You will denounce this show. It is dumb and poorly written. Seattle isn't at all like this. Poverty is no fun. The streets look wrong. It was filmed in Vancouver.
We're the first to agree: Dark Angel is not a perfect television program. Nevertheless, it--and it alone--has transformed Seattle through the alchemy of the pop imagination into a usable coin of meaning on the world stage. Dark Angel gives us our history. And as Blade Runner did for Los Angeles, Dark Angel gives it to us in advance, as a projected future that cannot help but become true (or better, that alters the meanings of "become" and "true").
The Seattle of James Cameron's Dark Angel is not constructed from the materials of our real lives but from our emanations, and not the deliberate emanations of a concupiscent moth, but the fantastic transmissions or omissions of a deep sleeper. The news that has unexpectedly placed Seattle on the world stage--the troubled success of Microsoft, the collapse of the WTO conference, the monster promises of genetic engineering, the rise and fall of grunge, the globalization of good coffee--inspires the form and meaning of Dark Angel.
While a city can make the news, however, the news alone cannot make a city. The news describes a life far more marvelous than the one lived directly in front of our noses. We can never transfer its details (man robs bank, then flees to Jamaica; billionaire donates millions to research) back into the matrix of fact and imagination that organizes our daily existence: The news is too hysterical, too unrealistic, to find a home in our balanced being. And so these reports are forgotten with the next day's papers; our brief history gets scraped away by bulldozers and amnesia; nostalgia blurs our past's meager material residue (buildings, photographs, documents) into sites for projection and wishful fantasies.
The city of news reports, of archives and academic histories, must become literature or cinema or, best of all, television, if it is to cohere. And because no one reads, and movies are dreams from which we wake (Tom Hanks remains sleepless in Seattle in a place far removed from us), television, which keeps imposing itself back into life, is the only medium to represent and sustain our unrepressed city. Dark Angel returns to us--same time, same channel--next week, revivifying Seattle as a durable, meaningful image.
Since the 1968 cancellation of Here Come the Brides, Seattle has existed as nothing more than a rosy-tinged, never-never land to which old TV characters were "disappeared" (witness Doug Ross' retirement from E.R. to "Seattle"--i.e., a green-lawned, lakeside bungalow where we see him, once, drinking a chilly glass of white wine in the rosy glow of a permanent sunset--or Frasier Crane's rather more prolonged residence in a similarly unspecific place, a backdrop "Seattle" meant simply to remind us of Frasier's exit from the basement bar of Cheers). But Dark Angel gathers the fragments of our recent history into a single enduring image: the only real home for the true heroine of today, a genetically engineered, multiracial, sexy girl-warrior with a heart of gold named Max.
Max sits atop the graffitied and lifeless Space Needle, gazing out across the dusky ruins of Seattle, looking for her tribe. In Dark Angel we become a sister city to the Los Angeles of Blade Runner. (In fact, Dark Angel and Blade Runner both take place in the year 2019.) But where L.A. achieved coherence in Ridley Scott's chaotic, predatory future of intergalactic mixing and conflict, Seattle comes to life as a pleasant place for young, post-apocalyptic singles to date. Blade Runner's miscegenation of human with android is slyly replaced by chummy bike messengers of mixed races sharing beers and one-night stands over talk of politics and economics. The politics, the race, the poverty--all are simply accessories to the central task of dating. Where L.A. was reimagined as a near-religious arena of life and death, Seattle, via Dark Angel, enters the world stage as a cool place for picking up a good fuck.
No Seattle resident could have dreamed this city! Our current attempts are archaic. Go to "HistoryLink" and see how dull the attempt to create an archival past can become; go to Roger Sales' Seattle Past to Present to witness the tedious irrelevance of academic histories; browse Paul Dorpat's ongoing photo montage "Seattle Then and Now" to be blinded by the hazy glow of nostalgia. Read this or any other local newspaper for the entirely disposable attempts of local journalists (ourselves more than any others) to create usable images through journalistic discourse. These--fastidious endeavors all--are misguided habits blown away by the next season's movies and TV shows. Dark Angel towers above us! More thoughtful, more detailed, more "true" records slip away like tears in the rain, while James Cameron's Seattle remains: insistent, functioning. And why should we mourn the arrival of our history (at last!) merely because it appears to us as a deformed monster, an embarrassment, a piece of fluff? No! We must listen to what this civic reverie teaches us:
The Seattle of 2019 is created by a terrorist action called "the Pulse": In one blast of electronic energy all memory is wiped off the digital map. Seattle is born when all ties to the past are finally severed. In this post-Pulse world, information has no power; it has been undermined by its total unreliability. Government takes the form of roadblocks, forced injections, kidnapping, and armored soldiers patrolling the streets. The grid of control is not digital but material, garlanded with a kind of electronic primitivism. The Internet has been hobbled, so that it functions like the bomb-damaged trunk lines of Europe after WWII, a tool of a few bureaucracies and a handful of clever hackers; there are beepers and burglar alarms (no roaming voice mail nor motion sensors), cell phones and cool motorcycles (no implants nor rocket packs): In effect, the Pulse bombed America back to the early 1990s.
While cell phones are so common that even homeless people huddling beside barrel fires have them, only the military or the very rich have cars. The streets are crowded with pedestrians and bicycles, while soldiers float in hovercrafts. Toothpaste is a luxury. Dark Angel's hodgepodge of primitive and futuristic, scarcity and abundance yields a perversely utopian milieu best described as electronic primitivism. The monolith of technology has been shattered. And while this lifts the yoke of control (and the hectoring demands of progress) from off our shoulders, enough wealth can still be gleaned from its ruins to make a comfortable life. Material luxuries cannot be tracked, nor kept in the right hands. The system has a thousand leaks. A case of 1964 Margaux might show up in the basement storage of Max's squat, and they'd drink it all by the light of a barrel fire.
In Dark Angel, the pandemonium that consumed the city during the WTO conference is now permanent. It is as if the demonstrations never cooled, the cops never returned to regular duty, but remained in their black, robocop riot gear, ready to beat down any resistance to the mayor's authority. And all of the federal programs that once connected our city with an enlightened central government (public transportation, public assistance, public housing) have been replaced by the blunt presence of the U.S. Army.
America is no better than Zimbabwe. It is divided into two extremes: the very rich (who are protected by the police) and the very poor (who are preyed upon by every type of mafia--Russian, Egyptian, South African). The middle class exists only in history books, or in affluent countries like Italy or Japan. But this disappearance of wealth has not destroyed our city; instead it has marked a return to urban pleasures. The poor live free in Dark Angel, and their exchanges are untracked and unfettered. Dark Angel rehashes the 19th-century fantasy of bohemia, a floating, mixed underclass that creates a vibrant artistic milieu through the medium of its poverty: La Bohème. (Max even has a disease that makes her cough a lot.)
Though made by hiphop veteran Chuck D, the theme song for Dark Angel isn't hiphop, but triphop. Hiphop is local, whereas triphop, as an international response to American hiphop, is global. Dark Angel's music has to be global, because Seattle 2019 is radically cosmopolitan. For example, in one episode, a millionaire in Singapore wants to buy an original painting by the "American master" Norman Rockwell, and to obtain it he arranges a deal with Master P, who has not only abandoned his once lucrative No Limit record label to become an art broker but has also moved to Seattle from New Orleans. The middlemen of this complex deal are white and Arabic, and one suspects numerous other international middlemen and millionaires have played a role in realizing this American treasure for ruthless Master P. With the exception of RZA from Wu-Tang Clan--whose hiphop is planetary--only triphop, with its swaths of ancient chanting and hypnotic echoes of sitars and biwas, could adequately score a global transaction of this scale.
In post-Pulse Seattle, men are idiots to be used for sex. They are the system that has collapsed. Amid the ruins of the patriarchy we find shattered fragments: Lydecker, the cruel, calculating man bent on power and self-enrichment; Bruno, the witless, macho hit man too numbed by his need for sex to see anything clearly; Sketchy, the amiable, horny bike messenger happy to be used as a sex toy; Logan, the lean idealist, felled by a bullet, wheelchair-bound. In Logan rests this world's perfect man: sexy, smart, generous, yet completely dependent and stay-at-home. He is remarkably like an earlier time's "perfect" woman, say, Donna Reed.
The father in Dark Angel is an alcoholic capable of shooting his own children. Lydecker, as the mastermind behind Mantacore, the genetic experiment that yields Max and her lost siblings, is both feared and desired, nemesis and lover; a Freudian throwback. The mother is dead. She has been replaced by a tall, sensitive, SUV-driving social worker who lives in a cabin on Vashon Island. (This is the woman who saved young Max when she escaped from Mantacore.) We may presume this mother raises organic vegetables and once listened to NPR, when there was an NPR.
There are trees on every horizon. The children can hide there. Trees shade the wooden cabin where Max was rescued. Trees cloak the path of her motorcycle as she races through the dark. In Dark Angel, the ruins of history--all its broken technologies, thievery and roadblocks; all the untrackable give-and-take--are surrounded by a mute, eternal heaven of trees. This is our city.
Dark Angel's variety of futurism differs from an actual future in that it is not content to remain apart from us. Rather than being a prediction that must become true, it is an uncanny projection of how we are now. Watching Dark Angel we become the impatient, wheelchair-bound idealist; the super-powerful breeding experiment with a heart of gold; the savvy, young, impoverished single. Our city becomes Dark Angel's.
Seattle will continue to fill its historical databases with hard facts and figures, but these facts have been permanently colored by Dark Angel--not green this time, but the exhausted gray of dusk. The picture is not of a living hell but of a kind of purgatory, a twilight between the light of heaven and the shadows of hell. Yes, we will have the sprawling ghettoes and swarming masses that characterize the L.A. of Blade Runner. But in our city, sunlight will occasionally break through the chemical clouds and reach the teeming streets. We will have extra time on our hands to enjoy refined and simple pleasures: sunbathing in garbage parks or gate-crashing chi-chi parties. Seattle will not be a nightmare, but a darkling reverie. In fact, we may presume that at the end of Blade Runner, Decker and his android, like their ancestors in the late 20th century, are heading up to a sunnier and more livable Seattle. To resist this vision is folly and vanity.