Surviving San Diego’s Comic-Con is kind of like whitewater rafting. To navigate the tumult of over a hundred thousand nerds being desperately marketed to you half steer, half go with the flow.The cool thing is that the rapids sometimes carry you to some little island of pop culture you weren’t planning on seeing but turns out to be pretty awesome. That’s how I ended up at the panel for “The Man in The High Castle.”
The Man in The High Castle is a short novel by Philip K. Dick that is now a series debuting on Amazon Prime in the fall of this year. As well as a panel they had a big screen showing of the first two episodes that I also went to. Episode one is already streaming as a preview. The setting is an alternate timeline in which the Nazis developed nuclear weapons first, used them on Washington D.C., then divided the United States between themselves and the Japanese Empire. In the story, the year is 1962, and the Rocky Mountains are a Neutral Zone in the cold war between the Greater Reich and the Empire’s Pacific States of America. The resistances on both sides of the continent are receiving newsreels showing an alternate ending to the war, our ending. The films are linked to the mysterious “Man in the High Castle” somewhere in the Neutral Zone.
Other reviewers will tell you the show is intelligently written, well filmed, well acted etc. All that is true, but as an anarchist, what makes it good for me is that instead of descending into a flag waving pastiche about “freedom-loving” ‘muricans, the show focuses on the chilling normalcy of fascism.
Other reviewers will tell you the show is intelligently written, well filmed, well acted etc. All that is true, but as an anarchist, what makes it good for me is that instead of descending into a flag waving pastiche about “freedom-loving” ‘muricans, the show focuses on the chilling normalcy of fascism. More than once during the panel the cast and producers stressed that if you are white, heterosexual, able-bodied, Christian and do what you’re told, Nazi rule is not a bad deal for you. Nazism for these people is more of a spiritual death. Episode one has a scene that demonstrates this.
One of the main characters is rescued by a swastika wearing state trooper. The trooper is an affable, round-faced, middle-aged man who offers roadside assistance with a smile and a routine paperwork check. He is as benign an image of authority as one can imagine. He reflects on his time as American soldier and says; “Now I can’t even remember what we were fighting for.” Flakes of ash begin to fall on them and the trooper explains, “It’s the hospital. On Tuesdays they burn cripples, the terminally ill… (shrugs) drag on the state.” His casual indifference to mass murder is all the more chilling because he seems like such a nice guy, yet accepts this brutality as utterly normal. Under fascism even nice people are fascist. It’s a point the show makes repeatedly.
Anarchists are well aware that the differences between totalitarian nationalist capitalism, aka fascism, and nationalist capitalism that justifies its hierarchies with representative “democracy” and a few civil rights are not as great as they are made out to be. Fascism is dangerous because we are so close to it already. It’s a slippery slope we’ve already started sliding on. It is surprising to see this represented so well in big budget capitalist media, but that’s exactly the message of the show. That alone is worth tuning in for. The subtlety with which they portray the alternate universe is another strong point.
There are no people of color in the American Reich, not even in crowd shots; they have fled to the Neutral zone, the marginal tolerance of the Pacific States or South America. Pop music is familiar but not quite right, this is a 1962 with no African-American influence. In San Francisco white people drive compact Asian cars, practice Aikido with kind but firm Japanese masters and drink green tea. It seems normal, but at the slightest social deviance the empire will torcher them for treason, or kill them with zyklon gas. There are German engineered supersonic passenger jets, not quite right soda bottles, and television shows like the Dragnet-esque American Reich, where tall blue-eyed cops catch shorter darker criminals. The detail is amazing.
The creators of this show, who include Isa Dick Hackett, David Zucker, and Frank Spotnitz, have been pitching this show for ten years. They are in love with their source material and the possibilities of this universe. Now that they have adapted the novel they hope very much to be renewed for a second season and continue to explore this alternate timeline. With the response the pilot is getting on Amazon, the odds are in their favor. This leads to a big question that I was lucky enough to be able to ask the panel.
“Historically America, and the “democratic” capitalism it represents, were not the people who fought fascism the hardest, in fact we were pretty late to the party. The real opposition to fascism came from socialists, communists and anarchists. Will we be seeing that in the show?”
You could practically see the gears turning behind the furrowed brows of the producers and cast. Frank Spotnitz answered my question; “Not… yet…” the gears in his head seemed to really whir for a moment, “There are so many possibilities in this world but it all depends on getting a second season.”
Perhaps I planted a seed. We shall see.