Naked in Nuhaka: The Day After Tomorrow
THE DAY AFTER TOMORROWhttp://www.ahikaa.com/naked/tomorrow.htm
I'VE ALWAYS BEEN A FAN OF DISASTER MOVIES. I'm particularly excited about a new flick due to arrive on the world's screens at the end of this month, "The Day After Tomorrow." In the film, directed by Roland Emmerich (Independence Day), the world is gripped in weather chaos as the effects of global climate change kick in in a surprisingly rapid fashion; a global climate "tilt" occurs in a matter of days -- not years. Melting polar caps stop the Gulf Stream, and things go haywire. You can watch the preview for the film here (1) and see basketball-sized hail hit Tokyo, twisters whip across Los Angeles, and one big storm surge push its way up Wall Street. By the end of day two (thus the title), a flooded New York City is frozen over, Lady Liberty's on ice, and a glacier envelopes the polis.
The intriguing part is that we saw this all before in A.I. and Planet of the Apes (the 1969 opus; not the 2001 travesty). At the end of A.I., it is millenia into the future and the world is devoid of human life. You witness alien invaders digging their way down into the ruins of New York, with its remarkably intact skyline (including a frigid twin towers). There they find the robot boy which the story was all about (a sci-fi Pinocchio) along with his robot teddy bear. At the end, his existence is redeemed, and we're left feeling all warm and fuzzy. Understandably, the movie bombed.
Planet of the Apes wasn't warm and fuzzy at all. For the audiences back in 1969, it must have been The Crying Game of its time; I imagine cocktail parties in Manhattan and Connecticut with those who'd seen it sitting there smugly with their secret. Of course, the not-so-secret secret is that the Planet of the Apes is Earth; in the future. Mankind somehow destroyed itself, and a race of apes evolved to inherit our planet and make the (now mute and stupid) humans their subject of study and slavery. The clincher of the film, of course, is Charlton Heston straggling along a beach to find the remnants of the Statue of Liberty sitting there dented and rusted in the waves. Understandably, the movie was a hit, and is now a classic.
Of course there were no twin towers in Planet of the Apes because back in 1969 they actually hadn't been built yet. But you can spot them in various states of damage in other sci-fi disaster epics, including Deep Impact, Armageddon, and Independence Day. In Deep Impact, they're hit by a monstrous meteor-impact induced tidal wave, with much of Manhattan skyline toppled by this wave, but -- remarkably -- as the water drops there's the two towers peeping their little heads out of the mist (hey, people on the upper floors probably survived!!). In Independence Day, the Empire State is the target for the alien blast, with Manhattan's skyline smashed to smithereens -- but wait, look for the camera to pan away, and there's (most?) of the twin towers still standing! How reassuring. In Armageddon not much happens except Paris obliterated by a meteor (sacre bleu!) and bits of NY get chipped off by mini-meteorites (the beautiful Chrysler Building gets chopped in half and crashes down into Times Square).
I liked Deep Impact way better than Armageddon. I saw Deep Impact in a mood enhanced condition in San Francisco, and the film blew me away. I saw the flick with my beau Todd, who told me how he used to summer on the South Carolina beaches hit by the mega wave at the end of the mega flick. It was still a Hollywood blockbuster, but it felt fresh and palpable. Armageddon was icky. The heroes were oil-rig worker bums for godssake! Rumours flew threw the press that oil companies actually sponsored the film. I've loathed everything Ben Affleck's been in since (and I've never liked anything that Bruce Willis has been in).
It seems ironic, that now in 2004 we have a film which – in theory, anyway – says the oil companies are the baddies, the corporations lobbying governments to ignore the global warming threat. And, in our post-911 world, it all seems a little weird to base a science-fiction film on a premise that scientists and futurists say is becoming more and more real each day.
