Friday, November 2, 2012

Apocalypse fetish

There is one noble attribute of big-budget disaster flicks. That is the story of perseverance. The survivors of the disaster refuse to give up the fight for their lives. Facing daunting odds, they dig deep and find the fortitude to overcome.

The rest is pornography.

Large-scale destruction—explosions, buildings collapsing, people dying by the score—is depicted by the filmmakers’ studied eye for aesthetics. The disaster and the havoc it wreaks have to “look good.”

To this end, computer-generated imagery enables every shot to be crafted to perfection. Every digital person is meticulously drawn and then tortured and killed frame by frame. Symbols of our civilization, like the New York City skyline and St. Peter’s Basilica, topple in slow motion, crushing the denizens to whom the symbols were worth a damn.

The victims’ identities don’t matter. They exist as set pieces to be destroyed indiscriminately and en masse. As mere humans they are nothing compared to the awesome power of the aliens/ mother nature/ whatever.

Also prominent is the breakdown in civil order, that indiscernible weave of countless cultural assumptions that more or less holds everything together. In the disaster, those assumptions go out the window, resulting in panic and chaos, turning man against man, revealing a Hobbesian state of nature.

These elements emphasize human frailty and futility, and that this type of film attracts our attention highlights our self-contempt. Nothing else explains our erotic attraction to these ruthless stories than that rarely spoken-of malignancy seated deep inside us: We are not worthy of what we have and we deserve to be punished. (Not because of global warming or anything like that. That is just liberal filmmakers’ directing their malignancy towards political ends.)

But we are not masochistic, per se. We’re supposed to identify with the survivors, who make their way in a changed political landscape, more self-determinative than the last, with fewer people to compete with and fewer social artifices and constraints to bend to.

That is the “good” we fantasize comes from the cleansing. But the loss of so many lives and the erosion of much of what we’ve built together is certainly not good. It is terrible, in fact. We miss that by dehumanizing others, by subsuming them to our understanding of ourselves. Our innate selfishness doesn’t apply to all humanity, but ends at the hair on our arms. God, in anticipation of this, enforces throughout the Bible that life is infinitely precious, and man is created in His image.

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