“Be afraid. Be VERY afraid.”
I’m quoting Geena Davis in David Cronenberg’s 1986 fim, The Fly, but the phrase has come to express humorous pandering to aficionados of tales of horror and suspense in film. Like the ubiquitous, “In a World …”, the phrase used in trailers by basso voice actor Don La Fontaine, a few words summon the delicious anticipation of fear and relief.
Why do we pay good money to be frightened? Who waits in line to ride the “Ferris Wheel of Misfortune” or the “Tehran Neck Cracker” The Chinese and Irananians apparently. But here at home, at California’s Magic Mountain, the “X2”, the world’s first four dimension roller coaster, built at a cost of 45 million dollars, if not for the pandemic would be sending merrily screaming patrons into the fourth dimension, beginning with the slow ascent to the ride’s starting point 20 stories above ground. Then, 3,610 feet later, reunited with Earth, the survivors would likely line up to do it again. In this case, terror does not come cheap; admission to the Six Flags Park runs about $92.00.
Delicious terror it seems serves some deeply ingrained need in the human psyche. I’m pretty sure none of my dogs would have paid a biscuit to be hauled 200 feet in the air, then dropped like a rock. We’re animals too, I know, but something in our highly evolved state appears to need an adrenaline infusion from time to time.
Today’s sermon, however, has to do with the unique circumstance of life that meets me this morning. In the U.S., we are living the two of the most popular tropes in film history: The Disaster Film, which includes the Dystopian Disease genre, and The Very Scary Crazy Government Film, including the Evil President genre.
Hollywood, usually way out in front in depicting nasty events about to land in our backyard, completely missed the Access Hollywood bus on this one. I’m not aware of a pandemic dystopia coupled with a rogue despot, but there’s one right outside my door.
Actually, just to press the point a bit more forcefully, we are living in three separate and equally horrifying proto-disasters:
The Covid-19 virus has just done what viruses do – come up with a mutant strain that is more contagious That’s the sort of wrinkle even the impressive array of viral outbreak films avoid. Rabid, 12 Monkeys, Outbreak, 28 Days Later, and Plague brought bad news, especially as it is now clear that both vampires and zombies are the result of viral infection, but none of the zombies, for example, mutated so that a shotgun blast to the brain no longer put them away.
Incredibly, the pandemic has numbed us to the now brutally obvious current climatelogical and meteorological disasters already in motion. I live in the Pacific Northwest where climate has changed, drought is an issue, and fire is a constant threat. So, when I step back from the other immediately outrageous crises hitting the headlines, I do think about climate change. As I step into a meadow and hear no bird song, yes, I remember that biodiversity as already been mangled. Deforestation? All around me. Polluted water isn’t an immediate issue for me, yet, but there’s no reason to believe that it’s not around the corner.
Just to tie all of this together, epidemiologosts and climatologists both point to poor governance as the most pressing danger right now.
When President Trump was elected, John Mulaney suggested that the proper analogy was that of a horse in a hospital. That was then, when many of us expected an impulsive self-obsessed celebrity to do considerable damage to the agencies of government, and from the start, the horse blundered its way through the safeguards designed to keep a nation on course. Hollywood loves the bumbling president trope; it used to seem amusing. The president-might-be-crazy-evil trope is less common and pretty scary, as the nasty career of President Francis Underwood revealed in House of Cards.
Ok, let’s amp things up just a bit more. Let’s say the rogue president cannot be controlled, and in his self-promotion attracts a constellation of followers, some of whom are armed to the teeth and more than ready to resort to violence in order to reclaim a nation the president has assured them has been stolen. Let’s say the promise of inclusion, progress, and democracy actually had a foundation of sand, and that race and religion coalesce in righteous anger. Let’s say a nation devolves into a battle of competing realities. Let’s say that blood may well be spilled as the new president is inaugurated.
In this world, it is entirely appropriate to be afraid, very afraid.