Friday, October 9, 2009

The Ambivalence of the Future (Flash Forward)

Theoretical concepts and practices are always ambivalent, because they are never so simple as to have the same effects on each situation where they are applied - not to mention their (un)ethical perversion by certain figures. Marx's proletarian bands together in one instance to earn better wages, but has the creative potential of its subjectivity stripped in another. Deleuze's Plane of Immanence takes power from transcendence and hands it to the material subject in one instance, but is reason enough for the IDF to explode holes through peoples homes in another.

In Deleuze, Cinema, and National Identity David Martin-Jones shows that the 'time-image' is not a simple term to be applied to a film narrative. In one instance, this concept might lead to the liberation from a particularly restrictive or painful national/historical narrative, but in another it reterritorializes without liberation from this negative-narrative - or worse, it reterritorializes in terms of an even more damning narrative. It is not enough to see that the time-image is present, because the concept itself does not imply positive liberation.

This post isn't about the un-Spinozist use of these ideas, however, it is about the new television show from David S. Goyer and Brannon Braga, Flash Forward. The premise would make J.J. Abrams proud: there is an event where 'all' humankind loses consciousness for 2 minutes and 17 seconds. During this brief period, they see where they will be in 6 months time. Everyone sees the future. Except for a few shady characters that we know little about, of course.

I've watched the first two episodes of Flash Forward so far and the driving force behind the show is clear: the characters must reconcile what they have seen of the future with what they are living in the present (and perhaps their pasts as well). The main character, Mark Benford, for example, is a recovering alcoholic. In his vision of the future, he is drinking again (not to mention working on the 'case' of the visions while be hunted by a mask-wearing swat team). Benford's wife, Olivia, is with another man. In the present, neither Mark nor Olivia want their respective futures to come true, but can they avoid it?

It gets more complicated: in Olivia's 'vision,' she actually has emotions for the man she apparently has left her husband for. We could venture to say that these visions are actually affective as well then, at least for the 2 minutes and 17 seconds that they last. They are not just images, but embodied experiences.

The question central to this show, going back to the discussion of the time-image from Martin-Jones's book, is whether or not the characters can 'change' the future - or rather, if they can reterritorialize the narrative in terms of their best interests. Time and lived experience immediately become experimental, a very ontological Body without Organs. Of course, we're only two episodes in, so we'll see how malleable these potential (Virtual, or not? We cannot say.) futures are.

One thing is certain: the future is ambivalent. It carries no particular meaning that is not tied to the lived experience of the characters. Just like the concepts discussed briefly above, the value of the future directly results from material actions/consequences.


  1. And the characters who don't see a future at all - I'm so interested to see how that's going to play out. If you know (like Agent Noh) the date of your murder - can you prevent it?
    And the friendship bracelet! The idea that certain characters are actively trying to prevent certain aspects of the visions from coming to fruition while encouraging others (the board covered in clues) is probably what fascinates me most. It's so BwO, it kills me :)

  2. Very well written article. Chelsea, you weren't kidding about Matt's writing.

    I have not watched the show, and unfortunately given my initial reactions to the promotions and now your assessment of the opening episodes, I'd have to say that my interest will not be cajoled to watch it anytime soon.

    The idea is a very delicate storyline for the writers and all those involved with Flash Forward to pull off coherently. In my opinion, the logical path for the story is for these visions to inherently change as they are seen by the mass population. And I guess that could produce quite a following of TV watchers, depending on how the lives of the main characters develop with these changes (not to mention the people who didn't have visions and their role in whatever is happening). It reminds me too much of Lost and how convoluted it has become in it's own mess of time streaming. However, my opinion shouldn't be taken seriously or with any inclination of assent....I still watch Heroes!