It was over 30 years ago that Godzilla first walked the imaginary
earth, along with all the others of that Japanese gang; Rodan, Mothra, Ghidra,
and the rest. In virtually every one of these films the City of Tokyo was
featured as the movie monster's playground and was totally and repeatedly
devastated in the process. The devastation continues to this day in Japanimation
epics where the destruction of Tokyo 2, 3, 4 proceeds in formulaic ritual. The
psychic echoes of the carpet bombings and nuclear attacks in World War II
regenerated as manufactured images and exported all over the world.
The Japanese in World War II were the first to see their entire
culture overcome and all but destroyed in the Black Rain of our technological
future. The common wisdom is that we "won" the war against the foreign terror.
Did we win the war? Did anyone? In the dark years of the war, following the
economic devastation of the Great Depression our economic models were rebuilt in
the model of new machineries for destruction and consumption. Men went to
battle, women entered the military factories and the countryside was emptied by
a vast migration to the urban centers of industry. Rural communities were
replaced by suburbs, rolling plains and hills by mazelike patterns resembling
transistorized circuitry. The almost total replacement of nature and culture was
accomplished with little resistance. Social relationships were replaced by
statistical patterns of consumption and the family and community were absorbed
by a televised spectacle with little connection to either time or space.
As a child my recurring nightmare was of being trapped alone in the
darkness, locked outside of my house as the world was shaken by the thundering
footfalls of an immense and unseen approaching giant.
30 years later Godzilla returns, amped by 30 years of progress in the
spectacular replication of reality through special effects, and this time the
monster arrives to destroy Manhattan, the generative center of the post
industrial apocalypse. Surveying the recent and upcoming lineup of Hollywood
spectacles one contemplates a landscape of almost total destruction. Last year
it was volcanoes and aliens. Next year it will be monsters from the depths and
comets from the heavens. The message coming through these collective dreams and
nightmares is one of both memory and prophecy. Like the Japanese, we feel the
delayed aftershocks of an event so destructive that our response has been a
profound and numbing collective denial. For Americans, in the heart of the
technological beast, the devastation has been almost total. The illusion called
'progress' largely masked our smooth descent into Armageddon. Although we never
witnessed first hand the havoc of nuclear wipe-out, we've been like the victims
of Chernobyl, wandering through the wreckage of a blasted culture while lost in
gazing at our own reflection in a cloudy glass. As we go forward the destruction
inevitably escalates as the technological world evolves through cycles of
repetition and replication, eventually and inevitably leading to obsolescence.
Driven by endless demand and mindless consumption, the consumer world can only
end by being consumed.
Prophecy is really a function of memory. We look at the past and
project the patterns we see into the future. In the age of the spectacle we play
out our prophecies and memories in a scenario born on sound stages and in
special effects labs. Every year we invest more of our resources toward a quest
to achieve the perfect replication of reality. The image we perfect is that of
our world being destroyed. Like children that have been violated we are driven
to express deep rage in orgies of projected violence. At the end of the
Millennium the highest achievement of popular culture is the construction of the
perfect disaster. "Titanic," "Volcano," "Independence Day," "Terminator,"
"Armaggedon," and "Godzilla" have become the true legacies of a culture on the
brink of Judgement Day.
Ralph Melcher is a freelance editor and essayist living in Santa Fe,
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