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Channel Zero (revisited) —“She swerves down the road like an 88”

Created by Brian Wood

Additional art: Becky Cloonan

Dark Horse, 1997

THIS IS WHAT ANARCHY LOOKS LIKE. I have been called all those things says hacker airwave pirate Jennie 2.5 in a radio interview, a Socialist, a Communist, an Anarchist, all capitalized one notices, while she is none of them just herself challenging the mainstream media and resisting the routinization of life in an insulated information bubble. She wants America to wake up to the perils of imperialism, police violence, religious fanaticism, fascism, nativism, and so on.

Resisting the oppressive establishment is supposed to set her apart, yet Jennie 2.5 is on no side, having no strategic plan or platform, only favoring individual choice with better information, and a sticky feeling gradually seeps through the pages that she seems to sense, that her message is just like the individual choice and selected information of those government and corporate forces that dominate and eventually silence her. Textboxes slither down the stark black-and-white pages shifting from one platform to the other, and one’s allegiance along the way almost embraces all of them.

We are all on the same side these days, atomized by the consumer cash nexus, embracing the idea of society as a social contract of individuals praying for democracy, where no one is allowed to be in charge but whatever venal band of bullies happens to be on top at the moment. Only one side calls itself religious, yet the rebellious anti-believers seethe with similar righteous indignation and easy offense.

This is the bleak mood in the complete collection of CHANNEL ZERO, penned in the 1990s, and reprinted in a fat paperback in 2012, feeling like a newsreel of a heated era. It should have been iconoclastically larger, shaped like a scrapbook with cardboard pages and silkscreened plywood covers. The tension presented in the American City is all real, pasted from headlines, and only occasionally nudged into exaggeration for dramatic effect.

Times in America were boiling in 1995, and continued to boil, and are now boiling, like you probably already noticed, certainly ever since the October Surprise in 1980 that re-engineered the presidential election, on to Iran-Contra making wars in the Middle East and Central America for imperial dominion, and the Gulf War to weaken imperial enemies, and finally as fits here center stage, the Congressional contract on America tainted with ascendant religious fervor, allowing unfettered venture capitalists to mow down resources and riches as quickly as possible before the Christological end of days when the millennium was supposed to kill all brave sinners anyway.

In an afterword, author and artist Brian Wood claims the story was invented purely as a prop for the art, shared nicely in a continuation with artist Becky Cloonan, and was not intended to go anywhere or have a resolution. Yet there is a pervasive sense in the message, at least in one sense when Jennie 2.5 during her radio interview mouthed verbatim an outside-the-box argument I once made regarding China a decade earlier. I was startled.

The pleasant interviewer made sense, too, concluding, “Good luck convincing people of that.”

In the concourse of humanity molded in the American image, messages swarm. All available space in the sky and the airwaves is appropriated around us, making props for advertising messages to manipulate where the public lives and thinks. A generation or two ago, countercultural information still looked like the right answer. Pirate radio appeared to be an admirable way to resist. Get more information. Knowledge is power.

Yet we know now, knowledge is an overstuffed armchair, and only power is power. Priests of the golden bull buy out the smart ones and manufacture consent, like I heard in that Buffy song I loved from the 1990s.

Alternative heroine Jennie 2.5 promises toughness for a better future, if only she can tinker together a tough new vision to match. What comes after democracy? She was working on it when we left her, and I wonder what she has by now.