Revolution: A New TV Series About Extreme Suburban Homesteading

This review is by Erik, but Kelly has a few comments of her own to make, in the form of end notes.

A few weeks ago I spotted an ad on the side of a bus that appeared to show a number of good looking people armed with crossbows and wandering a post-apocalyptic landscape. For you, our readers, I broke my ten-year TV show fast1 to find out what this was about. The show is called Revolution and you can view the pilot episode here.

Plot summary

The first scene begins in a flashback as a man frantically downloads the contents of his computer to a flash drive just before Mahmoud Imadinnerjacket causes a big electro-magnetic pulse.2 Said EMP knocks out all the power, iPhones, cars and jumbo jets in the entire world. Fifteen years pass, civilization reverts to an approximation of our first book The Urban Homestead, and we pick up the story with the now grown-up daughter of the dude with the flash drive.

One groovy HOA

The daughter lives in a suburban development. All the home owner’s association rules have been relaxed allowing for growing front yard corn fields, potatoes in tires, chicken coops and even keeping a couple of horses all in a suburban cul-de-sac.  In reality, HOAs would never cave in so quickly even in the face of starvation. But I digress.3

Did the screenwriters visit Farmlab?

Imadinnerjacket’s EMP killed all the normal-looking people, leaving behind only fashion models (with perhaps the exception of one Falstafian ex-Google employee). They have smashing wardrobes, too.4 And America’s long lost archery skills have apparently been miraculously revived.

Come to think of it, Hollywood seems to be having a love affair with archery of late. Is the javelin next? Put down those Xboxes kids and start practicing! In Revolution it’s also revealed that people suddenly know the names of plants and what to do with them even without access to Google.

But the tranquil suburban homesteading is not to last forever. An insurance adjuster turned warlord’s assistant comes to town to kidnap the heroine’s dad and get his hands on all the cool mp3s on that flash drive. A shootout ensues. Dad is killed and heroine’s brother is kidnapped by the militia. 

Our heroine must then make a pilgrimage to Chicago to find her uncle and rescue her brother. Her uncle turns out to be running an artisanal cocktail operation in a derelict hotel that has, as most post-apocalyptic films have, an endless supply of either beeswax or tallow with which to keep hundreds of torches lit 24 hours a day. 5 We find out that the uncle possesses secret ninja skills–having, apparently, spent the past fifteen years working on both artisanal cocktail recipes and kendo.

Meanwhile the brother is temporarily rescued by a lone woman living in a tidy plantation house who is able to calm the kid’s asthma attack with a 15 year old, fully functioning asthma inhaler. But then the evil insurance guy comes a knocking and hauls off the kid. The lone woman then heads up into her heavily locked attic, logs into a Unix terminal, and taps out a message warning about the militia’s visit. So now we know that some people still have access to power–and to the Internets!

The pilot ends with a visit to the handsomely appointed campaign tent of Madison, the head cheese warlord who, at the beginning of the show, it is revealed has something to do with the flash drive with all those cool mp3s on it.

What does it all mean? 

The “ring”, the talismanic object in this Lord of the Rings cycle is a flash drive, the contents of which, presumably, we’ll find out about in a later episode. I certainly hope it contains 100 of the funniest viral cat videos. Curiously, it’s also a flash drive that seems to generate its own power.

That the redemptive object in Revolution is a technological one is not surprising giving our culture’s biases. John Michael Greer. in what I think is the most important book on our current crisis, The Blood of the Earth, writes about how our culture is blind to the fact that our problems are political, social and spiritual and not solvable by technological/scientific means. No amount of corn ethanol or switchgrass will stave off the fact that the earth has a limited amount of resources. But, in the stories we tell ourselves, magical flash drives can still save the day and maybe even power the whole world.

It’s also telling that the voice over in the opening credits of Revolution reflects a fundamental confusion between an energy source and the means by which it’s delivered, “We used electricity for everything–even to grow food,” says the narrator. “Electricity” is not how we grow our food. Electricity is generated from finite sources, primarily coal and natural gas. And we use a lot of oil, of course, to grow our food.

Our technology, especially the internet and smart phones has radically externalized what used to be  collective and individual cultural memory. It’s notable that this story places so much value on a flash drive as a repository of knowledge that used to be inside our own skulls.

The delusional aspects of the pilot episode gives me great pause for the future of this country. But without seeing the rest of the series it’s too early to deliver a final judgement. It will be interesting to see if the flash drive has the same corrupting influence as the ring in both Tolkien and Wagner’s stories.


Kelly’s interjections on the show’s summary. She’s not touching Erik’s editorializing:

1Lest you think Erik is some virtuous, Thoreau-type character, I’ll just say that he may not watch series TV, he does watch movies and documentaries and youtube cat videos in plenty.

2They did not actually say why the power went out, or who was responsible.

3The opening scenes showing the subdivision “village” was the best thing about the whole pilot. There were lots of nice details, like stacks of rain barrels and tire planting and a hose running through a window into a sink.  I found myself wondering what sources of information the writers were using (other than our book, of course.). Certainly Kunstler, both his rants and his fiction (which is a form of rant, imho) but also it reminds me very much of a book called Dies the Fire by SM Stirling, where all the tech goes out in one day and the world is remade by SCA and pagan types.  I don’t think the SCA and pagans will get any play in this show, but the overnight tech-loss is completely Dies the Fire.

