I FIND MYSELF AT THE END OF A TRAILER FOR A MOVIE WHOSE NAME I DON’T CATCH but which seems to depict the formation of 100 soldiers into a Victory Parade in Sacrifice Square. According to the trailer’s narrator, “our troops so thoroughly defeated the enemy that all memory of the war has been erased. No one, today or ever after, will be able to say what the war was about, whom it was against, nor even where it took place.”

 

The question I’m left with (other than whether to see the movie — I know I’ll end up seeing it eventually) is how we can be sure these soldiers are actually the same as the ones who departed Dodge City to fight the forgotten war. They look completely standard-issue, like a random sampling of 100 action figures from a ValuPak of 1000 … so who’s to say these are the same Dodge City boys that supposedly set out all those months or years ago? At the same time, I think, treating myself for once as a rational debate partner, let’s not be too insensitive: who’s to say that the war itself didn’t burn their personalities so thoroughly away that these faceless brutes are all that’s left?

 

I chide myself for either my gullibility or my heartlessness (though not both). Then the next trailer begins. This one’s called Coal Country, and promises to tell the story of how “Pussygrab sent all the unemployed coal miners back underground until the next election.”

 

*****

THEN THE TRAILERS END and the main feature starts up.

 

It’s a sequel to The Dodge City Basement Boys, a special I remember watching a few months ago, back when the Pussygrab Regime still seemed young, before he’d called a snap-referendum and run a second, unopposed campaign in order to be voted “Double Mayor,” a position he then declared “at least twice as powerful as any Mayor in history, maybe three times.”

 

This time around, the narrator tells us that The Dodge City Basement Boys voted for Pussygrab on the promise that he would completely destroy the outside world and thus free them from the bad faith of dwelling inside the Game while knowing that an outside world continued to exist, a world in which they’d made no progress and had no prospects for success or approval.

 

At the same time, the Normcore Voters — most, if not all, of Dodge City’s adults — voted for Pussygrab for a diametrically opposed reason: that he would add entertainment value to their TV viewing because now reality TV would actually be real. “We wanted to feel like what we were seeing on the TV, even when it went beyond belief, was really happening. Like it was news, you know? Otherwise, we feared that watching TV would someday get old, and then where would we be, in terms of our lives and stuff?” says a man identified as Roland Epps, dentist, 43.

 

“So,” the narrator says, “Pussygrab and his Swamp Creatures have a dilemma on their hands. A dilemma that, if they’re not careful, could fracture into an outright Schism: on the one hand, their mandate is to destroy the entirety of Dodge City’s External Reality, leaving nothing but the Game. On the other hand, their mandate is to make Dodge City realer than ever, such that those watching at home might feel their TV diet growing fresher rather than increasingly stale. Ball’s in your court, Pussygrab. What’s your move?”

 

*****

Now the Netflix Movie begins in earnest. In one half of a split-screen, a team of Regime-loyalist hackers is hard at work creating a prototype of “the destroyed Dodge City,” which they plan to import into the Game hoping that the Basement Boys will accept this in lieu of actual destruction of the outside world. (“I mean, if they live full-time in the Game anyway,” one of the hackers says, “how will they even know the difference? They’ll look up from their in-Game lairs and see the ravaged post-Dodge-City wasteland we’ve designed, and believe the Colonel has made good on his campaign promise.”)

 

In the other half of the split-screen, another delegation of Swamp Creatures, led by Paul Sweetie, is hard at work torturing various Dodge City citizens, trying to put them on Permanent Swamp Mode so as to tether them forever to the belief that what they’re watching on TV constitutes the hyperreal world they all believe they voted for, while, presumably, the Regime carries out its real work in secret.

 

“What could go wrong?” Pussygrab is caught asking on a hot mic, his tone seemingly non-rhetorical.

 

*****

THE HACKER TEAM GETS RIGHT DOWN TO WORK, lifting the lid off the Game (which they apparently managed to commandeer right after the election, perhaps taking the reins from the previous administration — no two Dodge City citizens agree as to the Game’s origins, if they even agree about its existence) and beginning to sow destruction.

