“The Dead Stay Dead”

In his book Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance, Joseph Roach titles a chapter “Echoes in the Bone.” Roach himself acknowledges the title as a nod to a play by Jamaican playwright Dennis Scott entitled An Echo in the Bone. The allusion is fitting for the chapter in Roach’s book that deals primarily with remembering, forgetting, and the deceased, as Scott’s play is centered around a Nine-Night Ceremony. The Nine-Night Ceremony, according to Roach, “welcomes the spirit of a deceased person back into his or her home on the ninth night after death has occurred.” It is a ceremony that engages in the wider, cross-cultural discourse on the remembering and forgetting of the dead. Continue reading ““The Dead Stay Dead””

The Paradox of Disaster Movies

I’ve seen The Day After Tomorrow more times than I’d like to admit. At least four separate occasions, possibly five. After the third viewing, it sort of blends together into blurry mess, and my impressions of the movie become far less potent with each subsequent screening.

I can understand when someone repeatedly re-watches their favorite movie. Some are just so packed with fine details that it feels like a new experience each time. Unfortunately, The Day After Tomorrow is not my favorite movie. I wouldn’t even consider it a good movie, and my opinion of it has become even less flattering over time. So, why, exactlyhas this movie been repeatedly drilled into my brain?

The answer lies within its nature. The Day After Tomorrow is categorized, quite neatly, as a disaster movie. It fits right in with the likes of Deep Impact, Twister, 2012, and Dante’s Peak, and even alongside some of the sillier films in the genre, such as The Core and Armageddon. Most of these movies, to some degree, follow a pretty standard format: A researcher in a niche field of natural sciences gives an ominous warning of the dangers that he discovers from his research. His warnings are quickly cast aside by rivals, deniers, or greedy politicians. Suddenly, a disastrous situations erupts that is conveniently relevant to the researcher’s area of expertise. Now the viewers must hold on to their seats as our hero traverses the volatile results of this disaster to either “solve” the problem or save as many people as he can. Throw in some child bystanders and a montage of cities being consumed by rampant special effects and you’ve got yourself a movie!

The “nature” of these movies lies within their appeal. Yes, some viewers might enjoy the suspenseful or interpersonal struggles of the protagonist in the midst of his predicament. Yes, many are suckers for the “destruction porn” provided by the blob of special effects crashing into an urban environment. Sometimes these movies have comedic or romantic elements that can keep people entertained. However, the thing that keeps people coming back has a lot more in common with that of horror flicks: Audiences crave the adrenaline from fear. They’re addicted to projecting themselves into terrible situations that would stimulate their primal urges for danger and excitement.

The requirement for these movies to achieve this exact thrill is that they must be remotely grounded in reality; if they break the viewer’s suspension of disbelief, then the thrill, and subsequently the appeal, dissipates. Because of this, most disaster movies have concepts (usually loosely) based in science, bringing forth and exaggerating familiar concepts such as storms, earthquakes, and meteors. The success of these movies hinge on people’s natural fears of these phenomena. In order to ramp up the excitement even further, many disaster movies brand their plots as “warnings” in attempts to convince their audiences that these events are realand it could happen to you! 

The reason I’ve seen The Day After Tomorrow so many times is because the “warning” it gives has been relevant to a number of courses I’ve taken throughout high school and college. In eighth grade I took a low-stress extracurricular class on alternative energies, and the teacher showed The Day After Tomorrow to demonstrate their necessities. In ninth grade I took earth science, and as a treat after a test the teacher decided to show a movie. That movie? The Day After Tomorrow. In twelfth grade I took an environmental studies class. Needless to say, we watched The Day After Tomorrow. Now, deep into my college career, I’ve found myself watching The Day After Tomorrow once again.

Some may say that the popularity of these movies are a good thing. It would be logical to assume that people who are more aware of the consequences of global warming from this movie would be more conscious of their carbon footprint. Or that those that watch Twister would know how to protect themselves and their families from tornadoes. Or even that the viewers of Deep Impact would advocate for better preparation in the case of a major asteroid collision. However, these movies are more likely to cause more problems than good.

The problem with disaster movies is that, while they present the audience with extreme examples of theoretical disasters, they undermine the actual consequences of natural disasters that happen every year. A disaster movie isn’t going to show a family hopelessly watch the California wildfires slowly approach their home, or an elderly couple being stranded on their roof for three days after the flooding of Hurricane Katrina, or a Kenyan village gradually starving because the annual average temperature rising six degrees Celsius killed their crops. While tragic, real-life disasters would be considered “boring” to the typical disaster movie audience. People familiar with disaster movies are less likely to care about the victims of a real disaster because it wasn’t as “flashy” as what they see in the movies, like how a suburb being flooded by five feet of water isn’t as emotionally impactful as the entirety of New York City getting leveled by a giant tidal wave.

