Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Revolution rips off Fight Club. Good move.

Remember that post where I was all "Oh, Revolution is going to investigate the mythology and fetishization of gun culture in America"? As it turns out, not so much. That angle has, in the last two episodes, been completely dropped, and I was resigning myself to a season (probably just the one) of, to borrow a favorite phrase from Alisa, hate watching. But this last episode, entitled "Soul Train" because it has, sigh, a train in it, has made me think that maybe the show is going to redeem itself by and through copying smarter and more developed tropes from other pop culture texts.

The episode opens with Captain Tom Neville (who is, now that I think of it, clearly a rip-off of Jubal Early from the late, great Firefly) challenging his fellow militia members, and ultimately his eighteen-year-old prisoner, to bare knuckles boxing matches that he, rather decidedly, wins. Fight Club without electricity, I thought to myself. Sweet. The episode includes a flashback (ala Lost) to Neville's life before the blackout when he was a Paper Street Office Monkey, um, I mean an insurance adjuster. After being bullied by his alpha male boss and neighbor, Neville retreats to his basement where he beats the crap out of a punching bag. After being watched by his young son, Neville lets the boy have a few punches, instructing him to "only hit the bag . . . never people." Then the lights go out.

Six weeks post-blackout, Neville awakes to find his house being ransacked by the aforementioned neighbor. After unsuccessfully appealing to the starving man's sense of communal feeling, they get into a brawl, witnessed by the son. Neville unilaterally revokes his "don't hit people" policy and beats the man to death in front of his wife and child.

What Revolution gets right (and borrows from Fight Club), is that this definition of masculinity is  psychopathological. Neville is a brilliant sadist, clearly loving this brave new world that has given him the power he lacked in the corporate realm. It's like when Tom Hanks's character in Saving Private Ryan discovered he was a math teacher who was also really good at being a soldier, except with much more pleasure in cruelty. It also gets right that this type of toxic masculinity can be inherited, as the episode's big reveal is that one of the militia members (whom Neville was willing to sacrifice, incidentally) is his indoctrinated son, all growns up.

What Revolution misses is how cultural fictions create and perpetuate this type of manhood. It mattered that Brad Pitt played Tyler Durden's fantasy man (um, spoiler alert?). A background movie marquee showing Seven Years in Tibet reveals that the universe of Fight Club includes Brad Pitt the actor who is a normative masculine ideal in looks and lifestyle. It also elides the healthy dose of (ironic?) misogyny that undergirds Tyler's (if not the film's) account of the downfall of manliness. It also argues that Neville's masculinity is vastly inferior to that of the hero Miles, simply because Miles fights better and is meaner, which undermines the entire argument. Oops.

Though I'm sure this will all get dropped next week just like the gun thing, it was nice while it lasted. Maybe Revolution takes rip-off requests. Next week, steal the plot of Rosemary's Baby!

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