Marjorie Foley unpacks The Decemberists’ tribute to David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest in their video to Calamity Song (above) (duh). The video (loosely) tells the story of the Eschaton, a multi-court tennis match that combines elements of adolescence and global war.
The subject of the video is Eschaton, a fictional tennis game played by Hal Incandenza, one of the main characters in Infinite Jest, and his peers at the Enfield Tennis Academy. The game is played in a futuristic world in which years are no longer numbered but rather sponsored (the Eschaton bit happens in the Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment), and much of the Northeastern United States is destroyed due to a nuclear “accident”–the area is now known as the Great Concavity (into which catapults launch hazardous waste and where babies are born without skulls).
Eschaton, a word which means something akin to “end times,” is played across multiple tennis courts, with various areas of the courts corresponding to parts of the globe. The highlighted areas represent the teams, and the combinations of countries, with nuclear capabilities– North America (AMNAT); the former USSR (SOVWAR); China (REDCHI); India & Pakistan (INDPAK); “the wacko but always pesky” Libya & Syria (LIBSYR) or Iraq, Iran, Libya & Syria (IRLIBSYR), and the somewhat weak South Africa (SOUTHAF). Sometimes, depending on the number of players, one may have other teams “like an independent cell of Nuck insurgents with a 50-click Howitzer and big ideas.” Players fire 5-megaton nuclear tennis balls at enemy areas, creating playful worldwide chaos, massive civilian casualties, and juvenile tennis rivalries.