Zardoz: a Metaphor for America in 2020

Working from home during the coronavirus pandemic, glancing through social media in my spare time, the mind wanders, and you start to think about things, make connections you might not have previously made.

 In 1974 a very strange science fiction movie titled Zardoz was released.  It was directed by John Boorman, and starred Sean Conney & Charlotte Rampling.  Spotting a photo on my Facebook feed of someone’s kid cosplaying as Conney’s character complete with an accompanying Zardoz prop head (yes really) got the wheels turning.  It suddenly occurred to me that Zardoz is actually an extremely accurate commentary on 21st Century America.

Here is a bare-bones description of the movie’s set-up…

In a post-apocalyptic future the Eternals, a group of wealthy, powerful elites ensconced in their remote luxurious estate, create a fake god with which to control the rest of the population, who are known as the Brutals. This deity, Zardoz, looks like a fearsome giant flying stone head.  It spreads the message to the masses that sex is evil and killing is good.  Zardoz commands a group of Brutals known as the Exterminators to give to it all of the food they have collected.  In exchange for this food Zardoz provides the Exterminators with an unlimited supply of firearms which they use to terrorize & subjugate the rest of the population.  Zardoz promises the Exterminators that when they die they will be transported to a heavenly Vortex and live forever.

zardoz

And, really, when I see all of these supposed “protestors” armed to the teeth storming state capitols demanding an end to the shutdown, they seem hell of a lot like the Exterminators.  In spite of their supposed “populist” message they are actually serving the wealthy elites who want to reopen the economy at any cost in order to maximize their profits.  These “protestors” are totally willing to sacrifice themselves, their families, their neighbors, and everyone else on the twin alters of unregulated capitalism and Christian fundamentalism, just so long as long as they can have all the guns they want and lord it over the rest of the working class, along with the promise that when they die White Heterosexual Republican Jesus will greet them in Heaven with open arms.

Of course Zardoz can be read as a warning about any sort of blind, unquestioning religious faith that asks you to sacrifice both your livelihoods and your lives to a god and its supposed human representatives.  Nevertheless, the movie feels especially on-target for what is taking place right at this very moment here in the United States.  So I guess John Boorman is actually a prophet.

It’s worth pointing out that the name Zardoz is an in-story clue that this supposed deity is actually a fake, a sham.  We eventually learn that “Zardoz” is short for “Wizard of Oz.”  I just wish more people would heed the movie’s warning.  Please, please DO pay attention to the man behind the curtain.  The great and powerful “god” is really an all-too-mortal charlatan.

Double the Dystopia for your Social Distancing

This morning on I posted the following on Facebook:

Okay, folks, help me out here. Which early 1970s dystopian sci-fi movie starring Charlton Heston should I be viewing while practicing social distancing from the coronavirus? Should I watch The Omega Man (1971) which sees a pandemic transform the world’s entire population into a horde of vampiric zombies? Or should I watch Soylent Green (1973) in which massive overpopulation and climate change threaten humanity with extinction, and the sheltered ultra-wealthy elites are preparing to screw over everyone else to ensure their own survival?

Charlton Heston dystopia

I was mostly joking / being sarcastic, but several people responded with serious recommendations of which movie was better.  So I then offered the following clarification:

Seriously, I cannot believe we ended up living in a timeline where The Omega Man and Soylent Green are taking place AT THE EXACT SAME TIME!  All we need now is for talking apes to show up to complete the Charlton Heston dystopian trifecta!

Comic book artist Roy Richardson responded to this by asking “Trump’s not a talking ape?”  I told him “That’s an insult to talking apes.”

However, thinking about it, Donald Trump does have at least two things in common with Doctor Zaius from Planet of the Apes, specifically a bright orange complexion and a severe aversion to the truth.

trump and doctor zaius

For those of you who think I am making light of the current crisis, well, as the saying goes, if I wasn’t laughing I’d be crying.

Seriously, words cannot describe my absolute disgust at how Trump has so utterly botched the United States’ response to the coronavirus pandemic.  Yes, even with genuinely competent, intelligent leadership in place this would still have been a serious crisis.  But Trump, with his arrogance and greed and selfishness and petty jealousy, has made a bad situation much, much worse.

My abhorrence certainly extends to the Republican Party that for the last three and a half years has protected & enabled Trump’s nightmarish behavior, all the while taking each & every opportunity to line their own pockets at the expense of the people who they are supposed to be representing.  I hope there will one day come a severe reckoning for all these crooks, cowards and traitors.

So here we are, stuck in a world right out of various dystopian, apocalyptic works of fiction.  Where do we go from here?  Well, as I have said in the past, democracy is not a spectator sport.  We need to vote, we need to call our representatives and remind them of exactly who they are supposed to be working for, and once we can get back in the streets we need to protest.

voting is a bus

Some liberals and progressives have decried the mantra “Vote blue, no matter who.”  They claim there is little to no difference between moderate Democrats and the Republicans.  The thing that needs to be recognized is that real, lasting change does not occur overnight.  It does not happen in just one single election.  Sometimes it requires long, difficult years to achieve progress.  It took women decades of struggle to gain the right to vote.  African Americans have been fighting against racism, segregation and white supremacy for over two centuries.

Right now we are teetering on the edge of dictatorship.  We need to pull the country back from the abyss before we can even hope to successfully advance a progressive agenda.

To do that we need to all work together.  We can figure out how & when to put programs such as Medicare for All and a Green New Deal and all of that into effect after we save the country from irrevocably transforming into a fascist corporate-run religious theocracy.

I normally do not veer into such gravely serious territory on this blog.  However, this time I felt compelled to do so.  I just hope that the current crisis will finally serve as a wake-up call.

Because, good lord, if the world is going to resemble a science fiction franchise, I want it to be Star Trek and not The Hunger Games.