Lewis Mumford & Tales from The Loop

Megatechnics and Planned Obsolescence

Lewis Mumford & Tales from The Loop
Artwork by Simon Stålenhag

In Tales from the Loop, based on the mesmeric drawings of Simon Stålenhag, the small town of Mercer, Ohio is the focal point for a research institute — known by locals as The Loop —built around what might be a black hole encased within a floating black orb.

The apparent presence of a black hole at the heart of The Loop (which is never explicitly stated) is reinforced by the random occurrence of strange temporal and spatial anomalies which befall the townsfolk — one resident ends up in a parallel dimension with his double, another swaps bodies with his friend — but also the fact that the the lab appears to be some kind of massive power source; gigantic cooling towers jot the landscape.

Apart from the bizarre and captivating situations the local residents of Mercer find themselves in through the bending of space and time, one of the most uncanny visual aspects of the show’s set design is its 1950’s midwest aesthetic set alongside super high-tech robotics and energy production. In one episode, we catch a glimpse of a far off city which looks like something from the 22nd century.

Recently, in my reading on Gilles Deleuze as part of Justin Murphy and Johannes Neiderhauser’s course on Deleuze vs. Heidegger, I learnt that Deleuze was influenced by an American philospher of technology called Lewis Mumford and his concept of the Megamachine — which Deleuze would draw on for his notion of the Society of Control. Reading a little more about Mumford’s thought, I had something of a univocal moment where Mumford’s other concept of Megatechnics seemed to click perfectly with the trad aesthetic portrayed in Tales from the Loop. In Megatechnics, Mumford critiques the disposability and flimsy build quality of modern products, hyped up by modern advertising, which he contrasts with a design ethic of biotechnics; a more human-scale level of production where things would be built to last.

In Tales from the Loop, the citizens of Mercer live their day-to-day lives in a very tangible analogue world of touch dial phones, tube TVs and pen and paper, all of which which seems to promote their personal interaction and sense of community, whereas other technology depicted in the show— medicine, clean energy and transportation; things that are actually important to deep human flourishing and the longevity of the planet — are hyper-accelerated. In the light of Mumford’s theories, perhaps a rationally planned economy would look very much like the one depicted in Tales from the Loop?