The 100

As an academic, I am always late to things in popular culture. Try as I might, I am never that knowledgeable of what TV shows are out there—that is, until they arrive at Netflix.

I really like The 100. It’s a TV show about 100 trouble-making kids sent from an orbiting space station to see if post-apocalyptic Earth is safe 97 years after a nuclear war. These children had all done something wrong, and with such scarce resources the station orbiting the Earth, called the Ark, is rather totalitarian in its rule. Life support systems are failing up there, and three generations of humanity went top-side to survive the devastation wreaked by their ancestors.

Turns out the Earth is hospitable, though the newly arrived young people are ignorant of how to survive as well as how to cope with the demands of being on Earth.

The children on the ground must cope with establishing a new community. As the show progresses, they must deal with challenges that resemble social contract theory, distributive justice, questions about might makes right, and confront those that did survive; the hostile others of Hobbes.

I think this show is more intellectually honest and satisfying than Walking Dead. The zombies and the constant metaphor to others are not made alien, but the strangely familiar face of the humans, the grounders as they call them. The other is constantly present, and never transformed to be other. The others just are. In that way, The 100 is more honest in the directly Levinasian way that Walking Dead just cannot depict. One confronts hostile others in The 100 face-to-face than the wretched visual disfigurement of zombies.

In addition, the metaphor of height takes on new meaning. The show has more to deal with than just the plain survival against the hostile world. Like the Walking Dead, The 100 is about those surviving than the threats external to them. When the orbiting space station looms above, like so many powers of authority that coerce or compel (take your pick), The 100 reveals an often simplistic but implicitly powerful way to talk about authority of morality, authority of power, and the real nitty-gritty compromises such power entails when communicating with those above in power that desperately need the dispossessed they sent to the void. The hegemony of any power requires the interdependent nature of those it rules, and here that interdependency runs under the current of every narrative.

Also, the young adults were prisoners. They had no innocence as far as the Ark was concerned. In many ways, they were the very people that would be flooded in the traditional Noah-Ark narrative. As such, the show succeeds in large measure since so much of the innocence borrows from these implicit stories of how humankind loses its innocence. There is something very deeply Genesis-like about these themes, although no real Biblical imagery is present besides the obvious reference to the Ark. These Children must make do with what little they find planet-side, and they often do not have the technical know-how. When they were jettisoned to planet Earth, they were not morally innocent according to the strict standards of living aboard the Ark. Yet, ignorance and innocence can be very co-extensive. This alleged loss of innocence parallels the ignorance such youth breeds in having no experiences to draw from. Relationships suffer the lustful and libidinal energies of youth undaunted by any real patterns to emulate except their forebearers. They must punish evil-doers in their community, learn to overcome differences, and eventually torture and wage war.

As a show from the CW, the usual pitfalls plague it. The characters are often very transparent like previous shows on the CW. For example, in Smallville, Lana would be the naively perfect teenage object of Clark’s affections, but had no depth. Clark would be the farmboy boyscout that later would inform his uncompromising adherence to moral principle. All in all, I recommend it, even minus these common CW flaws.

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