‘Award Winning Disaster Porn’ – STEVE OF TOMORROW Tells It Like It Is

L to R: Lisa Clair and David Commander in STEVE OF TOMORROW. Photo credit © Maria Baranova

Just hours before Hurricane Sandy pounded the East Coast in the fall of 2012 causing millions of dollars in damage and claiming 147 lives, Forbes ran an article on their website titled 10 STOCKS TO BENEFIT FROM HURRICANE SANDY. While posting such an article in the first place—especially during the hurricane— doesn’t exactly smell good in retrospect, it shouldn’t shock that someone’s pockets were being filled that night and that Wall Street was getting ready. American corporations have been making profits off tragedy since slavery—it’s what they’re designed to do and they’re pretty damn good at it. What is unique and telling about the Forbes article is that one of the stocks listed was Facebook. Social media has become as essential to post-disaster reconstruction as Lowe’s and Home Depot.

Steve of Tomorrow, David Commander and Rob Ramirez’s hilarious show currently playing at the newly reopened Collapsable Hole, takes us to an only slightly more absurd version of this reality. In SoT, the ROSS Corporation has developed the ability to harness a man-made hurricane that is due to intentionally throttle the entire Midwest, while various ‘NEWSMARKET FIVE’ and ROSS subsidiaries shamelessly market hurricane-themed products. Everything from Hurricane cocktails to ‘Act Natural’ raincoats are plugged on the news and social media. We hear constant brags that the incoming hurricane is ‘Must-Have’ and even ‘Award Winning.’ Meanwhile, our main characters Scott and Ralph are too busy arguing over Facebook and Ralph’s sci-fi blog to do much preparing either. As the unprecedented storm looms, Ralph fights with his readers and boastfully offers free lodging to any time-travelers in the blogosphere—enter Steve, a slacker from the future who offers no answers and seems as bored and dissatisfied with the present as everyone else.

Perhaps it is the news media, with its substitution of entertainment over journalism, that is to blame—if the populace is not adequately informed, how can it be expected to behave appropriately? The news channel satirized in SoT is the show at its most enjoyable and frenetic, with David Commander and Lisa Clair jumping between characters and sets with rabid energy. Each ‘news’ story presents a slice of a vapid culture that seems to fiddle harder and harder even as Rome starts to burn (or flood, I guess). Commander and Clair use toy puppetry in combination with some incredibly impressive high-tech video and audio maneuvers (courtesy of Rob Ramirez, who also voices Steve), a mixture of analog and modern technology that is at once charming, fascinating to watch, and tonally appropriate. While there are plenty of laughs to be had here, there is a palpable sense of dread permeating Steve of Tomorrow as we are left contemplating just how much distance lies between our reality and the absurdity on stage.

If tragedy requires an audience, what happens when that audience isn’t fully paying attention? SoT posits a world that has become so desensitized to tragedy that it willingly participates in and fails to comprehend the destruction headed directly its way.

Perhaps social media and its dopamine-tinged highs are indeed responsible—it’s a perverse modern phenomena to change your profile picture in solidarity with the victims of unutterable tragedy, and then simultaneously enjoy the rush of satisfaction when a few dozen ‘likes’ light up your phone. Whatever the cause, the result is a culture that has fetishized and anesthetized tragedy to a dangerous conclusion. It’s not surprising that we are so quick to identify with tragedy, it is both easily commodified and an essential component of our cultural identity. Hollywood regularly pumps out Disaster Porn that sells the same Nationalist product—films where Americans, exclusively Americans, have the unique ability to come together in times of tragedy, overcoming massive obstacles for some vague ‘greater good.’ We then consistently feel the compulsion to place ourselves in that same framework of national tragedy. We post on the Internet exactly where we were and what we felt when some disaster occurred, often before we have time to fully process what happened in the first place. None of this is inherently bad—it’s probably the most human thing we regularly do on the Internet—but it’s telling that we do it with such frequency. What is missing from our day-to-day lives that we feel the regular need to turn to the Internet to participate in communal tragedy? Is that it—the community? There is nothing wrong with searching for, and then briefly finding community, but it is troubling that tragedy appears to be the only regular impetus.

Near the end of Steve of Tomorrow, Scott echoes NEWSMARKET FIVE’S and ROSS’ boastings and proclaims that ‘This hurricane ranks number one! It has a solid five-star rating on Yelp… This hurricane tells it like it is!’ The language is hilarious, but it points to something sinister lurking underneath our relationship to tragedy. Does American culture itself have a death wish? Will we inevitably become complicit in destruction because we’re lazy and uninformed, or do we secretly, subconsciously desire the end, a final respite from the ceaseless barrage of meaningless content and absurdity? The election of Trump suggests a large section of the population desires the end of something.

Steve of Tomorrow suggests that if we are not careful, that end will come sooner than many of us ever imagined and from our own hands, from our own technology, and that the comforts of modern society (entertainment, social media, corporate propaganda) will keep us perpetually in the eye of the storm, blissful right up until the moment the water reaches our neck.

2 thoughts on “‘Award Winning Disaster Porn’ – STEVE OF TOMORROW Tells It Like It Is”

  1. Sara says:

    Now THIS I gotta see!
    Lured in by the luridly inticing Disaster Porn headline, like lemmings to a cliff.

    A Fresh take on our culture and the manufactured ‘convenience’ of Social Media to temporarily assuage our need for participation while also momentarily providing a false sense of community.
    And, of course, a vehicle for turning a profit.

    America at its finest.

  2. Dan fox says:

    Outstanding synopsis. Can’t wait to see this if still playing?

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