Couldn’t help but laugh at this. Like, a lot.
I wrote about the first series of The OA back in the day. On reflection, I was really fascinated by how bad it was but also by the tropes it drew on in the process. I said in a group chat just now:
I liked The OA. I found it impossible to buy into its internal belief system but I was entertained by it and found its weird collective channelling of an outside quite interesting if only because it felt like a weird progressive dilution of Lovecraftian hysteria.
Of course, I can back that up with blog references because no thought goes undocumented in these parts.
I think I watched the first season of The OA twice in the end and my strange fascination with it came out of my consideration of Lovecraft’s Outside-worshipping Cthulhu Cult from the end of 2017.
I ended up carrying this forward in my “Mental Health Asteroid” post, looking at the weirdly hopeful nihilism of the show and comparing it to The Walking Dead.
The OA and The Walking Dead, it seems, could not be more different. Both, however, seek to articulate a collective praxis through which the realities of death and undeath can be transcended.
The stakes of this kind of thinking in reality are currently prevalent within the Black Lives Matter movement.
Repetitive chants such as “I can’t breathe” and “I am Michael Brown” echo the sentiment of “We are the walking dead” in their frank identification by the living with the deceased; The OA’s emphasis on a communal bodily knowledge of repetitive death and violence echoes, albeit through a relative whiteness, a political reality of communal fear and death-consciousness.
The Five Movements are also a gesture of protest; an embodied emancipatory technology—a “branch of knowledge dealing with [libidinal] engineering.” It is also a technology beyond the pleasure principle that engineers a collective desire for emancipation through repetition—a repetition that is continued until the movements are performed with “perfect feeling”.
Just as Freud describes the repetition of trauma as being central to the death drive, the characters in The OA are forced to repeatedly die but practice the Five Movements so as to process and transcend their situation.
This technological trend is common in cinema but it is seldom so emancipatory. Flatliners (1990/2017) follows a group of medical students who self-induce near-death experiences on a quest to find what lies beyond. They likewise find an afterlife but are haunted by their experiences on their return, threatening their community. In Strange Days (1995), a man illegally sells transgressive experiences—from robberies to deaths—on a kind of MiniDisc that can be played through a neural-interface technology called SQUID. In Brainstorm (1983) a “death trip” is similarly recorded and committed to tape by a medical researcher who resists the military’s desire to weaponise the technology for use in torture.
In all instances, an impossible knowledge of death is framed as transgressive and dangerous, even when those exploring such limit-experiences are actively curious as to what they will find on the other side. Experiences are shared but nonetheless remain individually subjective. Death is transgressed but nonetheless remains taboo.
In The OA and The Walking Dead, the experience of death is no longer framed as a transgressive act but rather a means towards emancipation. Whilst The OA presents death as a Promethean technology of emancipation, The Walking Dead articulates a transforming of the affects of death and grief for emancipatory, consciousness-raising/razing purposes. Both attempt to move death from transgression to egression.
To channel these stakes so grotesquely and then to introduce season 2 with protagonist Prairie being transported to an alternative dimension where no one knows who Barack Obama is is so horrifically hilarious to me.
I knew my hope in its internal logic was generous but this is worse than I expected.
Of course I’ll be blogging about it when it’s released later next month.