A few years ago, the benchmark for Documentaries that Blew Everyone’s Mind was raised by a series Discovery and the BBC made called ‘Planet Earth.’ It was an amazing collage of a nature program, combining great writing, mind-blowing subject matter, David Attenborough’s voice (or Sigourney Weaver, for all the people for whom British accents are an impossible obstacle to surmount) and great camera work.At the end of each episode was a diary that showed what the people who shot all the footage of animals in the middle of nowhere went through–sometimes at severe risk of life and limb, as in the two guys who got trapped in the shack in the Arctic with a Polar Bear outside.
The History Channel unwittingly made a sister project to the Planet Earth series; though they are different in many aspects, their basic message is the same: Humankind is ephemeral, and we aren’t as important as we thought.
In short, Humankind is Not a Beautiful Unique Snowflake.
‘Life After People’ posits the complete, COMPLETE extinction of the human species. This is a great approach because it completely negates all the ‘well when *I* am living in a post-apocalyptic world I will do X to survive’ theorizing that people like to do; it completely removes humanity from the picture. We are not scattered packs of survivors, struggling to retain our humanity in an inhumane world; we are not cannibalistic mutants; we are not battling for supremacy or survival.
Quite simply put, we are NOT.
As in, we were. But now we are not.
Structural engineers, researchers in applied sciences, futurists, biologists, historians, and others were consulted in the creation of the show in order to create a realistic, believable theory on what, exactly would happen should humanity suddenly engage in some kind of global, species-wide bounce.
The first episode, ‘The Bodies Left Behind,’ engages in some psychological tricks to get the viewer thinking; in short, all the human monuments we use as mental shorthand for ‘immortal,’ like the Sistine Chapel, Lady Liberty, and others will crumble and fall in as little as 500 years. Mummies that were happily celebrating their 3000th year in a dry, cool tomb underground will become infested with bacteria and fungus and rot away, when their climate-controlled displays in museums fail.
It’s pretty heavy stuff.
Two kinds of people will watch Life After People; well, the ones who actually watch the show instead of saying ‘There are no people I want to have sex with in this show therefore it is a waste of my time’ and change the channel.
The first group will view it as further proof of the ‘Why Bother?’ school of thought: everything you do is going to disappear in the slow-motion avalanche of time, humanity is fleeting, nothing you do will matter, everything falls apart in the end, why does no one love me, etc., and they will go back to bitching about the world and everything wrong with it.
The second group will look on it and say ‘Of COURSE humanity is fleeting, that’s why you have to make every moment of your existence COUNT.’ As a secular humanist (which is a less-scary way of saying ‘atheist’) I don’t believe in an afterlife, or the immortality of the soul, or any of that. I believe that the human experience is as unique as you choose to make it, and in the end if all you have managed to accomplish in life is moderation in all things, stable relationships, and you haven’t murdered, raped, or introduced anyone to the drugs that would eventually kill them, then you’re doing all right. We have our five senses, we have the relationships we build with others, we have the consequences of our actions (both near and far-ranging), and that’s IT. I’ve heard the expression ‘Every time an old person dies, a library burns down.’ I believe that is absolutely right, and yet it says something about our society that maintaining both old people and libraries are not very high priorities.
Anyhoodle, Life After People is at least off to a strong start. Full marks for the guts to show some of our most cherished images covered in vines and weeds, or being completely decimated by a few decades’ worth of pigeon shit.
If Planet Earth is the family member who inspires you to follow in their inspiring footsteps, Life After People is the crabby, drunken relative with a pill addiction who inspires you to reach the heights that they perceived, but failed to acheive.
Additional Note: Anyone interested in apocalyptic fiction should definitely catch this, especially if you enjoy writing it as well. It doesn’t show the comprehensive picture it could, at least not that I’ve seen thus far, but if you ever take a creative writing class on World-Building then this is definitely worth checking out.
It’s available on Instant Watch.