Vigilance by Robert Jackson Bennett

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By Robert Jackson Bennett

Publisher: Tor| Release Date: Jan. 29, 2019 | Pages: 192

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In the near future, America’s favorite pastime — mass shootings — has become a ratings juggernaut. Under the supervision of executive producer John McDean, ONT (Our Nation’s Truth) irregularly broadcasts Vigilance, a reality TV game show that turns local malls, schools, train stations, restaurants, and other randomly chosen public arenas into grotesque scenes of mass gun violence for the entertainment of its home viewers.

although America doesn’t manufacture much anymore, it sure as hell makes a lot of dead kids

Vigilance by Robert Jackson Bennett paints a frightening and wholly plausible picture of near-future America. Personally, I suspect it’s only a matter of time before we see a show like Vigilance on American airwaves or streaming platforms. Far-right broadcasters like Alex Jones, Sean Hannity, and Bill O’Reilly have already made their denialism of America’s gun epidemic into vital cash cows (at least before the firings and lawsuits hit them in the only place that matters to them), painting outspoken school children and grieving parents as nothing more than “crisis actors” and (ironically) fraudsters. I expect it will be sooner rather than later that these immoral and irresponsible scumfucks decide to see how much further they can push the envelope in order to make a buck, pushing for far more literal interpretations of TV’s Survivor.

Bennett shows us an America at absolute rock-bottom, an America that has suffered the full effects of a Trump presidency, Fox News brainwashing, climate change, right wing science denialism, toxic masculinity, and resurgent Naziism, and is now a nation in its death throes. The entire world has left the insular and frightened United States behind, with China becoming the center of the world’s scientific and industrial progress.

More than anyone alive, John McDean knows America isn’t a place you live in—not anymore. It’s a place you survive. And such a place is highly monetizable for Our Nation’s Truth.

All America has left is greed, entitlement, an insane amount of fear toward The Other, a dwindling population of old timers glued to their TV, and guns, guns, guns! As the latest episode of Vigilance airs, ratings go through the roof. People are obsessed with this show, rooting for the killers as much as they root for the Good Guy With A Gun to put an end to it, hedging their Las Vegas bets appropriately.

Bennett takes all of America’s idiotic obsession with guns and violence and distills it all into a savage, dark, complex, and frightening novella. The tone of Vigilance is fucking pitch-black, blacker than the the night, blacker, even, than Trump’s rotting, soulless, barely-beating, fatty fast-food “hamberder” obstructed heart. Like the murderous contestants of this book’s game show, Bennett is playing for keeps, and he goes all-in on the violence. Despite the reality show’s glamorization of guns and mass shootings, Bennett’s action scenes never feel titillating. Rather, they are raw and potent, showing the devastation of a bullet’s trajectory, the harm guns can cause in the hands of the untrained and unskilled. He willfully eschews the fetishization of guns, showing gun culture for what it really is — a culture of fear, built by cowards who can only hope to be powerful once in their lives, exploited by the wealthy in an endless cycle of parasitism cleverly disguised as patriotism. There is no mythological Good Guy With A Gun here. There are only killers and the killed, and the endless cycle that consumes them and profits off their corpses.

What an easy thing it is, to make Americans destroy ourselves…. You just have to make a spectacle out of it.

In other words, Vigilance is one hell of a reflection on current American values, the state of our society in this early part of the 21st Century, and the peril of where our national nihilism will be taking us as we struggle to cope with all the damage we’ve willingly inflicted upon ourselves. Vigilance is brutal, at times sickening, but oh so very, very necessary. This is a vital read. Highly recommended.