Claws - sci-fi show
I was watching the first episode of Claws the other night - a fantastic fever dream of a hardboiled crime show - when it occurred to me that the surreal world presented on the screen is actually science fiction. This show, I realized, is a vision of the future designed and predicted by architects, sociologists, and futurologists of the past.
Claws is set in Palmetto, Manatee County, Florida. Five manicurists at the Nail Artisan salon are involved in laundering money for a neighboring pain clinic. The star is Niecy Nash, who plays Desna Simms and navigates this stylized world with determination and skill.
It is a world where the automobile is preeminent and absolutely everyone goes everywhere by car. Vox talks about the inception of this road network:
Auto industry groups began envisioning an ambitious network of wide, smooth highways, accessible only by on-ramps, that would crisscross the country. These highways would link distant cities but also thread through downtowns, allowing people to drive as quickly as possible from home to work and back. This vision was distilled in a massive, one-acre diorama GM built for the 1939 World’s Fair in New York called Futurama.
Even when the team visit banks as part of laundering the drug money at the heart of the show, it is a drive-up bank, and they are shown stuffing wads of bills into capsules to be fed into pneumatic tubes. Everything is done from the car, and even when one character is shown walking from her place of employment to the crummy motel that she is forced to live in, but this is to show how absolutely destitute she is. She is shown without a car to emphasize how at the margins of this future society she is. This is a show of freeways, parking lots, and strip malls, the future architecture envisioned by the new discipline of urban planning, back in the fifties and sixties, and even before.
It wasn’t just in transport that scientists of the past had big ideas about the future, in pharmaceuticals too, it was thought life would be immeasurably improved. It was thought that we would all be living much more fulfilled lives, thanks to mood stabilizers, tranquilizers, and other chemical compounds, such as Thorazine for example. Claws is a crime drama based around a drug gang but the particular drug trade that acts as a backdrop to the show is a pill mill, a clandestine operation where a medical worker illicitly offers prescription medication to patients in exchange for bribes. It is a very distorted vision of the life made better through chemistry that we were promised.
The architecture, too, is a vision of the modern world that the great minds of the past wanted to build. As CurrentAffairs.org puts it:
At the dawn of the 20th century, American architect Louis Sullivan proclaimed the famous maxim that “form follows function.” This was instantly misinterpreted as a call for stark utilitarian simplicity.
None of the buildings we see are older than the mid sixties, making the look of the show modernist in the truest sense of the word. Except it is a hideous and cheep version of modernism, with the sleek lines of even some of the buildings that approach being attractive marred by the clutter, bad taste, and decay of the furniture and decorations.
The sociologically of the show is fascinating, too. The criminal gang at the heart of the action includes members from numerous ethnicities and sexual orientations. The crime kingpin seems supremely comfortable, if not outright enthusiastic about alternate lifestyles. To me, this is the melting pot theory.
The clothes, too, are futuristic. The actors wear Lycra in neon colors, skin-tight bodysuits, and have pink hair.
The outfits the characters wear have bags of character, but they are also not far removed from the uniform jumpsuits of Star Trek.
The building interiors are futuristic, too. The characters inhabit environments that are all linoleum, Formica, dralon, nylon, and leopard-print synthetics. These are the materials of the future, for a wipe-clean, low-maintenance life.
The writers of the show, along with the team responsible for designing its look have worked hard to make Manatee County, Florida a hellscape that is almost completely antithetical to human life, in its transport, architecture, and chemical dependencies, but the reason it has been so successful in painting this picture is because the Florida we are shown in Claws is actually the future that the experts of the fifties and sixties yearned for so dearly. In Claws we get to see a vision of what all these genius architects, industrial designers, sociologists, cultural theorists, chemists, and general intellectuals wanted to form society into, except it is a vision through a distorting mirror, where nobody cares to try and alleviate unintended consequences and everything is done in the cheapest possible way, no matter what this means for the people forced to live in this environment.
It is brilliant in the horror it can wring from seemingly the simplest things, and every detail adds to a sense of dread that permeates the whole show. It is like a classic story by Philip K Dick, if he had been a crime writer. This show is not reality, of that I am convinced even though I have never visited a nail salon in Florida. This show is a heightened reality, set in an alternate future that we might have all ended up inhabiting if the great minds of the modernist movement had had their way. Claws, for me, is an excellent, disturbing, and compelling work of science fiction that deserves to be considered alongside works like The Man in the High Castle as an example of an alternate history.
Start Reading the Dark Galaxy Trilogy
Galaxy Dog is an epic space opera. What starts as an ordinary invasion of an alien planet, brings to light an ancient archaeological site of huge importance. A young man called Knave makes a life-changing discovery there and rises from a lowly position as an infantry trooper to become a player among the powers of the galaxy. This is the story of his rise, and the story of the fierce and independent woman and the feisty robot who help him.