…but if it were, I might sound like this.
About a year ago, AMC+ released what was perhaps the best hard science fiction story I had ever seen: Pantheon. Based on short stories by Ken Liu (a name you may recognize as penning some of the more iconic Love Death + Robots shorts), Pantheon was a fascinating multi-narrative saga surrounding the idea of Uploaded Intelligences, humans who have their brain destructively scanned to live in virtual space. It featured an absolutely star-studded cast including Paul Dano, Daniel Dae Kim, Aaron Eckhart, and Taylor Schilling, and that’s barely scratching the surface.
The eight-episode run completely encaptivated me and was must-watch television. My phone was done, my eyes were glued, it would be paused instantly if I had to look away for even a second. As the credits rolled, the most satisfying thing was knowing that the second season had already been produced which means the story would continue, and I would be happy.
You can see that this is not what happened.
Instead, AMC+ announced that the second season would not be airing on their platform which was a weird decision given that again: it existed, it was ready to go, and they were people who wanted to watch. Even if it were just me, I would have very much liked to watch it, and these esoteric business decisions were getting to me. But to add insult to injury, the first season of Pantheon, something that AMC+ definitely owned, was inexplicably removed from their library, because we can’t have nice things.
And this was during a year where media been stricken from the record seemed all too common place. If we look at MAX, formerly HBOMax, we have seen the removal of Close Enough, Final Space, Infinity Train, Westworld, Raised by Wolves, and the preemptive blocking of the Batgirl movie (particularly baffling given the upward trend of Braden Fraser’s career and the allowance of the Flash movie to run amok [in more ways than one]). Disney and Hulu had removed Darby and the Dead, Big Shot, The Mighty Ducks: Gamechangers, Y: The Last Man, and Willow. And let’s not even try to keep of the revolving door of content over at Peacock.
The central point of all of this is that studios are much more concerned with not paying residuals, and you know what, in the capitalist hellscape that we exist in, I can pretend that I can understand. However, as someone who loves media in all of its forms and is a proponent of media preservation, it’s exceedingly frustrating that works of art that I could see as seminal are subject to the whims of razor thin profit margins. And I’m willing to pay to get access to this media. I immediately purchased all four seasons of Infinity Train in a desperate bid to get access to one of my favorite animated series of 2020 and 2021. Even now, I’m aware that if Prime wanted to they could wipe my entire library, and I would have next to no recourse.
But let’s flash forward to early October when thanks to a friend, I caught wind that for some reason, the second season of Pantheon was in fact airing exclusively on Prime Australia and New Zealand and had no discernable release in the States.
Now, I wouldn’t ever promote piracy. Piracy hurts hard working creatives. It denies them of any direct revenue that is generated from purchases or views, and the only thing potentially worse is completely removing any evidence that it ever existed and preventing any legitimate means of acquisition…or you know, something like that.
And it would be a real shame if the second season of a phenomenal science fiction series that may or may not conclude its story as there is no way in hell a third season is ever going to exist. And it would be completely wild if access to the episodes would be entirely dependent on the random whims of a random Prime ANZ executive. But at least *someone* would get to watch it. And at least it would be online.
So in lieu of any avenue to support the animated Pantheon, perhaps the next best recourse would be to just buy a bunch of Ken Liu collections because at least physical is much harder to revoke access at the drop of a dime. And I wish it wasn’t increasingly difficult to watch things on legitimates services as content is subject to just straight up vanishing and that piracy at this point seems less like a crime and more like the only means of digital media preservation.
In the 13th Century, archivists carved 52 millions characters into 81,258 wooden blocks and for 8 centuries that data has been preserved with zero data loss. And we can’t manage to keep a few gigs of video around for people to watch at their own pace. The Tripitaka Koreana serves as a testament to the fact that we as a species are in fact acting as a custodian for our histories and that rampantly preventing stories from being told isn’t necessarily our default way of thing.
And at the crux of this is the simple fact that digital media is so vulnerable. Flash games, shuttered servers, media that exists in small pockets of the internet, USB drives, and circulated VHS tapes. The era of physical media is quickly phasing out. This isn’t likely to be on the same scale of the burning of the Library of Alexandria. I’m not a professional archivist or data technician. Given how much more complicated audiovisual media there is a distinct possibility that it’s significantly more. That’s not really the point though. Any loss of cultural touchstones is tragic. And if as a result of the actions of capitalist overlords culling content, an uptick of nautical behavior started, I wouldn’t say it was morally justified.
But I also wouldn’t say it wasn’t.