When we think of irrational behavior, we naturally think of human beings first, of their ability to act based on belief rather than fact, to operate without regard to their own wellbeing or that of others they are charged with caring for or some other related behavioral anomaly.  However, what if there were an irrationality in the laws of physics and of nature, which allowed two percent of the world’s population to suddenly vanish, with the speed of throwing a light switch?  Babies from their carriers, drivers from their vehicles, shoppers pushing their carts, all of them gone without so much as a by-your-leave.  No, this isn’t the Rapture.  Scientists and logicians, tasked with finding some pattern, whether religious or otherwise in the disappearances, report to the US Congress that they can find NONE, to the disgust of at least one Congressman who would probably sooner accept some outlandish explanation than he would evidence for climate change.  One hundred forty million people, living their lives one instant, utterly absent the next, with no logic or discernable causation for the occurrence.  This is the premise behind the new HBO series, The Leftovers.

The microcosm meant to represent this global event is the fictional town of Mapleton, NY, three years after.  Its chief of police, one Kevin Garvey, seems a decent sort, who attempts to capture a stray dog on the street only to see it shot dead by a local resident, who then flees the scene.  His daughter Jill is somewhat less caring, throwing elbows and sticks about indiscriminately during field hockey practice and later attending a teen party/orgy which features random sex and drug use.  Lucy Warburton, Mapleton’s mayor, insists on calling the third anniversary of the “Sudden Departure” a “Heroes’ Day,” a feeble attempt to put a positive spin on what otherwise would be “We Don’t Know What the Fuck Happened Day.”  Three years removed and the residents of Mapleton are seemingly as rattled now as they were the day after.

That time has also seen the emergence of at least two cults.  One unnamed with a messianic leader named “Wayne,” he and his followers live in a secured, secret compound, visited occasionally by people of influence and power, including a congressman, who needed to be “unburdened,” though of what is not specified.  The other are the Guilty Remnants or GR, who dress in white, don’t speak, yet silently harass selected portions of Mapleton’s citizenry.  Their mute demonstration on “Heroes’ Day,” displaying the message:

STOP WASTING YOUR BREATH!

foments a full-scale riot at the town park.  However relaxed or bucolic Mapleton was before the disappearance, neither of those adjectives currently applies, nor does the future look particularly promising.

Leaving aside the fact that the “Sudden Departure” itself is about as likely as the realization of any other supernatural occurrence, biblical or otherwise, its intended purpose appears to be universalizing a “9/11” event, where the impact is so designed as to spare no one and all are wounded to one degree or another.  While this story wraps its foundational slap-in-the-face in what amounts to an insoluble mystery, I have a serious problem with the presumption that the people of Mapleton or those of the rest of this planet would be so wounded and traumatized that the pallor of distress would remain largely unshaken even after a substantial passage of time.  Certainly New York City and indeed the entire United States were deeply changed when those two planes plowed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the field in Pennsylvania, and the results of that tragedy were not quick to recede or resolve.  Still, resolve they did, and by 2004 we can hardly say that the product of the attack was so devastating that it left entire populations disabled to the point of near paralysis.  Yet this is precisely what Leftovers author Tom Perrotta would have us believe: that such an incident would be so impactful and disabling as to permanently alter whole communities irrevocably.

I don’t buy it.  Certainly, I’m human and can be hurt.  I can also let go, both of the hurt and the conundrum behind its origin, given time.  Would I be puzzled as to how so many people could vanish without a trace and what manner of agency could cause that?  As a curious engineer, I’d be lying if I said no, yet at the same time, I would have no problem in relinquishing that question to someone more competent to explore and examine it, while attempting to repair and resume my own life.  It’s not in me to believe that others are any less capable.  My impression is that Mr. Perrotta wants to project a highly pessimistic attitude into the denizens of Mapleton, the better to sustain his unrealistic character and plot development.