Disaster movies set up an impossible expectation for disasters to be large, sudden, and exciting. People often don’t realize that they simply aren’t so extreme. Many actual disasters are small (relative to what’s seen in the movies) with the real dangers being the long battle of endurance rather than flying debris or giant fireballs instantly killing people. When someone tunes in to the fallout of a natural disaster but is “disappointed” by the severity, how would that affect their sympathy towards the victims, or their willingness to help? While disaster movies certainly give the impressions of being omens of the future to come or inspirations for the resilience of the human spirit (also usually tugging at the watcher’s emotions by destroying beloved national landmarks), the over-the-top display of natural forces delusions people to what it means for others to experience danger and tragedy.

It should remembered that movies, despite how realistic they claim to be, should never be taken seriously. The film industry is, after all, a for-profit industry, and is more than willing to stretch the truth to increase drama or justify having crazier special effects. It may be difficult for common audiences to disassociate disaster movies with actual disasters, but if that is ever achieved we would certainly end up with a more socially and environmentally aware society.

(As a side note, it should be pointed out how problematic the ending of The Day After Tomorrow is for people who might take it seriously. The movie doesn’t do anything to offer a solution for people to pursue, then goes on to depict the storm dissipating on its own, as if to say “Even if this did happen, don’t worry! The problem will fix itself soon enough.” What a great lesson to teach your children.)

On the life and death of Muhiyidin Moye, Black Lives Matter activist

In February, 2017, Muhiyidin Moye leaped across police tape to remove a Confederate flag from the hands of a Demonstrator in Charleston, South Carolina– and it was captured on national live television. A prominent Black Lives Matter activist, Moye took an intersectional and local approach to his work, rising in protest in Mount Pleasant against Trump’s attempted Muslim ban, and speaking vehemently about the structural inequality and history of white terror that led to the murder of nine black churchgoers in Charleston in June 2015.

Muhiyidin Moye during a meeting with the North Charleston, S.C., City Council in 2015, discussing the killing of Walter Scott. Credit Chuck Burton/Associated Press

Continue reading “On the life and death of Muhiyidin Moye, Black Lives Matter activist”

The Intersecting of Paths

During the process of analyzing the maps in the World Atlas book, something that struck me was the question of what cannot be seen on a map. The question confused me at first. I didn’t think much could be shown on a map. A map to me is defined as a geographical location with aspects of coordinates and a key are involved. Locations have populations; populations are a group of people; and a group of people hold a certain culture and a type of identity. Generalizations occur as groups of people can be stereotyped by their geographical location. Assumptions of socio-economic class, wealth, behaviors, and attitudes can be made. This type of preconceived notions can be a dangerous due to not individualizing people but instead grouping people together in terms of location. “In a sense, every place is unfathomable, infinite, impossible to describe, because it exists in innumerable versions, because no two people live in quite the same city but live side by side in parallel universes that may or may not intersect, because the minute you map it the map becomes obsolete, because the place is constantly arising and decaying.” (Unfathomable City, 1)  Continue reading “The Intersecting of Paths”

Children’s Culture and Children as Effigies

One of the things that struck me most at the beginning of the semester was how Beth pointed out that “make-out spots” aren’t included on maps, which got me thinking about how children’s culture is not recognized, or legitimized, by adults. Maps—a reconstruction of the landscape—tend to reflect wider societal mores and values, not a constantly changing and developing viewpoint of minors. Children’s culture, however, is important—it’s rooted in developmental years that shape a child’s world view—so why isn’t it recognized and legitimized? Continue reading “Children’s Culture and Children as Effigies”

Performance of Memory & Conspiracy Theories

Well I’ve put this off for far too long…

As we continue to read our text in class it is very easy to see parallels between the key points we take away from the text and the actions of the characters (performers) in “When the Levees Broke.”

“Echoes in the bone refer to not only to a history of forgetting but to a history of empowering the living through the performance of memory.” —Joseph Roach, “Echoes in the Bone”

Apart from marginally having the best nickname in the film, Harry “Swamp Thing” Cook was the first to talk about the boom, or explosion, that happened in the lower ninth ward during the storm. The noise was never fully explained, but the residence had several theories as to what it was. Some suggested it was a transformer, a barge hitting the levee, a hole in the levee forming into a crack, and most noteworthy intentional dynamiting of the levee. This is the resurrection of the 1927 rumor that the levee was intentionally destroyed in Saint John Parish, and flooded more than a million people out of their homes, to preserve more expensive lake front property.

This was “never proven nor disproven,” however the parallels between the two disasters are incredibly strong and, conspiracy theories are stronger than levees. They can be overwhelmed by facts and not so much as crack. However, it doesn’t seem as if this conspiracy theory has been overwhelmed by facts, on either side of the argument. Professor Doug Brinkely of Tulane University, claims in his book “The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast” that the people of New Orleans have had a sensitive on-going history with poor, racially based, treatment while in the face of disaster.

