The Politics of “The Last of Us”
NOTE: This post features some spoilers for The Last of Us.
HBO’s new series The Last of Us, which aired its season finale yesterday, has rapidly won plaudits and become a hit. It is set in a world where a devastating fungal pandemic has wiped out much of humanity, turning many into zombies who spread the disease further. In this dystopian world, predatory humans are often an even greater menace than the zombies. Smuggler Joel Miller (Pedro Pascal) is tasked with escorting teenager Ellie (Bella Ramsey) across the country to a research facility where her apparent immunity to the pandemic can be use to develop a vaccine or cure. On the way, they encounter all kinds of perils, more often from humans than zombies.
The series, which is based on a popular video game of the same name (I have not played the game, and will not try to comment on the similarities and differences between it and the show), features great acting by the two leads, and solid plotting. It has also stimulated a debate over its politics, with some claiming the show promotes left-wing “wokeness,” while others argue it’s actually conservative.
In reality, The Last of Us cuts across standard left-right ideological lines. It doesn’t easily fit either side’s narrative. Claims that the show is left-wing primarily revolve around Episode 3, which featured a (very favorably portrayed) relationship between Bill and Frank—two gay men, who survive the apocalypse together, and find meaning in their love. The show also gradually reveals that Ellie is a lesbian (or at least a bisexual; the latter possibility is never ruled out). This has annoyed some hard-core social conservatives (though same-sex marriage and same-sex relationships command widespread public support, with even a majority of Republicans approving of them).
But one of the gay characters in Episode 3, is Bill, a “prepper” who has long believed in all sorts of right-wing conspiracy theories about the US government. The episode—and the show as a whole—at least partially validate his ideology, as the pandemic-era US government rapidly becomes tyrannical and oppressive. Also, Bill’s seemingly paranoid stockpiling of weapons and equipment is what enables him and Frank to survive and (to some extent) even prosper.
More than strict adherence to either conservative or progressive ideology, The Last of US features extreme skepticism of government. From very early on in the pandemic, the US government rapidly descends into horrific tyranny. Within hours, the military begins to shoot innocent civilians in hopes of preventing the fungal virus from spreading (this is how Ellie’s daughter Sarah dies). Within days, they start committing large-scale massacres.
By the time of the main action of the show (twenty years into the pandemic), what’s left of the US government has become a series of “quarantine zones” ruled by FEDRA, an oppressive, quasi-totalitarian military bureaucracy. Ellie’s life as an orphan being raised in a FEDRA school is thoroughly dystopian.
FEDRA can, perhaps, be seen as a kind of
Article from Reason.com