“Wake Up” From Shooter Jennings’ Black Ribbons album (2010)
“Electricity will take the place of God. Let the peasant pray to electricity: he’s going to feel the power of the central authorities more than heaven.”
Vladimir Ilyich Lenin / 1918
“Instead of tending toward a vast Alexandrian library the world has become a computer, an electronic brain, exactly as an infantile piece of science fiction. And as our senses have gone outside us, Big Brother goes inside.”
Marshall McLuhan / The Gutenberg Galaxy
A hundred years ago, Lenin predicted electricity would take the place of God giving great power to central authorities. It was a bold prediction considering electricity was a new and little understood power during Lenin’s time. But today, in our digital culture, one can make a good argument that Lenin’s prediction has become true.
The change from a mechanical to an electrical world brought magical wonders into the world whether it was new media like radio and television or electric starters on automobiles. During the early years of this change, it was easy to see that electricity offered a new world of convenience and efficiency. Advertisements in magazines showed smiling women using electric devices like vacuum cleaners and electric ovens. The women were happy as these magical new devices have suddenly liberated the women from the slavery of homemaking.
But electricity has evolved from running devices on cords to creating a new worldview. Once, electrical devices were our slaves. Now, we are slaves to our electrical devices. Resistance to our new servitude to electricity seems minimal and futile. Very few in modern culture choose to voluntarily cut the electric cord and live off the grid.
Yet what happens when electricity is forcefully taken from the world? Speculation on this topic is behind much of a new genre of storytelling that congregates under the general label of apocalyptic or dystopian. There has been some great war or some natural catastrophe which has eliminated electricity. In this world zombies roam over the remains of a burned-out cities or events likeThe Hunger Games take place.
Academy Award Winner Rami Malek in the Podcast Blackout / The Power of Podcast Words in the Age of Electricity
One narrator of this apocalytic world is a DJ called Will-O-The-Wisp at a radio station who is the narrator in Shooter Jennings’ brilliant concept album Black Ribbons. The album is based around a dystopian society and features narration by Stephen King. The album is broadcast over a radio station by Will-O-The-Wisp who realizes it’s his last night on the air before the government takes control of the airwaves and electricity. On this last night, he has vowed to play the one band the American government does not want him to play. It is the band Hierophant. The album was released March 2, 2010 at the height of the American Tea Party movement.
Almost a decade after the Black Ribbons album, we are presented with another DJ narrator in the new podcast series Blackout produced and voiced by Academy Award winning actor Rami Malek. The star of Bohemian Rhapsody and Mr. Robot moves into a new medium with the thriller, about a small-town radio DJ who fighting to protect his family and community when the power grid goes down creating a blackout around the nation.
There are many effects of this blackout but one of these is silence. In the opening trailer for the podcast, Malek’s DJ comments on silence. “Dead air,” he says. “It’s one of the first things your learn to avoid in radio.” But silence sometimes allows us to hear new things. As Malek notes, “The funny thing about silence, though, if you sit with it long enough, you might hear something that was there all along.”
Perhaps this will happen if culture loses electricity. Perhaps we will hear – and see – things we have never seen before but were there all along.