I think blogging is like moving a muscle. The more you do it the easier it gets...
Thinking about movies last night inspired me to finally talk about another popular fictional setting (besides ghosts-acting-rational) which is the post-Apocalyptic genre. It really deserves its own shelf on the libray like "mystery" although it usually either in the sci-fi section or just somewhere in "normal" fiction. I guess it depends on the author.
And while I may mention its use in novels I think a lot more people are probably familiar with movies. The original Road Warrior is one of the granddaddies of modern post-Apocalypse movies, but there were a ton after WWII because of the fears about the A-bomb. Mystery Science Theater 3000 ripped on at least a couple of those movies from the 1950s where man was living like a caveman because there had been a nuclear war some time in the past.
Post-Apocalyse fiction (both movies and books) tends to fall into several types.
1. Everything was/is destroyed, planet is unrecognizable. Usually the disaster occurred so far in the past its either unknown, as in Mad Max, or its part of the plot, like in Waterworld. The "what" or "why" has so completely changed the Earth and its civilizations that its more like looking into the past than the future. Which as I explain later it part of the appeal of post-Apocalyse fiction.
2. Everything is still around, but there are less people. I think of this as "Stephen King's The Stand" version where its disease that wiped everyone out but all the buildings and "stuff" are still there. I think 28 Days Later is also an example of this type of sub-genre but there are other versions of this theme. When I was a kid I saw the creepy movie The Quiet Earth where the only people left on the planet where those who were dying when the accident happen. The ending is bizarre and creepy where one of the characters is left on a planet watching Saturn or some ringed planet rise on the horizen. I think there's always one scene where a character or characters go crazy shopping because suddenly you can take anything you want. This is also part of the appeal. In The Stand, I remember there was a passage where someone told a main character that he was going to run around the bases of Yankee Stadium and masturbate on homeplate. It was a lifelong fantasy of his.
3. Something just happened, life is in chaos. In this version, the Apocalyse just happened, or happened recently enough in the timeline of the plot. The key difference between this and a disaster movie like Deep Impact or The Day After Tommorrow is that the happening of the event itself is not a plot development. The aftermath of the event is where all the action takes place. To some extent this might include that famous 1982 TV movie The Day After which starts before the nuclear attack, but the drama is really all about what happens afterwards. But there's a lot of versions of this version where modern recognizable society is still present or memorable (to the characters) but what we are watching is the breakdown or still in process reformation. I might say that Kevin Costner's The Postman is something along those lines. The movie (and to some extent the book) never really make clear what the Apocalyse was (some combination of war both nuclear and conventional) but while the main character is now in his 40s the "event" happened when he was a teenager in college. There a lot of that kind of timeline where whatever changed society is something that the current generation still remembers.
As for the Apocalyse itself, sometimes its war, sometimes its disease, sometimes it aliens or robots. The cause isn't really important in this discussion. Sometimes its a part of the plot, or the central message as in The Day After, but sometimes its just a device. A setting really.
What brought about this post was I was reading Jared Diamond's new book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. I guess, perhaps from reading lots of post-Apocalyse fiction and watching a lot of post-Apocalyse movies I've always kind of grown up with a vaguely romantic notion of what a post-collapse society would look like. If its version 2, where there's all this "stuff" around and few people, there is a kind of a appeal to remaking society. Hey, I could set myself up in the White House. I could poke and prod anywhere I wanted. I could take all the famous art out of the galleries. I'm not saying such unabashed materialism wouldn't get old really fast. But as a daydream, it has kind of an appeal.
The other appeal to the genre is that usually the reformation of society seems kind of tribal or just primal. If you're an office slave who is dealing with TP-S reports all day the idea that suddenly we're back to subsistance farming, hunting and defending our "wimmin" with guns can have the same kind of romantic appeal as "Go West young man!" You can't deny that losing all the cultural b.s.-- celebrity gossip, city councils, the right setting for your wedding-- can seem like a good thing if your entire world seemed to be filled up with fake things that don't matter. You might not be the kind of person ready to join a commune or a para-military establishment in Michigan while the real world is still revolving, but once it stops suddenly that copier salesman can become a real hero (or dictator-general, as was the case in The Postman). You might even think, like Oskar Schindler, you never have your chance to shine as a human being until the world comes crashing down. (Schindler was a drunk who apparently only achieved personal perfection during the 7 years of the war).
What I was thinking about after reading Diamond's book is that whatever form society's collapse will take, it will likely not look like Waterworld, or The Postman or Mad Max. We're not going to have a bunch of people living in psuedo-tribes tooling around the desert in jeeps looking for water. Society is unlike to take such a large step backward that we forget the Earth is round or that the sun is huge flaming ball of gas millions of miles away. Reading Diamond's book, I realized if there is a societal collapse, it would look like Rwanda or Bosnia or El Salvador. Its not going to be quaint and cute where farmers knit sweaters from sheep they raised themselves because suddenly there is not such thing as industrialization anymore. It will look more like a civil war. Or a place like Iraq. Or Somalia.
Even The Stand (which I keep going back to because as a book it was a very complete and full verision of a post-Apocalyse story), Frannie one of the main female characters started to talk about birth control and females place in society. Basically, without order and civil society, females lose position (granted sometimes they lose even with it if you've read reports of the new Iraq proposed constitution). The Stand had a couple of minor female characters who were held prisoner by a male gang and basically used as a harem. This is a theme that is used in a few other post-Apocalyptic plots, women as sex slaves, women as slaves. 28 Days Later, hints at this kind of madness.
