffectual form for a short time after the initial massive surge of human casualties. The words and numbers we use to organise our newly nonexistent world would be walking around undead in the fallout, scorched and sick but stumbling shortly on, for some time after we were sick and starved and gone, prior to the eventual (and as it turns out, unlikely) dominion of the cockroach.
Other posts in the Notes From the Borderland series: