Futurama’s “A Game of Tones”

I like Futurama, but I don’t consider it really worth extended reflection, so that when we talk about our interest in The Game of Tones (from this latest season) it is in the sense that it is an unusual episode and in many ways quite unlike the rest of the show.

Now, I don’t want to go too deeply into the Lynchian influences, it is a great episode to watch from that angle, it reminds me of Twin Peaks… it actually also reminds me of being high.. and there is a sense that you aren’t really watching Futurama so much as you are a dream of Futurama, the way in which dreams seem to bring out the uncanny in the familiar, or how something in a dream often feels like a parody of that which you are remembering.

And then there is that sense of impending doom, which perhaps should be taken simply as an impending future (no pun intended) a future yet to arrive (rather than as death or destruction). There is a UFO approaching earth that emits a sequence of four tones that will literally blow up planets — but at the same time the show itself, also, as we allude to above, seems to be coming apart at the seams. “The impending future”  is not the extrapolated progression of day-to-day life — but it is very close… maybe we should even characterize it as a kind of gravity or something, in the sense of, that towards which the present is drawn, but which never arrives, a kind of orbit — ie, a spatial rather than a temporal metaphor.

The concept of “the future”, for me, is a way of getting over a kind of impasse, the impasse of descriptivism. I mean, perhaps the only way to understand the present is to understand such a future — some things about the world can’t be understood descriptively. The only way to understand the truth is to lie about it or to participate in this lie. (Cf, eg, the final scene of Heart of Darkness). This impending futurity is a kind of holism, it is something that cannot be understood aesthetically or as some kind of political “negation”…

As I said, we shouldn’t take the ‘doom’ too literally, but rather to think of it as a kind of blasting or exploding — a show “coming apart at the seams” we said. So that what impends is not absolute doom but rather the future, but the future that never arrives, or a future that we may have to pretend has already arrived — think, eg, Hitchcock’s Spellbound. Perhaps all psychoses have some connection to the future.

What is the future of Futurama (again, no pun intended)? It is an emptying out, it has a lot to do with the “conventions” of that show. The show is very concerned with math and a kind of systemic humor, the system of the crew — but the satisfaction with systemics can only take place if we are too content with the stability of everything around us. I mean, think about, for example, the kind of thinking required to become a mathematician — and I don’t even mean that one has to first be well-fed … doesn’t the initial, childhood interest assume a contentment with things as stable objects, as atomic elements of a system? So it is precisely this sense of stability that is being questeioned here — and this questioning, or rather this explosion, comes about via a kind of … dreamlike sensation, a kind of self-parody. I mean, the world that the crew explores is strange and terrifying, it is unlike the futurama we are used to. Even nature in that show typically exhibits the usual human qualities. But here they are caught in something way over their head (and the ending comes only because the show has to be aired, ie, it doesn’t reflect at all where the show was headed) — which is a kind of … vicious self-understanding. I mean, the way in which actions repeated over and over again seem to lose meaning — self-parody we said. But these elements can’t be understood in this way as descriptive, aesthetic, or rhetorical elements, but rather seem to take hold of our society precisely via their status as the future, whether we embrace it or not.

The future is the breakdown of the system and the coming fascination with the signifier. TBC


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