Feeling Stuck? You’re Not Alone.

The hallways on the television shows I watch have been driving me mad. On one sci-fi show after another I’ve encountered long, zigzagging, labyrinthine passageways marked by impenetrable doors and countless blind alleys — places that have no obvious beginning or end. The characters are holed up in bunkers (“Fallout”), consigned to stark subterranean offices (“Severance”), locked in Escher-like prisons (“Andor”) or living in spiraling mile-deep underground complexes (“Silo”). Escape is unimaginable, endless repetition is crushingly routine and people are trapped in a world marked by inertia and hopelessness.

The resonance is chilling: Television has managed to uncannily capture the way life feels right now.

We’re all stuck.

What’s being portrayed is not exactly a dystopia. It’s certainly not a utopia. It’s something different: a stucktopia. These fictional worlds are controlled by an overclass, and the folks battling in the mire are underdogs — mechanics, office drones, pilots and young brides. Yet they’re also complicit, to varying degrees, in the machinery that keeps them stranded. Once they realize this, they strive to discard their sense of futility — the least helpful of emotions — and try to find the will to enact change.

The stucktopia might seem resonant to you, too. Time is a flat circle. The same two political candidates are running for president, while parodic commentary is once again being provided by Jon Stewart, who first hosted “The Daily Show” in 1999. Congress produces little more than increasingly outlandish sound bites. There are protests nearly every day, yet no resolution or change. Mass culture has come to a standstill, with endless reboots and resuscitations. Thanks to knockoff mania and fast fashion, clothes and décor look like copies of copies. We spent a pandemic locked up in our homes, and the outside world — with superstorms and deadly heat waves — is no longer the respite Thoreau once envisioned. If we retreat into our phones, we end up algorithmically chasing ourselves down familiar rabbit holes.

Pop culture, performing its canary-in-the-coal-mine function, has been trying to warn us about stucktopia. Every age gets the dystopian nightmares it most fears: In the 1930s and ’40s, it was George Orwell and Aldous Huxley’s visions of totalitarianism; at the millennium, it was dark imaginings of societal collapse, whether a zombie apocalypse or the hunger games. Our new fictional nightmares are all about being trapped: mice running in an endless maze, too cowed by the complexity of the system to plow through the dead ends and find freedom.

Televised portrayals of stuckopia can’t defeat authoritarian governments or teach us how to do so ourselves. But they do offer a first step toward action — a way to recognize what parts of us are purposely staying stuck. Considered together, these shows force us to consider whether we’ll stay content with our meager daily doses of cold comfort in a larger, broken system — or toss them aside and find a new way to live.

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