In 2000, I was lucky enough to go an a day-trip to Manhattan, crawling my way up to the top of the Empire State to take in a Thanksgiving weekend's Friday vista. The yanks have a tradition of starting their Christmas Shopping on this day -- retailers call it Black Friday; the day all their books go into the black. It was a mostly gloomy day (see photos (2)) but I managed to get in quite a panoramic look at the world's greatest city, nevertheless. On the train in from upstate I was astounded by how the five or six buildings that were bigger than the others *really* *really* stuck out. Empire State. Chrysler. AT&T. Panam. And World Trade Centre.
Being in a "Real City" is so different to how you might imagine it watching television and movies. Everything was so big, but the bigger towers really dwarfed everything else, making the extreme (i.e. 40-60 floors high) seem rather normal. Some of the bigger buildings were really old; 1930s era granite edifices that seemed almost ancient in their grandeur. I recall thinking at the time how all those buildings in New York seemed so solid and permanent; unlike the towers and pyramids in quake threatened San Francisco (where I was living at that time).
I stood atop the Empire State for an hour or so, out in the cool crisp air. I smoked a last cigarette I recall lasted till New Year's. A dashing young hispanic boy asked me to take his photo, which I did. I recall he looked proud and happy and in a state of "arrival" atop the tower that day. I took it all in, and wandered back down.
Back down on the ground, Aunt Nancy and Uncle Joe had been to Macy's and collected me to take us all back to the train. Aunty was having a great time, but Uncle seemed nervous being in the big city. He seemed disoriented, like he wanted to get out as soon as he could. We hit Broadway, then Uncle said let's head to Times Square, but I thought – "Hang on, aren't we heading south?" I said so. Uncle didn't believe me. I said, "Well, look at those two big towers?" Disgruntled, he listened to me and we turned the other way. The right way. To the miasmic psychedelia of Times Square.
Remarkably, during my visit, there was a fabulous exhibit on "Utopia" (3) at the NY Public Library. Though I was in the city for only five hours, I took the opportunity to take it in. There was a large section on Thomas More (4) with extracts from the original first edition of his "Utopia", and the parts of the exhibit about early new town planning in England such as Welwyn Garden City and the work of Ebenezer Howard. Upstairs, there were items of original uniform from the Communards of Paris. The shirts had buttons on the back that had to be done and undone by your comrades -- thus staunchly turning their back on the individualistic ways of capitalism and decadent western society.
I waved goodbye to the crisp night air (and one rat scurrying into the gutters by the library) and we hit the train back home. We'd left Pittsfield at 8 a.m., and were back at 10 p.m. that evening. Uncle Joe seemed happy to be back; he threw all the digital photos up on to the computer for us all to see. I wasn't interested. I was too busy taking in all the images and sensates still drifting around in my head. Like that young hispanic boy, a part of me had arrived. A part of me had experienced the peak of a civilisation at a unique point in its history.
I wrote previously (5) about my experience in the United States around September 11, 2001, watching the towers crumble on the television in front of me whilst the metropolis of San Francisco descended into quiet chaos around me. As that day unfolded - just like 24 November 2000 - a part of me arrived into the fullness of experience of life in America.
You see, I had lots of friends in the City who had lived through various traumatic events over the past dozen or so years. Friends I knew in San Francisco could recall stories of the 1989 quake, everyone's lives thrown into disarray, services pushed to the edge and often over it. Its the small stories that intrigue. The stench of an I Magnin warehouse with 10,000 smashed perfume bottles. People cosying up at home around candles in a darkened city. Something similar also happened twice in the early 90s: first, the Oakland fire, a conflagration on display across the amphitheatre-like Bay; the second, the Rodney King riots, much worse in LA but nevertheless a scary time in San Francisco. My ultra-liberal friends told me how they coped: white boys put on their blackest hip-hop t-shirts and walked home across chaos-ridden streets screaming "Solidarity!" before running up the stairs into their three-up flat and locking the doors shut. Tight.
The free world today sits on a knife-edge between chaos and totalitarianism. The solid air enveloped in the World Trade Center fell to dust; and that moment in history is fast becoming dust on the accelerating momentum of progress and time. It's 2004, and any air of solemnity that existed in late 2001 and early 2002 is now taken over by global Pop Idols, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the comedic fratboy-cum-deliverance antics of torture in the corridors of Abu Ghraib.
