Market Apocalypse - printed in Blackbook, winter 2006
Last month my friend called with a kind of breathy panic in her voice to tell me that Z, a prominent spiritual leader (who will remain nameless for fear of bad karma) had a vision that there was going to be some kind of terrorist/disaster event in San Francisco that was going to “affect the food supply” and kill millions.
Z has an ashram in Sri Lanka. “Last year, she was praying in the ashram, and suddenly jolted up and told her followers that they all needed to get to higher ground. They all did, and then the Tsunami happened,” my friend said to me. “So I’m just letting you know, just don’t plan on being in the west coast in the Spring.”
“I’ll be in San Francisco the entire month of March.”
“Oh…Maybe it’s April. I may have the dates confused. And apparently she was off by a couple of weeks with the tsunami anyway.”
After pressing my friend for clearer information, I discovered that this rumor was fourth-hand knowledge told to her boyfriend by some dorky German. Still, I freaked out for a week, because I am surrounded by doomsday hype and it’s hard to stay calm these days.
It does seem like the end of the world, doesn’t it? But leave it to our wacked out media culture to hype it for high ratings. It’s like producers saw a market and are taking full advantage providing us with well-rendered imagery, super-clean CGI effects and technological advances that help us fully realize our deaths while we turn into mouthbreathing chicken littles soaked in doomsday scenario-making.
If you want good, heart-thumping apocalypse entertainment, now’s the time. Movies like The Day After Tomorrow and Deep Impact showed us how tornadoes can destroy Los Angeles, and tidal waves can inundate New York, but now “real” newscasts are rising to the occasion, using high intensity graphics to bring us footage of the destruction in New Orleans or Sri Lanka.
You can even become part of the show – as the passengers on last summer’s Jet Blue flight 292 discovered, when the landing gear malfunctioned, and the plane had to land without wheels. Everyone on the plane watched the spazzy news reports of their own doomed flight on the seatback consoles in front of them while they prepared for a risky emergency landing. After landing safely, everyone wanted to hear blond “Hustle and Flow” actress Taryn Manning’s account.
Real disasters and fictional representations are conflating so scarily, I feel like I live in one big simulacrum. Last November, “Category 7” The End of the World” aired, the TV movie about a deadly hurricane starring Gina Gershon as a FEMA director in a tight booby sweater, Randy Quaid as a Storm-chaser, and Shannen Dougherty as a misunderstood scientist. (Maybe we are already dead and this is hell?)
As luck would have it, they were shooting in Winnipeg when Katrina hit. In an interview, Ms. Gershon explained how the dialogue was changed. "There was a line that was cut out - I said, 'Can you imagine what this would do to New Orleans?'" she recalled. "The next day, New Orleans happened."
"Category 7 " is chock-full of realistic special effects where everything from the Statue of Liberty to the Eiffel Tower is torn to pieces. Visual effects supervisor Craig Weiss told Entertainment Tonight how "taking down the Eiffel Tower was no small task. There are tons of layers to make it look real…We had to use every technique in our toolkit. From miniatures to computer generated imagery.”
“Category 7” was a follow-up to last years “Category 6: Day of Destruction.” Next up is NBC's aftershock miniseries "10.5: Apocalypse" due this season. No joke. Mark your calendars for the real-life tie-in event.
For the first time in history, we can see really amazing versions of the destruction we imagine happening, and, meanwhile, it’s actually happening. I can’t believe Baudrillard is right.
That may explain why news sources seem more like a parody of The Daily Show than the Daily Show seems like a parody of the news. Actual disasters are framed in slick animated boxes with morphing graphics, so that even the “real” event look more eye-catching, accented with swooshing sound effects and reporters in love with the doom-soaked diction they have been honing since 9-11.
Printed news is no exception. This excerpt from a recent essay by Donald G McNeil, Jr. (in the September 25th Sunday New York Times) could double as a movie trailer if you read it in the smokey, graveled voice of that movie trailer guy:
“There was a time when the cloud as an icon of destruction was shaped like a mushroom. And a time when the cloud as a portent of fleeing populations gave off the buzz of locusts. And a time when the cloud that symbolized unexpected death was the ashen plume shooting out of twin towers pancaking down…in a sense we are back to a more innocent age. The dark eyes whirling ever closer are “natural” disasters, though they pack the force of thousands of Hiroshimas.”
Am I a part of a biblical disaster movie and I just don’t know it? I feel like the entire country is on that Jet Blue flight.
I am not denying that there is something hugely alarming going on in the environment. Every week I get obssessed with yet another distressing example of our earth’s radical transformation: melting permafrost releasing carbon dioxide that has been trapped underground for eons, the severe drought in the Brazilian rainforest, record-breaking storms, riots, widespread starvation, and our goofball government’s elective ignorance and slow reaction to all of it.
It does seem like our world is ending as we know it. I may be able to accept it, but why must it be as cheesy and melodramatic as an Oliver Stone movie – full of grandstanding Charlton Hestonesque heterosexual bravado?
Oliver Stone, by the way, should be finishing up his movie called ‘World Trade Center.’ His production team recreated the aftermath of 9-11 in a Los Angeles studio lot. Why is that a good idea? When 9-11 becomes a computer game and an amusement park ride, I am moving into the mountains and eating roots and berries with the ecoterrorists.