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Book Review: The Sky Is Falling: How Vampires, Zombies, Androids and Superheroes Made America Great for Extremism by Peter Biskind

Peter Biskind wrote the wonderful Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-drugs-and Rock ‘n’ Roll Generation Changed Hollywood back in 1999. That was the first of his work that I read. Going on from there I’ve seen many of his articles and essays in the likes of Vanity Fair, The Rolling Stone, Sight and Sound and The Times along with some of his other books. They take you on a journey through the history of Hollywood and are all worth checking out if you are a fan of film.

Yet Easy Riders, Raging Bulls stuck with me for its raw intensity and seeing the other side of Hollywood.

Biskind’s new book is called The Sky Is Falling: How Vampires, Zombies, Androids and Superheroes Made America Great for Extremism.

In The Sky is Falling! bestselling cultural critic Peter Biskind takes us on a dizzying ride across two decades of pop culture to show how the TV and movies we love – from Game of Thrones and 24 to Homeland and Iron Man – have taught us to love political extremism. Welcome to a darkly pessimistic, apocalyptic world where winter has come, the dead are walking, and ultra-violence, revenge and torture are all in a day’s work. Welcome to the new normal.

As with many of his other books, the more movies and TV shows you have seen the more you will get out of it. As you are a reader of this site I assume that will be no problem for you.

This new book takes a look at the political side of things and how they could be affected by what we watch – basically has popular culture ceased going on about mainstream values and instead helped bring about the rise in political extremism? It is mainly looking at American politics, but as Biskind is such a good writer he explains everything in a wonderful way. Detailed yet enjoyable. Because of this, I felt I had a general idea of most of the things he was talking about. There were a couple of times I had to do a quick search to check on certain politicians or events that had occurred within the political sphere.

One thing I did notice is that when he is introducing us to a particular film or show he describes certain scenes of the general set up. Some of these did seem to go on a little too long, but it may have felt like that purely because I was very familiar with the subject matter.

He covers many different elements including comic book and the films based on them. As mentioned in some of those stories there is the discussion of whether the masked hero caused the rise in masked villains. That kind of applies to what Biskind is looking at in this book. Is the rise in extremism in politics and everyday life partly caused by the films and TV shows he mentions or are they simply a result of what is going on in the world?

Biskind is pushing for the former theory with this book, whereas I feel the films are a reaction to what is going on. However, that then feeds into people’s worries and the cycle becomes self-sustaining.

At times I felt Biskind was really pushing for the connection, but there were many elements he discussed that made me sit up and do a full Keanu “woah!” It was one of those books that I would read for a bit, then go online to check up on certain things mentioned in the book, before reading on.

Of course, if you are good at debating then you could probably flip the argument. For me, I always try to see the best in people. I know there are more good people than bad, yet the news always reports on the worst things. I often wonder what would happen if they led with all the stories of people helping others, the amazing scientific developments going on and many of the other stories out there which show just how truly awesome we can be.

On the whole, while I did not agree with everything Biskind wrote, I did enjoy reading about it all although in a few places I did feel a little depressed after reading it.

You can read an excerpt from the book below. If you are a fan of Biskind’s other works then this is definitely worth picking up. If you are new to his writing, then I suggest going with Easy Rider, Raging Bulls before going into this one.

The Sky Is Falling: How Vampires, Zombies, Androids and Superheroes Made America Great for Extremism is available from 11th September 2018.

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There’s no question that apocalypse fever has hit epidemic proportions. The “imagination of disaster” (to borrow Susan Sontag’s term) has historically accompanied periods of uncertainty and transformation, from the fall of the Roman Empire to the present, but now it is fueled by the unprecedented acceleration of change. Moreover, in 2001, 9 / 11’s twin towering infernos gave Americans a taste of what the end of the world might be like. With exemplary British understatement, Paul Greengrass, director of United 93 (2006), explained, “After the dramatic fears of 9 / 11… I think all these stories are speaking to a sense of a future that is less assured.” According to Robert Kirkman, auteur of the comic that serves as the basis for The Walking Dead (2010– ), “Apocalyptic storytelling is appealing when people have apocalyptic thoughts. With the global economic problems and everything else, a lot of people feel we’re heading into dark times.”
Putting aside the migrant crisis, growing poverty, and famine with all its ancillary consequences, such as drug-resistant plagues, just when we thought the curtain had dropped on the Cold War, the bomb, which was the odds-on favorite to end life as we know it during the 1950s, has made a comeback in the guise of dirty bombs fashioned from enriched uranium purloined from the great powers, not to mention the spread of nuclear weapons technology to Israel, India, Pakistan, Iran, and now North Korea. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Doomsday Clock is ticking louder than ever. In fact, the hands were moved ahead in early 2015 to three minutes to midnight, coupled with the warning, “The probability of global catastrophe is very high.” In 2017, after the presidential election, the hands were moved ahead another 30 seconds, to two and a half minutes to midnight, and then again in early 2018 to two minutes before midnight, the closest it’s been to the apocalyptic hour since the height of the Cold War in 1953.
Climate change provides us with something even more intractable than terrorism or the likelihood of nuclear war to worry about, with climatologists, not kooks, predicting a “new Dark Age.” After 2017’s and 2018’s serial hurricanes, furious forest fires followed by mudslides in Southern California, a total eclipse of the sun, and the bellicose exchanges between Trump and Kim Jong-un, even the late, lamented Christopher Hitchens might be excused for consulting the Gospel of Luke, wherein it is written: “And there will be signs in the sun and moon and stars, and on earth distress of nations in perplexity….
Almost by definition, science- fiction, fantasy, and horror narratives anticipate the possible, no matter how unlikely. The blizzard of apocalyptic shows gives us a glimpse of what the end might be like— thought experiments that provoke us to think about the unthinkable, dress rehearsals for a show we hope will never open.
Although the danger of a world- ending event is real enough, more often than not, the apocalypse is in the eye of the beholder. Speaking of the 2016 presidential election, both candidates appropriated the language of the end times. To Hillary Clinton, the apocalypse was manifest in the person of Donald Trump. She told her supporters, “I’m the last thing standing between you and the apocalypse.” To Trump, the apocalypse had already happened, namely, the two-term Obama presidency, enabled by then secretary of state Clinton. He called his Democratic opponent, “the devil,” adding, all Hillary Clinton had brought to the world was “death, destruction, terrorism and weakness.” And it wasn’t so long ago that former House majority leader (and “moderate”) John Boehner referred to Obamacare as “Armageddon.” In other words, each of the ideological tendencies mentioned earlier bends the apocalypse to its own purposes; it is infected center, left, and right.

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