I think this is a really wonderful article, but I have a real problem in the way it ties A.L.T. and Stalker back to modern politics. Ryerson cites Adam Curtis’ observation that after the election of Donald Trump that “we live in the Zone now”, and compares our current social situation to that of the late Soviet Union.
The problem I have with invoking the Zone as a metaphor is that the Zone is, by it’s very nature, a place of clear demarcation, a place that is firmly segregated from the world around it. There is of course the physical border of the Zone, patrolled by armed guards ready to shoot to kill, but afraid to follow anyone into the surreal Zone. When Tarkovsky has us enter the Zone, as depicted in the awesome art at the front of the article, it’s done in a single cut to color. Every subsequent time that we change perspectives it is done the same way, with a single cut, the colors never fade or bleed into one another. The point here is that the Zone is characterized by this, by it’s high level of separation and discontinuity from the world around it. When the Stalker and his wards enter the Zone they might as well have slipped into another dimension.
Drawing a clear line of demarcation between the “post 2016” or “post Trump” era and the decades that came before it actively obfuscates political realities, rather than increasing our understanding. If we’re living in the Zone now, it’s because we’ve always been there, not because we crossed a line at a specific juncture. It is impossible to understand Trump or any of the other events that characterized the past year through a lens of their utter uniqueness. It is as well myopic to view the world through narratives built around American national electoral politics. In a world where Clinton won, all of the natural disasters and many of the manmade ones would have happened regardless. Obama presided over millions of deportations and tens of thousands of people killed by the U.S. military. Were those people not living in the Zone already?
Am I saying that it would have made no difference who had won? No, I don’t want to make that false equivalency, the lesser of two evils absolutely was the lesser and Trump’s election has had undeniable material consequences. But by taking a defeated, catastrophizing tone in regards to the election and painting Trump’s presidency as some kind of unprecedented and surreal disaster we create a narrative that oversimplifies the problem. It’s a narrative that says “If we only elect the right Presidents we’ll be fine”. If Clinton had won, we wouldn’t have to live in the Zone.
I want to emphasize that the article’s main thesis, that we need more transgressive and challenging games, is absolutely on the money and I have no qualms with it. But I also think that the way contemporary politics are invoked to serve that conclusion relies on the simplistic “2016 Catastrophe” narrative that obfuscates the fact that Trump is far more of a continuation of the U.S.'s political issues than an aberration from perceived continuous progress. I was way more willing to read a lot of takes that amounted to “Wow isn’t this depressing and surreal” about a year ago around Trump’s inauguration, but a year on it feels like wallowing in an unhealthy place that lessens our understanding rather than broadening it.