Professor Brinkely’s argument spawns directly from Roach’s key themes of the performance of memory. By performing the memories, the residents of the ninth ward—such as “Swamp Thing” himself—that witnessed the unexplained “boom” felt empowered to understand the present. “People who believed that the levee was dynamited, have a long experience of being ripped off.”

And it’s true, between hurricane Betsy and the 1927 floods the rural/impoverished sections of New Orleans have had a long history of misfortune that is clouded with the suspicion of poor justice. In a Time Magazine article, Joseph Uscinski, associate professor of political science at the University of Miami claims, “Conspiracy theories are for losers.” Professor Uscinski does not mean this is a derogatory way, but in a literal way—people who have lost.

I find this very relatable. When I was a high school cross country runner we lost the federation championship to St. Anthony’s high school, horrifically. We were seeded to win… but we got our asses kicked. After the race settled weeks later a rumor surfaced that the team was using P.E.D’s to win the race. I believed it. I wholeheartedly thought I lost to a bunch of cheaters. But looking back at it, I know this is ridiculous to believe! We were children! I know that now, but now that I have distanced myself from the situation I know I should have known that then too. But I was too preoccupied being a loser.

In our topic of the flood history of New Orleans this is also very applicable. Every person involved had lost, whether it was family, homes, things or mental health. There were no winners. Yet weather or not (pun intended), the levees were intentionally destroyed, it is likely we will never know. There isn’t strong evidence for either side of the argument. But by performing the memories of the past, the citizens of New Orleans will feel more empowered to believe whatever they suspect.


A brief discourse on “effigies”

I had meant to make this post after last Friday’s class, but I was a fool and forgot about it before the weekend began.

The idea of a celebrity as an effigy, a totem or avatar without a deep, intricate personality, is not something revolutionary in our society, as we passively and impartially observe the lives of famous people rise like phoenixes and fall like dominoes; Roach says as much in his novel: “Performers are routinely pressed into service as effigies, their bodies alternately adored and despised but always offered up on the altar of surrogacy” (41). I feel that this schizophrenic state of adoration and alienation is one of the key driving forces in the culture that surrounds the celebrity identity, as they must make sure to be ever-appeasing, lest they incur the wrath of the paparazzi and the general public. I find no better contemporary example of this than the musician, entrepreneur, public figure of Kanye West.

Lampooned by everything from South Park to 30 Rock to Jimmy Fallon, West has built a reputation as a bombastic entertainment figure with a penchant for public fights and outbursts about how great he is as a musical genius; his arrogance is the key to his personality, as even among the rapper community he stands above the rest in that regard. However, West is very personal in his lyricism, as he writes songs lamenting his alienation form his friends, family, and the public in light of his successes, declaring in “Pinocchio Story,” “Do you really have the stamina for everyone who sees you to say, ‘Where’s my camera?’ For everyone who meets you to say, ‘Sign my autograph!’ For everyone who sees you crying to say, ‘You ought a laugh.'” His lyrics also speak to social commentary, opening ‘Jesus Walks’ with the phrase, “We at war. We at war with terrorism, racism, but, most of all, we at war with ourselves.” Yet West is still known primarily for his uncontrolled outbursts of emotion and self-aggrandizement.

Despite his intents, he is not taken as seriously as he should be, and this can best be observed in the now infamous declaration he made while helping to raise money to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina. While standing beside Mike Meyers, West spoke personally about his reaction to the news coming out of New Orleans in Katrina’s wake, the portrayal of black citizens just trying to survive as “looters,” and the free reign given to the armed forces to shoot anyone deemed “dangerous,” before avowing, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” In this instance, West is pointing out verifiable issues of status and inequality in American society, but all anyone knows from the event is the soundbite at the end, as West firmly places his foot into his mouth. And for this he has been both adored and despised but the American public, making himself into an effigy of uncontrolled emotion and poor judgement. Not as a man working to bring important issues to light, but simply a petulant fool with poor judgement. Yet in this regard, he is still an effigy, and he is still pressed into that role as a performer, going through the motions to maintain the clout that he does have at this time.

“Remember me, but ah! forget my fate.”

Several classes ago we examined the photo of the troubling, arguably morally ambiguous, scene of the ‘Tot-Tanic’ in a park that Professor McCoy stumbled into. I believe it is fair to say that most of us in the class were quite taken a back that this horrific, albeit quite deeply embedded in the past, event was willfully turned into a playground for children to jump on and slide down. This reaction got me thinking about what we have investigated into Roach thus far regarding the many kinds of performances of both remembering and forgetting. Continue reading ““Remember me, but ah! forget my fate.””

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.