Beacons & broken souls – the challenge of modernity

I regularly chat with an aspiring screenwriter about writing stories, narrative arcs, TV streaming series & films, …

So, recently the ‘Beacon 23’ series returned to MGM+ for a second season. I watched the first season on Amazon Prime. There’s something about beacons (and lighthouses) – guides in the void.

• Space.com > “‘Beacon 23′ series returns to MGM+ on April 7 with glowing blue rocks and alien artifacts” – Season one was short on action but loaded with compelling personalities whose shifting alliances and motivations made for some intriguing confrontations. [1]

That got me musing about “broken souls” and contours of conflict.

So, there’re stories about beacons & broken souls. But what about a society where “the people are so satisfied they have no complaint?” Like for my story “the concierge deity” [2].

Two media pieces helped focus a narrative that I’ve been contemplating. A tale of heads and hearts. Particularly (as in Disney’s latest animated film “Wish”) about “holes in hearts.”

This is a narrative that I started exploring in college. Early on in poetry. What I didn’t fully grasp back then (especially when studying theology) was:

  • the severity of loss of traditional social beacons (like family, tribe, faith) due to modernity.
  • the collective need for something to fill that void – something compelling – in order to move forward (otherwise, nations become trapped in nostalgia).
  • the long timespan for such loss to ferment into cultural (and political) crises.

It’s a hard lesson. On authority, social cohesion, and personal autonomy. As Søren Kierkegaard wrote (noted by Fareed Zakaria in his op-ed earlier this month), “Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom” [3].

.1. A FILM [4]

Disney’s ‘Wish’ starts as a fantasy about good intentions and realizing a utopia. But then there’s a twist – a look behind the facade [5], revealing a dark legacy. And false promises. Citizens have given up their hearts’ wishes to an autocrat, leaving holes in their hearts – listless lives. A heroic battle dethrones the ruler and restores their wishes (heals their hearts). Everyone realizes that they must take charge of fulfilling their own wishes. The community celebrates their new sense of empowerment. There’s hope once again.

Disney’s film does not explore the price of such freedom – autonomy. Like many fairy tales, the social order is restored at the end. There’s no new political structure. Just a new ruler, free of sorcery.

.2. AN OP-ED by Fareed Zakaria [6]

What happens when traditional beacons of certainty are lost? The concords of identity, purpose, social connection, obligation, solace? What fills that void? As in Disney’s animated film, using power as a surrogate does not equal a vision.

In his important work, “American Evangelicalism: Conservative Religion and the Quandary of Modernity,” James Davison Hunter points out that Evangelicals grew their numbers by adapting to an America that had become much less religiously observant and devout.

Over the past few years, this process has been extended even further with those who consider themselves devout Christians defining their faith almost entirely in political terms

This phenomenon — of the right using, even weaponizing religion — is not unique to America or Christianity.

Secularization may be inevitable, but it does seem to coincide with a sense of loss for many — a loss of faith and community that might be at the heart of the loneliness that many people report experiencing these days, …

This is the great political challenge of our time. Liberal democracy gives people greater liberty than ever before, breaking down repression and control everywhere — in politics, religion and society. … Modern society gives us all wealth, technology and autonomy. But for many, these things cannot fill the hole in the heart that God and faith once occupied. To fill it with politics is dangerous. But that seems to be the shape of things to come.

Notes

[1] Here’s an excerpt from the Space.com article:

With its character-based focus, impressive SFX, and slow-paced storytelling, MGM+’s “Beacon 23” was a refreshing mystery thriller that debuted back in November of 2023. It starred “21 Bridges'” Stephan James as an AWOL soldier suffering from PTSD and “Game of Thrones'” Lena Headey as a government agent aboard an interstellar lighthouse on the edge of the universe, their broken souls linked to strange rock samples containing veins of glittering blue ore.

Created by executive producer Zak Penn (“Last Action Hero,” “Ready Player One”) with showrunner runner Glen Mazzara (“The Walking Dead”), “Beacon 23” was based on serialized stories from New York Times bestselling author Hugh Howey, whose trilogy of “Silo” novels were adapted into the hit Apple TV+ show led by Tim Robbins, Common, and Rebecca Ferguson.

[2] The quote re a utopian vision of societal satisfaction without complaint:

A perfect democracy can come close to looking like a dictatorship, a democracy in which the people are so satisfied they have no complaint.” — Huey Long, 1933 [T. Harry Williams, Huey Long (1969), p. 762]

[3] See “https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/6172.S_ren_Kierkegaard”

[4] The film is described as:

Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Wish” is an animated musical-comedy welcoming audiences to the magical kingdom of Rosas, where Asha, a sharp-witted idealist, makes a wish so powerful that it is answered by a cosmic force – a little ball of boundless energy called Star. Together, Asha and Star confront a most formidable foe – the ruler of Rosas, King Magnifico – to save her community and prove that when the will of one courageous human connects with the magic of the stars, wondrous things can happen.

[5] An homage to “the Man Behind the Curtain” in The Wizard of Oz, when Toto pulls back the curtain.

[6] The danger of defining faith through politics

• Washington Post > “Opinion | How Trump fills a void in an increasingly secular America” by Fareed Zakaria (April 5, 2024)

• CNN > GPS > “Fareed: Trump’s faith-based campaign tactics” (video)

• The Atlantic > “The True Cost of the Churchgoing Bust” by Derek Thompson (April 3, 2024) – Many Americans seem to have found no alternative method to build a sense of community.