The United States: Hollywood’s Effigy For Earth

Why is it that almost every disaster movie, whether it is natural, alien, zombie, etc, occurs in the United states. I’m not saying that there are not plenty of disaster movies that occur in other countries. One disaster movie that I enjoy in particular is Train to Busan, a zombie movie that occurs in South Korea. However, I find that the majority of popular disaster movies occur somewhere in the United States. More specifically, these movies tend to focus on a select few states like New York, California, and the nation capital, Washington DC. Does this simply occur due to the shear amount of movies that are produced in the US, or is there more symbolic reason behind it. I obviously cannot provide you with this answer, but I will give you my opinion.

Applying this to the question of why so many disaster movies are set in the US, we can see a few explanations. One possibility is that these states are highly populated and with plenty scenic views that many city or suburban dwellers could relate to. A second option is that these types of cities/states can be found all over the world and are more cost effective to film in since they are closer to Hollywood than, lets say China. A third and my last idea as to why this happens is due to hometown bias illustrated by some Hollywood producers. It is my personal belief that it is a mix of all of these options that lead to most disaster movies being produced in the US. According to www.Statista.com, the US produces the highest movie revenue of any country. Even though they are far from producing the most amount of movies each year, it can be said that more people pay for movies produced in the US than that of other countries. Therefore, it can be said that if any of these ideas are correct (if any) it sure does show.

Regardless of what causes movie producers to set most disaster movies in the US, they are using the US as an effigy. They can’t set a movie in every country and therefore choose to do it in one. Directors and producers are using the US as a stage for what is happening in the rest of the world. Going back to our course discussion on Joseph Roach’s “Echoes in the Bone”, Roach defines the word, “effigy” as,

“a noun meaning a sculpted pictured likeness. More particularly it can suggest a crudely fabircated image of a person, commonly one that is destroyed in his or her stead, as in hanging or burning in effigy. When effigy appears as a verb, though that usage is rare, it means to evoke an absence, to body something forth, especially something from a distant past (OED)[…]it fills by means of segregation a vacancy created by the absence of an original” (Joseph Roach).

As to why these producers use the US as an effigy, I can not definitively say; however, they are doing so nonetheless. In doing so, they seem to act according to one one of two reasonings.

They might be acknowledging the limitations of movies and using specific locations of economic and/or cultural importance. These sites are usually well-known regardless of where the movie is released and are therefore going to be seen as at least somewhat familiar to viewers, even if they have never visited the site. Additionally, through this well-known state/city/landmark, they represent the world at large. It “fills by means of segregation a vacancy created by the absence of an original”. Since the whole world would be both difficult and expensive to film for a singular movie, they use what is closest and what is well known. For example. I want you to look at these two pictures. One is a picture of New York and the other is a picture of Beijing. Picture 1. Picture 2. Ignoring the names of the cities being present in the links, how easy is it to tell which picture is of which city? Sure there are certain landmarks unique to each one, but a city is a city is a city.

The second option, is very much like the first. However, they are using the US as a representation of the world, not because it is what they are limited to, but because it is what they know. Again, the situation is the same in that a city is a city is a city; however, here it is simply because they know nothing else. Writers who try to depict what they are unfamiliar with, might have a hard time doing so. Sure they have the internet to look at pictures and articles about various locations, but without ever experiencing the land for themselves, a true representation might never be achieved. Therefore they write about their home country/state as they are familiar with it at even the street level. If a writer really wanted to illustrate another country that they had never visited, they could hire an informant who could help them bring their illustration to life, but that costs time and money.

I honestly cannot say which of these options are the right answer even if there was an answer period. I believe that the reason could be a mix of each in that setting placement is a matter of time, money, familiarity, and ability to illustrate. Though producers, directors, and writers may have their own agendas beneath the overall reasoning, again I will say, they use the US as an effigy to represent the world at large.

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