Tuesday, April 6, 2010

From Al Gore to Teabagging: Explaining the thematic shift in apocalypse movies from envi-disaster to crazy people

In 2004 Dennis Quaid co-starred in The Day After Tomorrow, one of the environmental apocalypse films released in the post-Inconvenient Truth era – Wall E, The Happening, Happy Feet, etc. This year, Quaid found himself in the muck of a much different apocalypse: Legion, in which our friends and family members were turning into aliens, comedic violence ensued. The Crazies likewise centered on the enmonstering of normal people, although in this version, rather than becoming aliens, our neighbors caught a bug and went bat shit crazier than diaper-wearing NASA astronaut ladies. In both cases, how do we explain this shift? Why does today’s apocalypse take shape through mass psychosis, while yesterday’s was caused by consumerism and carbon dioxide? It goes like this: Long live the teabaggers.

As we know, Hollywood is both liberal, and impressionable to trends. We should therefore expect movie execs (who should no longer have jobs for green-lighting a movie as terrible as The Crazies) to be acutely receptive of the left’s current political focus. A couple of years ago, the environment was the focus-du-jour – for the first time in awhile, as more of us acknowledged that we were killing the environment, quickly and efficiently like Blackwater eco-operatives. Hollywood picked up on this trend/anxiety, giving us Wall E and its apocalyptic relatives.

Today, however, the looming environmental catastrophe (maybe man’s most impressive achievement?) has been replaced atop the liberal’s depth chart of worry by the fear that many Americans, wylin’ out in very unbecoming ways, have straight lost their minds.

Like many have noted the teabaggers is as misguided a name for a political movement as the moniker “Jim” for a pet crow, and is the only tea party weirder than Tim Burton's – though Howard Shultz the CEO of Starbucks is just happy that they went with tea and not coffee. Despite their missteps, the Tea Party has Hollywood and lean-lefters paying attention. Considering its bias (not complaining: David Palmer and Jeb Bartlett for co-presidents) Hollywood is more likely to view the Tea Party’s violent bombast as scary, rather than as the glorious rebirth of America’s revolutionist spirit. The environmental disasters of a couple of years ago have thus been replaced in theatres by deaths at the hands of a crazy neighbor.

Both sets of apocalypse movies turn kinetic the potential threats, climate change and tea partyers respectively. The seas haven’t risen yet, but they might; the teabaggers haven’t turned violent yet, but we imagine that they could. When the threat is widely perceived, Hollywood makes sure that the appropriate apocalypse is playing in theaters. And whatever the disaster, Quaid’ll surely be there, and when he shows up at my door, I’m moving to the moon.

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