Because it’s the grey tag-end of October, moving into the dreariest part of the year up here in the north country, when the fall colors are all gone but the winter snow-that-sticks hasn’t yet fallen, and this time of year always makes me feel peevish:
Listen to me, O People. Do not use “decimated” to mean “destroyed.” This is not what it means.
“Decimate” in its most literal sense means “to reduce by one-tenth.” It refers to the punishment used in the Roman legions when an entire unit had committed an egregious offense, such as mutiny or desertion. Rather than executing all of them, the offenders would be condemned to draw lots to choose one man out of every ten. Those so chosen would then be clubbed and/or stoned to death by their unchosen comrades. Modern usage often implies a much higher proportion of casualties than one-tenth, possibly because of the frightfulness of the practice (even the ancient Romans, who were no wusses when it came to cruel and unusual punishment, didn’t employ it very often.)
Nevertheless, it still doesn’t mean complete destruction. Nor does it refer to the destruction of a physical object; you don’t say, for example, The Possum Beach town hall was decimated by Hurricane Humperdinck. Usually, “decimated” refers to a loss of population, or at least, by extension, a loss of countable things: The massive live oaks that lined the streets of Possum Beach were decimated by Hurricane Humperdinck. Whether the latter sentence means that literally one oak tree in every ten got blown down, or just that a whole lot of them were, depends upon how punctilious (or nitpicking, take your choice) the writer is about such things.
If what you’re trying to say is that beautiful and historic Possum Beach got blown all to pieces and is going to have a hard time picking itself back up, what you say is, Possum Beach was devastated – which is to say, laid waste – by Hurricane Humperdinck.
Got it? Good.
I’ve always been a sucker for a well-done redemption arc in my fictions of choice, in both written and visual media. And I’ve always been puzzled by the vocal commentary that always arises on such occasions, to the effect that so-and-so doesn’t deserve redemption. Because – in my cultural tradition, at least – the whole point of redemption is that it isn’t something you get because you deserve it, it’s something you get because you’ve done something bad enough that you need it.
But if the naysayers are operating out of a definition of “redemption” that has no theological or philosophical dimension to it, but is instead merely a shorter way of saying “rehabilitation in the court of public opinion” . . . well, I may still think that a lot of them are full of it, but at least I can understand how they got there.
(Also – if you’re going to write a redemption arc, don’t cheat by making your character-to-be-redeemed guilty of something that they/their culture think is a Big Wrong Thing but that we, enlightened souls that we are, consider to be Not Really That Big a Deal. They need to be really and truthfully guilty of something really and truthfully bad, or there’s no point to the exercise.)
Jim Macdonald writes some more about his Independent Bookstores of New England GPS Points of Interest project, over here.
…considered as a set of Points of Interest for the TomTom GPS Navigator. It’s a project that my co-author (and, not so coincidentally as all that, husband) Jim Macdonald is working on in his spare time, and blogging about here.
The Walking Dead is, of course, the standout show of the current televised post-apocalyptic lineup. What makes it good is that the showrunners have discovered how to convince the American viewing public to sit still for an extended meditation on the various approaches to living a moral life – or at least surviving – in an imperfect world: For every so-many minutes of debate by the characters on morality and philosophy, throw in an equal or greater number of minutes of zombie-smashing and gunfire. The genius lies in the show’s ability to determine just how long viewers will sit still for philosophy before a zombie needs to shamble up out of nowhere and go rarrrgh! (Also, they have figured out that philosophy is a lot more palatable when coming from bikers with biceps. Which is probably a sentiment that Plato could have understood.)
Fear the Walking Dead is a limp noodle by comparison, mostly because all of the characters are operating on a stupidity level that makes me wonder how they survived before Southern California started sliding downhill into chaos. You know that things are bad when the junkie older son of the viewpoint family is one of the few people exhibiting sporadic flashes of intelligence and common sense. (Oh, and Ruben Blades is doing a thankless job of portraying the only other character with more depth than a wading pool. I hope it leads to better roles for him in better shows.)
But the show that I have a sneaking fondness for is the post-pandemic-apocalypse drama The Last Ship. It doesn’t have the groundbreaking quality of The Walking Dead, nor the trainwreck-in-progress morbid fascination of Fear the Walking Dead. What it does have, though, is a refreshing change from the usual Hobbesian post-apocalyptic universe, where all it takes is a couple of weeks without hot water and electricity for the world to collapse into a war of all against all that’s fit to warm a social Darwinist’s heart. In The Last Ship, people aren’t just taking the breakdown of civilization-as-we-know-it passively. They’re all working, in their different ways, to restore order and government and the social contract. Hell, even the bad guys on the show are trying to do that thing — they’re just doing it wrong.
And frankly, I think that for all the tempting darkness of the Walking Dead future, the idea of people banding together and striving for the restoration of order is the more realistic vision.