If you’re writing a book and you want me to give you my money, here’s a simple tip: set it in the apocalyptic aftermath of a nuclear war and I’ll send my money your way, no questions asked. You see, I’m a complete sucker for post-apocalyptic stories and have been ever since I first read Children Of The Dust and When The Wind Blows as a kid.
But despite my enthusiasm for that genre I can’t help but feel that it needs an update so it can move on from its golden era in the 1980s, when the scenario of nuclear war between Nato and the Warsaw Pact powers formed the backdrop of pretty much every post-apocalyptic novel or screenplay. In most of these stories human civilisation in its current form ends at some point in the mid-1980s and for decades afterwards the survivors cling to remnants of that age, as exemplified by the scene in Threads where a group of children watch Words and Pictures on a faded and warped VHS tape.
Post-apocalyptic fiction of the 1980s was so vivid, realistic and compelling that it can be hard to imagine a scenario where survivors of global cataclysm are doing anything but picking through the ruins of 1980s culture. Yet this is the kind of thing we need to get away from. It’s the 2000s now, so for a post-apocalyptic story to be believable it has to have some relationship to the contemporary world.
That’s why I was excited to hear about “Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play“, in which a post-nuclear society clings to its recollections of classic Simpsons episodes and eventually builds a new culture around them and the other memories they help to dredge up. From the official blurb:
What will endure when the cataclysm arrives, when the grid fails, society crumbles, and we’re faced with the task of rebuilding? Anne Washburn’s imaginative dark comedy propels us forward nearly a century, following a new civilization stumbling into its future. A paean to live theater, and to the resilience of Bart Simpson through the ages, Mr. Burns is an animated exploration of how the pop culture of one era might evolve into the mythology of another.
And from this glowing review in the New York Times:
[A] single Simpsons episode [Cape Feare] becomes a treasure-laden bridge, both to the past and into the future. And in tracing a story’s hold on the imaginations of different generations, the play is likely to make you think back – way back – to narratives that survive today from millenniums ago. Every age, it seems, has its Homers.
I’ve not had a chance to see this play yet as it’s only running in New York, but I hope it comes to the UK at some point. If it does, I will most certainly be giving it my money.