Sunday, March 23, 2014

Texas is the Reason: A Specter is Haunting NBC's "Revolution"

With those words by Miles Matheson, viewers got a hint of things to come for "Revolution." Fans of NBC's hit show already knew, midway through Season 1, that filming for the following season would be done in Texas. But what did the new setting for the show portend about the plot? Series creator Eric Kripke has already hinted that Season 2 will see action from the Texas Rangers, with the title of episode five already revealed as "One Riot, One Ranger." But what else can the show's fans expect from the setting of Texas? Perhaps not much. Given Kripke's focus on character-driven plots, no one should expect some grand "Game of Thrones-esque" warring kingdoms plot device, with the rulers of an expanded Texas vying for control of the continent. Yet the setting of Texas is an interesting choice. In the post-apocalyptic genre, especially the type that's featured the U.S. as independent nations, Texas has an important place. Knowing Texas’ place as a trope gives viewers some ideas about where the show's story might be going, and what kinds of issues the main characters might face. My guess, one informed by Kripke's stated themes for Season 2, the review of literature with an independent Texas, and the map of Texas on the show, is that "Revolution's" Texas will form a thematic counterweight to the ambitions of the "Patriots" to rebuild the U.S.
In the writing of my own post-U.S. fiction, I recognize my enormous debt to earlier works in the genre. Not wanting to be derivative, I've struggled to have my "Lone Star Empire" be original. I believe Kripke might have done that (but more on that later). What most fictional works of Texas share is the knowledge of the 'historical Texas.' For what's drawn so many to write about Texas is its past as an independent nation. Nevertheless, when writers have written about Texas, they've been well aware of the special place of Texas, and borrowed from its history as an independent nation accordingly. However the best in the genre are selective in what they borrow and come off fresher. Perhaps the best one in the genre is A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr. Taking place after an event called the "Flame Deluge," Texas is a realm of feuding royal houses, with one specific brutal monarch longing to rule the continent.

What makes A Canticle a classic is the believability of a Texan realm of political intrigue, assassination, and subtle subterfuge. Texas' national believability is enhanced by the readers' knowledge of the familiar place names, in combination with other peripheral polities ("Grasseaters" on the Great Plains and "New Rome"). Texas struggles mightily against the historic regional rivalries that are supported by Texas' history as a once-independent nation and as one of the largest and most powerful American state. Fans of the book believe a "once and future" kingly Texas because it looks like the Texas they know today. Arrogant and power mad. It makes sense when Hannegan, Mayor of Texarkana poisons the royal house of Laredo, while looking down his nose at his barbarian allies on the Great Plains. The history of Texas, from the 'bloody' Texas Rangers to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, is filled with bloodshed. Texas is the reason, now the State of Chihuahua is dead.
Historical rivalries also explain another important book in the post-apocalyptic genre, this one is A Specter is Haunting Texas by Fritz Lieber. The tale concerns a spaceman who return to ancient Earth, only to find that the entire North American continent is ruled by Texas. Possibly in a nod to the sociological classic on Texas, The Super-Americans, the spaceman finds a hormone enhanced super race of Texan masters, served by a stunted race called "Mexes." Using the historic rivalry between white Texans and mestizo Mexicans, the story explains the genesis of a "Big Texas" with a founder named "Lyndon the First," who guided the Texan people past the troubles of nuclear war and radical revolution. This "point-of-divergence" is believable because Texas has not only enslaved its historic enemies, it's held off other rivals, "nigger socialist" California and Florida, that follow radical political ideologies. The threat of other nations is a nod to the Civil Rights era that challenged the conservative status quo, which historical Texas would come to represent in the middle-to-late 20th century.

"Revolution" doesn't belong in the camp of alternative history, which relies on a point-of-divergence to explain differences in history, Kripke has created a show that, like other classics in the post-apocalyptic genre, use an event that changes everything -- the Blackout -- to set the change for an alternate history. It makes sense that there would be an independent Texas after the loss of power; it makes even more sense that the borders of Texas would change, given the history of the Republic of Texas, and it's past territorial ambitions.

"Revolution's" Texas and other alternative histories of Texas share knowledge of history to tell their stories, though they are very different from one another. A golden age of alternative history is taking place right now, demonstrated by the maps that artists have created. The thing that hold each map together is knowledge of Texas' unique power within the U.S. Geography has the ability to explain an alternative history of Texas, perhaps due to the influence of geographer D.W. Meinig's seminal work, Imperial Texas. Geography explains why a "Federal Republic of Texas" would include the states that border Texas. In the case of an alternate history where the Great Depression of the 1930's caused the U.S. to disintegrate, Texas became grander and absorbed its historic "near abroad." Perhaps no other state would stand to prosper on a continent without a United States than Texas. 

Alternative histories use geography, but also borrow from the knowledge of history. It also makes sense, with knowledge of the Republic of Texas and the plan for "Big Texas" that Texas would've expanded towards the Pacific Ocean. It also makes sense that Texas might've faced an uprising of slaves, absorbed the Mexican and American states on the Gulf Coast, and expanded into the Caribbean -- if one's read about the intrigues of President James Polk, the Mexican-American War, and the Ostend Manifesto. Texas is a fitting seat for a future American empire. Texans are The Super-Americans, possible inheritors to the experiment of the U.S.

This is what makes Kripke's design of Texas' borders and as a setting for Season 2 so intriguing. Of interest is Texas' southern path of territorial expansion into Mexico. I speculated at first that Mexico had forced a "Reconquista" on Texas, but as bare news came from of the show, it also looked like Texas had decided to plunder and conquer its weakened southern rival. In either case, this choice of geography makes sense given Kripke's focus on character relationships. Don't expect Texas to threaten the territories of other American nations. However the small town setting Kripke wants Season 2 to explore -- plus the earlier bucolic vibe of nature reclaiming American cities, Texas' contribution to the focus of the show will involve the power of the “small town ideal” in American politics, specifically as a setting of the direction of the U.S., and the manipulation of the "Patriots" to rebuild the nation. What exactly makes America "great" will potentially be debated, not on the battlefields between national regions -- "red" states vs "blue" states -- but at the dinner tables of small town families -- Texas style

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