The Chatter Podcast: Blackouts in Film and TV with Denis Newiak

By David Priess
Thursday, April 20, 2023, 11:38 AM

Widespread power outages have happened before, but authorities usually diagnose the cause and restore electricity within days, if not within hours. And with few exceptions, such blackouts occur without dissolving social bonds and prompting massive violence.

In big screen and television fiction, however, things are different. Thrillers show us the dangerous, life-or-death scenarios that can arise when regular power and all it provides disappear. Science fiction explores diverse causes and implications of blackouts. Horror stories take full advantage of the darkness and the resort to pre-modern technology. All of them say something about us and about modernity.

Denis Newiak has extensively researched and written about the intersection of crises, film and TV, and modern humanity. Most recently, his book Preparing for the Global Blackout: A Disaster Guide from TV and Cinema jumps into how fictional representations of lost electricity show us the contradiction that modern life is both safer and more dangerous than it was before the widespread availability of power. David Priess chatted with him about the field of media theory, their childhood attraction to disaster films, the many causes of fictional blackouts, how characters tend to react when realizing that things will be very different, the importance of radio in blackout fiction, the importance of darkness, what becomes valuable in no-electricity worlds, how comedies handle power outages, and Newiak's hope that government officials and business leaders with emergency management responsibilities are paying attention to what movies and TV reveal about humanity pushed to the edge.

Among the works mentioned in this episode:

  • The movie WALL-E

  • The TV show The Big Bang Theory

  • The TV show A Dozen Reasons Why

  • The TV show Bates Motel

  • The book Wicked by Gregory Maguire

  • The movie Solo

  • The movie Contagion

  • The TV show The Walking Dead

  • The TV movie 14 Hours

  • The movie The Book of Eli

  • The TV show Grey's Anatomy

  • The TV show Tribes of Europa

  • The movie The Purge

  • The movie How It Ends

  • The TV show Blackout

  • The movie Cloverfield

  • The movie 10 Cloverfield Place

  • The movie The Cloverfield Paradox

  • The TV show V (1984-85)

  • The TV show V (2009-11)

  • The movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind

  • The TV show Superstore

  • The TV show Community

  • The TV show The Flight Attendant

  • The movie Moonraker

Chatter is a production of Lawfare and Goat Rodeo. This episode was produced and edited by Cara Shillenn of Goat Rodeo. Podcast theme by David Priess, featuring music created using Groovepad.

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