Creator: Jason Rothenberg
Based on books by: Kass Morgan
2014-2015, The CW
You don’t come home from war.
You don’t get to kill people and stay the same person.
There’s this idea about war and brutality and struggle as a kind of thing the bourgeoisie can keep their hands clean of — or at least just dip into for short moments, like tourists on a war safari.
Maybe the clearest articulation of this problem I’ve ever seen is in “The Epic Pooh,” Michael Moorcock’s ruthless dismantling of The Lord of the Rings. In that essay, presents us the idea that the hobbits represent the middle- and upper-class of England, off to go have an adventure — in which they largely don’t have to do anything unpleasant like kill people since there are other people who can do that — and then return home safe and sound to the Shire. Despite being rather a fan of Middle Earth, I think this is pretty defensible as an interpretation of the text.
What happens when a good girl who is also a criminal ends up needing to systematically undermine patriarchal domination in order to survive?
It’s a trope I see time and time again in TV and movies—violence and such are shunted off onto the poor, the soldiers, and the feral. This is, perhaps, Deleuze and Guattari’s “nomadic war machine” concept in action. (I promise namedropping philosophers will not become my habit!)
It’s a dangerous trope. It’s racist and classist, for one thing. It’s also an idea that, when presented in fiction, perpetuates itself in both media and perhaps the real world—that is to say, when people see themselves as getting to only dip their toes into adventure and then come home more or less whole, they’re more likely to do things like join the army.
Really, it’s also the core conceit behind slumming: rich people get to siphon off the aesthetic and cultural beauty of poverty without sacrificing their privilege.
And this hobbit trope is one that The 100 tackles head on. Our privileged protagonists, with their access to technology and western medicine and their generally civilized values, are thrown into a post-apocalyptic world in which they have to accept the ramifications of their actions. These hobbits have been cast into Mordor and are forced to figure out which orcs are their friends and which orcs follow Sauron.
Okay I’ll end the hobbit metaphor now.
But The 100 is a wonderful show. It systematically undermines the tropes of contemporary YA sci-fi. It doesn’t ask the question “what happens when a good girl falls in love with a bad boy and a goodie two-shoes at the same time,” it asks the question “what happens when a good girl who is also a criminal ends up needing to systematically undermine patriarchal domination in order to survive?”
Which is a much cooler question.
The first couple episodes were a bit of a drag, honestly seeming like a crude parody of occupy and anarchy. But I promise you the show pays off — particularly in the second season. It has strong female leads in both traditionally feminine roles and traditionally masculine roles. It has complex ethical quandaries that are (usually) solved in a non-moralizing fashion. Insubordination of every authority figure is portrayed as a noble act, and leaders are basically the worst people ever. Acts of nationalism are dark and disturbing, while multiculturalism is lauded. Also, like the best of post-apocalyptic media, practically everyone in the show has reverted to what I think Marx called primitive communism and there’s no money to speak of. (Woo! Another namedrop!)
There’s some annoying shit, too, like the whole post-apocalyptic still-have-to-wear-makeup thing, and I suspect someone could write a whole essay just about the show’s strange politics of colonization (actually, someone please do this and submit it to Anarcho-Geek Review). And I think the makers of the show did a decent job of trying to create a realistically “savage/primitive” tribal post-apocalyptic people without getting too far into dangerous race territory, but honestly as a white American I’m the wrong person to say.
These things aside, this show, time and time again, both surprised and entertained me.