Meanwhile, American politics swirls around in a media matrix disreality. Arnold Schwarzenegger is now the Governor of California. Michael Moore is battling a culture war with Disney over the screening of his new film, Fahrenheit 911, which Disney has now forbidden Miramax to distribute for "undisclosed reasons". The film, Fahrenheit 911 – among other things – covers the events up to and around 9.11.01, and draws detailed links between President Bush and the Saudi Bin Laden family. I see in today's news the Bin Laden's are planning a 160-storey tower in Dubai, which will be the world's tallest, and a centre for the global petrochemical economy (6).
The latest mediapolitic flare up is the film mentioned at the start of this week's article: The Day After Tomorrow. The NY Times reported that former Vice President Al Gore was "disinvited" (7) to the New York premiere of The Day After Tomorrow, only to have the invitation reinstated, along with a special screening the day before for the scientific community. Check out the website for The Day After Tomorrow, and its bizarrely "real" about the threat of global warming and the need for action on this issue. Check out the companion website of Future Forests and you find that the film was the first "Carbon Neutral" blockbuster ever made.
So is the United States taking any action on the issue of global warming? The answer in a gigantic "No!". The Council on Environmental Quality threw out the chapter on global warming in its state of the environment report. The U.S. EPA is doing nothing. And the Federal government is passing laws to stop States from introducing legislation to improve emission controls and auto efficiency standards (such as in California). The Bush administration is even ignoring reports its own Pentagon has commissioned, such as one by the Global Business Network (8) leaked in a Fortune magazine article (9) in March 2004. Dubbed an "Abrupt Climate Change Scenario", the quite serious report outlines the geopolitical implications for the U.S. of sudden climate change impacts. A recent article on Alternet (10) provides a more sober analysis of the situation.
I love science fiction movies, but I can't help but be skeptical about The Day After Tomorrow. If the film presents a sober picture at the end, it will no doubt bomb with cynical U.S. audiences. If it presents a "Let's take a supertanker with boiling water to the North Pole to restart the Gulf Stream" I will be similarly disappointed. At the end of the day, the film will present a messy collision between global realities and media fiction.
One of the more intriguing thoughts for people here in Aotearoa New Zealand, is our place in the world at this strange point in time.
I recall growing up us a child, being told that if a nuclear apocalypse would ever befall the world we'd be the last to go. We'd be the survivors. There's a fabulous engraving by a 19th Century artist Gustav Dore. Its entitled "The New Zealander" (11), and in the picture there is a New Zealander looking out on the ruins of London as if he was a Briton observing the ruins of Rome or Greece. The engraving is a somewhat bizarre past vision of the future; the New Zealanders, at the peak of their civilisation, touring the ruins of an England now long departed.
Even more intriguing is that the ruins shown are those of the then brand new (in 1871) Cannon Street Station. It was part of an art movement dubbed "ruinenlust" for its fascination with ruins and their commentary regarding the temporary state of civilizations. I remember back in 2001, as the dust settled on Ground Zero, NYC, how the ruins had a haunting beauty. The remaining lower side walls of the towers piercing into a dusty sky with its steel and aluminium framing. The buildings mostly tolerated more than disliked, piercing the sky for less than three decades. There was a haunting beauty there that perhaps should have just been left. Bruce Springsteen days later wrote a lament to that vision, in his "City in Ruins."
Perhaps someday similar tragic disasters will befall cities and civilisations in the world. And perhaps they might not have the time nor the care to quickly remove and replace such ruins. They would remain as monuments to the past. And, perhaps, a young man or a young woman from a small little country called New Zealand will come to look. And arrive.
(2) Go to: http://www.ahikaa.com/naked/tomorrow.htm
ABOUT NAKED IN NUHAKA Leo Koziol (email@example.com) writes essays on ecology, identity, culture, place and politics in Aotearoa NZ in the 21st Century. Nuhaka is located on the East Coast of the North Island of NZ.