4These people look really good. The girl’s leathers are artfully patched and oh-so-Katniss. Others have unpatched, fresh looking clothes. I can almost buy this because if there was a fast, massive die-off, maybe there were lots of clothes left in the stores. Maybe even 15 years worth. (Maybe? I’m suspending my disbelief.) What I have a harder time believing is the hair. Both the men and women look like they’re all getting daily blowouts. No one is scarred or pocked or beset by unsightly skin growths. And I’ll say in his defense that the Google guy may not be fashion-model thin, but he’s not bad looking. 

5The overuse of candles by lighting designers in any post-apocalyptic setting is a major pet peeve of mine.  Erik is mentioning this here because he had to listen to me go on and on about it while we were watching the show. Those torches! What in the heck are they burning?

Resilient Gardens

The other day I was reading a message board where people from all over were talking about how their gardens had done this year. Most of them had trouble, and most of them blamed the strange weather. Now, of course, we can’t know the weather was truly to blame in each and every failure–but temperature shifts, unseasonable heat and cool do play havoc in the garden.  It got me to thinking about climate change and how gardeners might be able to hedge their bets to make sure they get a harvest every season.

Climate change creates unpredictable weather, and unpredictability is a terrible thing for a gardener. Ensuring success, I think, will have to do more and more with identifying and perhaps even breeding tough-ass, locally adapted plants.  Plants that are known survivors can form the backbone of your garden. Each year you can try to plant tender favorites, exotics, delicate plants of all sorts, whatever you want–and if the roll of the weather dice falls in your favor, you may harvest those plants. But that backbone of tough plants will be there, so you’ll have something fresh for your table no matter what.

Now, just what those plants are is going to vary by location. I’m going to list off some survivors for Southern California.  Please chime in with your location and your favorite, bomb-proof plant!

SoCal Survivors:

  • Prickly pear cactus. When the Armageddon comes, I’m sure we’ll be living off of this while serving our mutant cockroach overlords.
  • New Zealand spinach. We just posted on this.
  • Arugula. As a winter crop–it doesn’t like summer heat.
  • Artichoke. Everyone in SoCal should have one in their yard.
  • Cherry tomatoes. Cherries don’t seem to be nearly as susceptible to the various tomato maladies. Climate change or no, they are an important backup to big tomatoes.
  • Swiss chard. The most amiable of all greens.
  • Fruit trees. They aren’t bothered by much here in this mild climate–but this wouldn’t be true somewhere where, say, a late frost could wipe out a crop. However, I think our chill hours are dropping in SoCal so I’d recommend very low chill hour trees, like figs and pomegranates, over more borderline trees like apricots.
  • And, we’re very lucky to live in the ideal climate for avocados.  

Credit where credit is due: this is a post by Mrs. Homegrown–due to a computer glitch it got posted by Señor Homegrown. 

      Picture Sundays: Good News and Dog Carts

      First off, Governor Brown signed the California Homemade Food Act, AB 1616, into law this past week. So Californians will soon be able to make and sell “non-hazardous” foods in a home kitchen and sell them.

      But how will those goods get delivered? Above, a bakery in Holland using that long lost mode of transport, the dog cart. Picture via Terrierman’s Daily Dose.

      Saturday Linkages: From The Woodsman Workout to Crafting With Your Cat

      Yes, it’s the woodsman workout. Via the Art of Manliness.

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      Deconstructing the cornmeal myth:

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      2 boards, 1 seat: 

      Food Preservation
      FreshTech Jam and Jelly Maker Review 

      Cats ‘n Crafts
      Catification: Creative Table Leg Cat Scratcher 

      Book on Crafting With Your Cat: Kitty Jones Kitty Crafts link

      The Woodsman Workout | The Art of Manliness  

      Things to worry about
      Warmer Temperatures-New USDA Zone Map Already Obsolete 

      Why I don’t Worry Too Much About Organic Fruits and Veggies: 

      GMO-birthed “Superweeds” Oh joy. You 

      The cat food crisis: 

      Bermuda Dunes woman’s garden for eating has some neighbors hissing 

      Waiter, There’s Arsenic in My Rice  via @motherjones 

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      Earthquake proof desk:  

      Just Plain Cool
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      Wild Huts in the UK 

      For these links and more, follow Root Simple on Twitter:
       Follow @rootsimple

      Fermenting culture wih Sandor Katz

      Katz chats up Master Food Preserver and author Kevin West

      Last night Erik and I went to see a talk by fermentation guru Sandor Katz, hosted by the Environmental Changemakers. Being a huge Sandor Katz fangirl, I was thrilled to get a chance to see him in person. These days he’s sporting a charming 19th century mustache!

      His first book, Wild Fermentation, was one of those really important, life-changing books for me. It might sound strange to say this about a book on pickling, but it opened my eyes in many ways. And it taught me how to do vegetable and salt ferments, which are the backbone of my pickling practice. The daikon pickles we wrote about in The Urban Homestead are due to Wild Fermentation.

      Now he’s got a new book out, The Art of Fermentation, which I’ve got to get my hands on:

      Here are some excerpts from my notes:

      Continue reading…