Humankind is made of sterner stuff than that, or so I surmise, and while I may continue following The Leftovers, I shall do so with my skepticism well engaged.

Views: 306

Tags: HBO, The Leftovers, Tom Perrotta, irrationality

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Comment by Michael Penn on June 30, 2014 at 7:25pm

Loren, it's possible that I missed the point, but consider what I was always told in my church days. The world governments left behind at rapture will say and do anything to prevent the world from knowing what happened here. They will lie and make up stories. In this series I see that idea being covered very well. They claim not to know what really happened but there are separate groups of people who think they do know. The interaction of all this is what makes up the mystery of the story.

When I was 18 years old all of the above was said right along with the graves being opened and bodies missing, etc. that the governments would have to lie about. We all believed it hook, line, and sinker.

Of course, for it to be true you would have to admit that the world governments knew more about your beliefs and your bible than you did. How would that happen?

Comment by Loren Miller on June 30, 2014 at 4:09pm

I think you missed the point, Michael.  If you listen to the congressional hearings which alternate between background and foreground at the beginning of the episode, the reports from those scientists investigating the "Sudden Departure" incident came up with No Significant Correlation interlinking ANY of those who were missing. Had there been some manner of religious component connecting the 140 million who vanished, I suspect such would have been found.

Point Being - This Is NOT About The Rapture. This is an unrelated, anomalous event. Otherwise, we would doubtless be hearing from the evangelicals up the ying-yang, both in the episode and in the real-world media.

I have read in comments on imdb.com that Perrotta is trying to make a statement about how people deal with loss and survival of that loss, though again, I don't see his characters as being very real-world. Just how much he wants to wallow in all of that, probably mostly courtesy of his Guilty Remnants characters, I don't know. I just see his approach as being almost cartoonish in its pessimism.

Comment by Michael Penn on June 30, 2014 at 3:52pm

Thanks to Project Free TV I have watched the pilot episode today. Using the "rapture" theme, HBO has come up with a new sci fi /fantasy series, capitalizing on the beliefs of the far fundy right.

The series begins with the actual " rapture" in which a mother has her baby vanish from a car seat. Next, a pre-teen is upset that his father has vanished. The last thing we see is a car that crashes into another, supposedly because it no longer had a driver. How typically absurd!

We understand the baby going. Maybe the pre-teen was left behind because he was a wanker. Who knows? Apologists have a field day with the cars having no drivers claiming that is possible because at the time of "rapture" the "holy spirit will have been removed." I guess that's a way of saying that it's OK if everyone gets killed once Jesus beamed the special ones up.

Apparently the animals know that "the holy spirit has been removed" because they all seem lost. The deer and the left behind dogs.

One funny moment is a barroom scene is which the missing are named and Gary Busey is one of them. This made me laugh as the bartender wondered how Busey rated for this.

I'm gathering that there are 3 groups involved here, but one is obscure so far. The other 2 involve one dealing with the missing like it was 9/11 or something. The group opposed to them dresses in all white, smokes a lot constantly, and apparently knows that anyone still on earth is the "leftovers."

I might know what to do with leftovers after a week, but will the faithful go for this new sci fi thriller series? We just have to wait and see.

Comment by Loren Miller on June 30, 2014 at 11:01am

Oh, I'm certain they want me to watch it, too.  The question is: how credible are the characters here?  The first episode reminded me too much of Stephen King's Under the Dome, which so quickly got to the point of ridiculousness that I refuse to watch the new season of it.  I'm not quite to the point where I think the residents of Mapleton, NY are a bunch of exaggerated caricatures, but I'm not far from it.

Comment by Michael Penn on June 30, 2014 at 9:58am

I'm sure they want you to continue watching it, but I haven't seen it yet (and may not) and I've already did a post about it. My idea is to add comments to any Internet postings about delusional theist ideas, chiding them to wake up and use logic and evidence rather than their bible. I've come to the conclusion that a lot more people read the comments section for new articles than you might think. It's a big world out there.

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