Every once in a while I go through periods in which really depressing things make me happy. I suppose it’s cathartic but I always assumed catharsis had to end in crying or blood. Lots of blood. Pooling in those strange dips in the carpet you’re pretty sure are left over from something dirty the previous occupants of your apartment owned. Anyway, this all started back in college when I read The Bell Jar. Sylvia Plath is, or rather was, the living breathing Debby Downer. Though John Campbell is trying his best to assume the crown. I’d forgotten just how wonderful these times could be. Thankfully I have Zach Galifianakis to remind me. Before his break out role in The Hangover this comedian with an impossible last name starred in Visioneers.
Now I promised myself I wouldn’t dwell on the actors. Even though it was neat to see a few I recognized. I’m afraid my geeking out may be tiresome for you readers. But let me just say I really enjoyed Zach’s work. It’s amazing what he can do without speaking.
If narcissism and self-pity is a bit of a guilty pleasure then literary dystopias are my utopias. Visioneers closely follows the themes of one of my all time favorite dystopia novels, 1984. Orwell’s grim depiction of a society collapsing under the firm hand of a police state most citizens are no longer aware exists. It serves as great fuel in my small government arguments. The Drake brothers transfer the guilt from the government to a corporation. A single corporation has built such an all-encompassing monopoly the President of the United States is little more than a puppet and nearly the entire nation is employed by one company.
In this American re-imagining our main character George, Washington not Orwell yeah, I know, works for the all mighty Jeffers corporation as a low-level manager who seems to do little more than sit at his desk with giant magnifying glasses reading memos that come from a vacuum tube. But while Orwell’s Winston was worried about the rumors of subversives just up and disappearing in George’s world they explode. Full on spontaneous explosion. They cease to be alright.
Instead of pursuing free thought and dreams, George fears them. These are the signs. Everybody who expresses independent thought and questions their role as a cog in the corporate wheel seems to explode shortly afterwards. And it seems to be happening at a quickening pace. Even TV personalities are exploding. Still, George can’t help but feel intrigued by the dreams he’s having and the dreams his brother (hood) is leading. The dream of pole vaulting. That’s right.
So George must rebel. But he never sees it as such. He’s merely pursuing a prevention that will work for him. He really doesn’t want to explode. This rebellion takes a familiar form. It follows Orwell’s sexuality theme in which he is impotent in the presence of his wife, but surprisingly aroused by a dark-haired woman he meets in the burbs. Though my sophomoric friends who were more than willing to part with their copy of Orwell’s novel for my benefit will be disappointed to learn George’s relations are far less explicit than Wilson’s.
But the plot similarities are not what makes this retelling awkward and peculiar. It’s Orwell’s vision of the future. He wrote 1984, which in case you were unaware is set in 1984, in 1949 and so his vision of the future is largely based in the pre-war era. The buildings are largely of 19th century origin. The height of inter-office communication is the vacuum tube, not even the tube run computer. Though to be fair his interactive TV was pretty neat. Even if it was spying on Winston. The Drakes offer a similarly modern view of the future. George’s mode of transportation isn’t a fancy monorail trail, it’s an appropriately dated 1984 Dodge Caravan, George’s brother uses outdated pole vaulted equipment by today’s standards, and the TVs are standard definition. Who in the U.S. still doesn’t have high-def? Even my grandparents have high-def and their old enough to see the first ever test pattern broadcast in their county.
Where Visioneers breaks away is the low brow, yet enjoyable humor. For example, instead of the ever looming presence of the Big Brother face, we’re greeted with the ever-present Jeffer’s logo; a giant middle finger. If that weren’t enough the new customary greeting is “Jeffer’s morning” while flipping off your fellow conversationalist. We also watch the TV personalities degrade in manner reminiscent of Requiem For A Dream in reverse. They’re the ones going crazy, not the audience.
In the end the Drake’s tribute succeeds in being quirky and entertaining but falls short in believability. Orwell’s fear of a totalitarian government rising to power seems to be an ever-increasing possibility, but a single corporation rising above all others to take control of every aspect of our lives in the days of the internet and the global society is a leap I’m not willing to make. Unless that corporation is Google. They already control a very important bottleneck for information and if this SOPA nonsense has taught us anything it’s that an informed public is a powerful thing. Or maybe just an inconvenienced public is a powerful thing. As long as the end result is always the same I’m willing to accept either explanation.