Seeing how women end up in war-torn societies, whether its Rwanda or the former Yugoslavia, its true that in each case that society breaks down, there are mass rapes of women. There is a whole of death all around for males and females as well, but what you might say becomes the opperating principle is the weaker in society lose position all around but none moreso than women. In a return to "might makes right" society, women (and children) lose status.
So while I understand the romanticism in fiction of post-Apocalyptic worlds, the idea that either everything will be free to pick up, or we'll return to some kind of "more honest/more real" version of life while we become farmers or just "Indians" the reality is that what is far more likely to happen is that people start living like the citizens of Sarajevo, you hunker down in your bunker while the "civilized" world exists elsewhere in peace and comfort. Even if a nuclear weapon somehow wipes out DC or New York, the world will look more like Russia right now than Mad Max.
Tuesday, August 02, 2005
I think blogging is like moving a muscle. The more you do it the easier it gets...
Monday, August 01, 2005
So Anacondas: The Hunt for the the Blood Orchid was on last night. Its a really crappy grade-z movie but it made me think of another really crappy grade-z movie I have a fondest for: Ghost Ship. The poster pretty much says it all; its a ship, its haunted, its haunted with "evil." It says Nurse Hathaway from ER and no one else really. Basically the plot is this, an evil spirit/devil/whatever goes about roaming the oceans, tempting crews to mutiny. He "fills" the boat with dead (evil) souls and then once the boat is full takes it to hell. And then I guess starts all over again. Not every soul on the boat is evil. The key character in Ghost Ship is the spirit of a dead little girl who isn't evil. (Who I just realized is the supernaturally, prepubescent hot girl from Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, Emily Browning.)
This movie is one of the most predictable formulas. Its not scary, its not suspenseful. So why do I like it? Well it has an very nicely edited scene which shows the period in the 1960s when the boat was first taken over by the evil spirit. I've learned a lot more about film editing ever since living with one last year and I've started paying a lot more attention to the craft. Its a beautifully cool scene that paced awesomely to the music. (Apparently the little girl was hanged in a closet, we don't see her dying, but she's found in the closet and seen being dragged screaming into it...of course its somewhat less horrific when the entire scene is shown being "overseen" by the dead girl's spirit. I wonder what it would be like to watch your own death over and over again? Wouldn't you feel embarrassed for being scared or wimpy?)
The other reason I have a soft spot for the movie is that it has one of my favorite plots; friendly ghosts interacting with the living. Ghost has it. Sixth Sense had it. A very forgotten movie 1988 movie called Lady in White had it. In these movies, ghosts act completely normal and humane. In Ghost Ship Nurse Hathaway even tried to hand the ghost girl her locket back and it when through her hand. The ghost girl didn't even blink as if that didn't freak her out at all that she was dead. I really like this plot, when ghosts act more like guardian angels. I guess its a comforting thought to think not only could you be okay being dead, but you'd have enough presense of mind to think logically and want to help others. I thought that was one of the weaknesses of The Others that they knew they were dead...and yet it didn't change anything about the situation. I believe in ghosts, and my feelings are if there are such a thing as ghosts, then probably it works more like Sixth Sense, where you don't know you are dead and that's what holds you back. Because if you knew you were dead...well, that has to give you a lot of power. Why not put your hand through walls then? Or walk underwater? Or jump from the tops of buildings? If you knew you were dead, then you could do those things. I just feel like there has to be some kind of power in knowing you are dead and this is precisely why some ghosts stick around.
If you wanted to know why I was always so fascinated with ghosts. I guess I felt like ghosts were one of the more tangible ways to seek out unexplained phenomenomum. Its like, if you could see a ghost, then that probably means there's life after death. And if there's life after death than it probably means there's some kind of god, or at least a point to life, that we're not just randomly selected atoms and genes choses by chance floating around the cosmos.
When I was younger I was really into the Loch Ness Monster and sea sepants, and Big Foot, and Area 51 and all that. But as I got older I started reading really logical explainations for all of those phenomunum (and in the case of Area 51, the explaination was not that the government was hiding it all). So I wanted to believe that there were things not yet explained by man. Fantastic things, creepy and wonderous suprising like big animals and magic powers. But I couldn't bring myself to actually believe in it much anymore. One of the most logical rebuttals I ever heard about why the Rosswell alien crash never happened was a scientist or a historian or someone pointing out that if the U.S. Gov't had found aliens in 1947, look what the response would have been. They would have beefed up a space program. We would have seen development of space weapons. There would have been a massive budget developments geared towards space. And while we did get some of those things, they didn't happen until much later. And now the space program is about to be scuttled permenantly. Hardly the actions of a government that "secretly knows" there is highly advanced, intelligent life out there.
It was just too logical rebutal (among other arguments) to ignore. I remember feeling really sad at one point that I just didn't believe in Rosswell anymore. Its kind of sad to think that the world isn't full of giant, unfound monsters, or aliens locked away by the government.
But I always felt that ghosts had the "best case" for being in existance. For one, there's a lot of hauntings. And second, it ties into something that doesn't have to behave logical like a government or an undiscovered animal. So I can still "believe." But if ghosts did act logical, like they do sometimes in movies....they probably wouldn't be around. Or unproven. If someone could really get their dead fiancee to lift a penny in thin air on command I imagine someone would have gotten their ghost buddy to do it in front of a large crowd already.