American Blackout – Review
American Blackout aired last night on the National Geographic channel and as expected Plan and Prep was there to enjoy and review. I decided not to live tweet the show in order to pay close attention for today’s review. If you haven’t watched it yet, be aware that there may be a few things in this article that you would call “spoilers”.
The Premise of American Blackout
American Blackout is a docudrama based on the premise of a total US blackout triggered by a cyber attack on the US power grid. Throughout the program there are blurbs at the bottom providing statistics, facts and explanations for viewers. Most of the information seemed legitimate and I really didn’t see anything posted that would really raise my eyebrows, but I may have missed one or two. The show is broken down into segments representing the number of days since the blackout started. As each day passes the situation becomes more dire and both the citizens and the federal government are forced into survival mode.
The Blackout Cast
The show follows several different families and groups; a married couple living in a penthouse on the 46th floor of their Manhattan high rise, a family of three expecting a baby and living in Phoenix, a group of strangers stuck in an elevator at a college campus, a young VJ left home alone during the crisis by his mother and a prepper family of four that ends up with a fifth wheel.
It is pretty obvious that each of the selected cast members are there to represent either a segment of the broad population base or a “type” of citizen, such as the wealthy couple in Manhattan and the prepper family. Missing in the casting were the poor of the inner cities, the homeless, the military (by and large) and most of the criminals.
As the power begins to fail across the country citizens are woefully unaware of the disaster potential of this event. Many people fail to realize how dependent we are on electrical power in the United States. All of the major infrastructure systems that our country depends upon are unable to function without electricity. Emergency and disaster services themselves are dependent upon power from the grid to a large extent.
What begins as a distraction and inconvenience quickly becomes a problem and then snowballs into doomsday as people begin to realize the implications of a nation without power.
Throughout the show the audience is constantly hammered with the same message “people that are unprepared are at the mercy of others” or even worse, they are at the mercy of the government. When this message first started appearing in the show I was worried the program would devolve into an anti-government bashing complete with threats of a second revolution or full scale rebellion. Luckily this was tempered with some good scenes of the government actually helping people and lots of breaks so people could buy “Wise Prepared Foods” from Marie Osmond.
The Blackout Fail List
There are a few things that I found to be either incorrect or questionable in regards to how the show portrayed the message and the cast. Here are a few briefs bits and pieces.
- There is no mention on the news broadcasts of stepped up military posture after the cyber attacks. An event of this type and magnitude would certainly bring our nation to full readiness as it could very well be a precursor to a full scale military attack.
- The National Guard isn’t mobilized and martial law isn’t declared until day 3 or 4 in the show. This would be done much faster in real life, especially if the source of the failure were a cyber attack.
- There is no mention of the nation’s nuclear facilities, water retention facilities, air traffic control facilities or many other layers of infrastructure that would be affected by such an event.
- The general feeling I got from the show was one of individual responsibility. The theme was very family centric to prepare yourself because the government cannot help you.
Another area of contention was the “prepper family” that was featured as part of the cast. Obviously this family was featured to show that preparedness is achievable and that they were much better off than the other people in the program, there were mistakes made by individuals in the family that set up two very dramatic events. I feel like these two events were really unnecessary and showed a bit of “paranoia” on the part of the production team.
When a needy neighbor approaches the fence to ask for food he is met with strong resistance and even has a pistol drawn on him when he is told to leave and not come back. The father, Hank, makes a couple of big mistakes in this segment which leads to further mistakes;
- Hanks tells the man he has no food “for him”, and repeats these words several times. This alludes to the idea that there IS food, but he is unwilling to share.
- When Hank draws his pistol to drive the man away he believes he is presenting a threat that will be feared and keep the man away, when in reality he is telling the man, “I have things here to protect”.
Later in the show “Hank Jr” captures “Jason” on video sharing canned foods with the neighbors at a midnight rendezvous. This is an important plot piece but there is no inclination as to how Jason and this person organized this clandestine meeting with no communications tools and without knowing each other. This scene was obviously not well conceived but it did serve a purpose to provide two possible points of view and two very different opinions on security;
- Some people may believe that Jason was right to share the food. It was extra food that Hank had designated as “decoy” food and could very well sustain the neighbors lives until they could secure food through other means. This simple act of kindness may very well put a halt to any plans of forcing their way into the compound to steal the food.
- Some folks see the gift of food as a huge mistake, not only showing that the family has extra food but also showing that one member is weak and can be manipulated. This person could be tricked into a meeting and taken hostage or, as we saw in the show, forced to open the family’s coffers under threat of violence. (although Hank Jr is the victim of that plot device)
My issue with these plot developments is that it implies that people should always choose the path of paranoia over that of being a human being. Yes, I understand the concept presented in the show and I live in the real world and understand the dangers involved. However, if we walk around all day, every day, looking for the worst in everyone we meet we will continue to socially self-destruct as a nation.
Both Hank’s family and the neighbors were well armed. It appeared that they were situated in a very rural area where growing food or hunting would have been an option for them. A very different outcome could have been seen if they had simply decided to work together. Then again, perhaps not. We’ll skip the review of the final few minutes of the prepper family segment as it was nothing more than “prepper fiction” and it would take me an hour more to cite all of the tactical and logical mistakes made in that brief three minutes.
Aside from the prepper family we also saw completely inept people fashion climbing harnesses from belts, scarves and cords from cell phone chargers and climb up a darkened elevator shaft, we saw “criminal thugs” looting apartments at or above the 30th floor in a Manhattan high rise and we watched in awe as so many people exhibited fantastic forethought in purchasing solar and crank cell phone chargers while at the same time not understanding that it’s a good idea to carry water. These type of failures can only be summed up as “convenience” fails because they allow the writers and/or producers (no offense to any writers or producers reading this) to take the easy way out and avoid explaining things. How would this docudrama get made if there were no magical cell phone batteries?
Lastly we have the ending. My good friend Stone Bryson, aka @TheApocalyst nailed this one in his brief posting as well. The ten day doomsday scenario that led every day Americans to kill, loot and basically lose their minds was resolved as if it was the “flip of a switch”. Suddenly all of the power in major cities starting coming back on without delay and everyone stopped being jacktards and immediately began singing kumbaya (thanks for the reference, Stone). This is SO far outside of reality that it literally throws the majority of the good stuff shown in the American Blackout completely under the bus.
What was good about American Blackout?
The best thing about American Blackout was that it opened some people’s eyes to the potential dangers of a massive power grid failure. Most people have a hard time understanding the impact of a national grid down event and couldn’t possibly conceive of the amazing speed at which our electrified populace would lose their collective minds. This docudrama, although flawed, was a good way to follow up on the success of Doomsday Preppers by getting this message out to the masses in a new and powerful way.
Although the show completely glossed over the ugly side of humanity in a crisis I think most people understand that people faced with such damning odds and conditions would certainly be willing to take a life to get what they need to survive.
Overall the show was entertaining and somewhat educational for those that don’t run in prepper circles. I do believe it failed to really drive home the loss of humanity that would certainly rear its head in a long term blackout, but I can forgive National Geographic for that, considering their audience. If you want a much better (in my opinion) movie about the effects of a major grid down event, check out The Trigger Effect (1996) starring Kyle MacLachlan.
Feel free to comment below whether you agree or disagree!