 

I watch on Netflix as they turn Sacrifice Square into a pile of smoking debris, boil Dead Sir into greenish vapor, reduce the Bar to digital boards and nails sweltering by the side of the road, and even reduce the Hotel (the same one I’m sitting in, the one that doubles as Pussygrab Palace) to a pile of rubble that reminds me of Berlin circa 1947.

 

As a finishing touch, they create an in-Game version of Pussygrab himself, incarnated here as a tribal warlord with sharpened teeth and a necklace of skulls, on the assumption that the more they can do to convince the Basement Boys that all of Dodge City now exists solely within the ravaged landscape of the Game, the less they’ll have to worry about the Boys’ interference aboveground.

 

The Basement Boys initially rejoice at this upgrade, burrowing that much deeper into their basements secure in the knowledge that there’s nothing outside to miss out on. “At last,” one of them says to the camera, “we can breathe free knowing that the basement’s the only place to be. Sex, money, prestige … finally, not having these things makes us stronger, not weaker. Thanks, Pussygrab, for fucking up all the shit you said you were gonna.” He addresses this comment to the in-Game Pussygrab, clearly acknowledging him as the real thing.

 

Then, finishing his ice cream and shouting for his mom to take the bowl, he picks his controller back up, unpauses the Game, and drives his avatar into the smoking remnants.

 

*****

“BUT WHAT OF THE NORMCORE VOTERS, AT HOME WATCHING TV?” the Netflix narrator asks. Indeed, I think. What about them?

 

It turns out that, at first, they’re satisfied too: Dodge City, outside the Game, looks the same as ever, so the entertainment value of watching Pussygrab poison its drinking water, imprison its journalists, and shutter its hospitals has lost none of its pizzazz. They sit at home eating takeout (“Does this Chinese food taste worse?” they wonder. “What happened to all the Chinese people that used to live here?”), laughing and cheering along with the Regime, secure in the knowledge that, just as they always wanted, the reality TV they’re watching is now truly real, and thus no longer a diversion from the lives they might otherwise have to wish they were living.

 

*****

ALL MIGHT HAVE REACHED A DETENTE AT THIS POINT HAD THE HACKERS NOT LEFT THE SEAM TO THE GAME OPEN. But, in their haste to escape the Basement Boys’ notice, they did. They fled the Game after destroying the virtual Dodge City and forgot to patch things up on their way out.

 

So, as is only natural, the air of apocalyptic decay from within the Game begins to ooze out into the real (so-to-speak) Dodge City. Pretty soon (unless Netflix has cut a lot out of this section) one-eyed humanoid hulks are wandering out of the Game and onto the streets of Dodge City, brandishing sharpened sticks and rocks in slings, led by the digital warlord version of Pussygrab himself, who’s now bellowing about burning the corporate overlords alive and eating the hearts of the faithless for lunch.

 

The split-screens merge here. The left-hand side looks slightly more digital, the right-hand side slightly more analog, but it’s clear they’re now both on the same level of reality, one whose consequences will surely apply to everyone watching, myself included.

 

The digital Pussygrab rips a cobblestone from the ground of Sacrifice Square and smashes it over his head, shrieking, “From now on, no Apocalypse is pretend!!”

 

The Basement Boys, I think, must be loving this.

 

The Netflix special stops here for a BREAKING NEWS interlude, featuring Paul Sweetie in his white wedding dress, shouting into a mic:

 

“A contingent of highly undesirable aliens has just poured across our border,” he tells the cameras, as screens behind him show those same faceless soldiers from the Victory Parade shoving the Game characters into armored vans. “This wouldn’t have happened had adequate border security measures been taken by the previous administration, but let’s let bygones be bygones. What matters now is how we respond. And let me tell you, we’re going to respond with extreme violence. The dawn of a new Dodge City Genocide is upon us, folks!”

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