Total Drek

Or, the thoughts of several frustrated intellectuals on Sociology, Gaming, Science, Politics, Science Fiction, Religion, and whatever the hell else strikes their fancy. There is absolutely no reason why you should read this blog. None. Seriously. Go hit your back button. It's up in the upper left-hand corner of your browser... it says "Back." Don't say we didn't warn you.

Friday, October 08, 2004

I like to think the end of the world will be better acted.

I had the opportunity recently to watch the 1998 sci-fi "epic" Armageddon. For those who aren't familiar, this is a movie starring Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck, Billy Bob Thornton, and the freakishly large-lipped Liv Tyler. It tells the story of a team of roughneck oil drillers who are launched into space aboard two experimental titanium spaceshuttles to stop a Texas-sized nickel-iron asteroid from striking the Earth and wiping out all life.

I know, I know, it's funny. No problem. Seriously, take your time laughing. I'll wait.

Ready? Okay. Seriously, that's the plot. So is this a good movie? No. Oh, merciful christ, no. It's bad. I mean, really, really bad. To give you a concept of how bad, let me tell you about the first time I saw this flick.

Back when Armageddon came out I was working a summer job as a camp counselor. Now, we lived 24/7 in cabins with no air conditioning in the middle of rural Florida. Add in 8-10 young children for every 1.5 "adults" and you can imagine how much fun things were for the counselors. Now, half-way through the camping season one group of campers would leave and we'd have a night off before the next group came the following morning. So, on our night off, we all drove to the nearest town (about an hour away) to see a movie. That movie was Armageddon. We would have done something more fun but, hey, we had to be back on-grounds by midnight.

So, for the first time in weeks I got to sit for a prolonged period in air conditioning and watch entertainment that wasn't either Baywatch or the local gospel show. By the time this movie was over I was, honestly, not sure if it wouldn't have been better to stay at camp, sweating my ass off, and maybe praising me some Jesus. Yeah. That bad.

What makes this movie so goddawful? Well, first off, the totally inappropriate humor. Now, when I say this, I want you to imagine the gruesome practice of putting a body on display so people can pay their respects before a funeral. You know- people come by and cry, pat the corpse, remark on how life-like it looks, etc. Now imagine that your cousin Lenny comes up to the casket, say your father's casket, and proceeds to try to lighten the mood by pretending to give aforementioned dead body a blowjob. Just picture that: Lenny's head pumping up and down over your father's dead crotch. Well, all of him is dead, not just the crotch, but you see my point. THAT is what I mean about inappropriate humor. It means to be funny, but it's just so out of place that the entire scene is painful and vaguely offensive to watch.

The second thing that makes this movie so awful is that it lacks even a passing familiarity with science. Let me say that again in a way that cannot be misunderstood: if this movie and science were two guys on different ships at sea, they wouldn't even be in the same damned ocean. They're about as far apart as two things can be. I don't actually know what's worst: the confusion of acceleration with speed, the lack of understanding of the difference between relative speed and absolute speed, or the fact that our intrepid astronaut/drillers bring along not one, but two mini-guns. Why do we need mini-guns to stop a huge asteroid? Don't ask me- I'm just a sociologist.

What hammers the last stake into this particular vampire is the way that it goes over the top. I mean way over the top. Colossally over the top. We're talking about praying crowds outside the Taj Mahal, we're talking 12 year old boys in overalls racing through Kansas corn fields. We're even talking about a speech from the president of the united states (lower case here because I'm referring to a make-believe president- you know, like George W. Bush) that rivals Bill Pullman's from Independence Day in terms of sheer schmultz. About the only way this movie could be more over the top would be if it included a paraplegic little boy with cancer whose stripper-mother could only afford to get him the chemotherapy that would save his life if the evil rays of the death-asteroid were stopped. Oh, and maybe there'd be a dog too. There's always a dog.

Holy shit, I hope I didn't just write a screenplay there.

Now, while I enjoy awful movies to a certain extent, that isn't the entire reason why I'm bringing this up right now. I bring it up because the flagship post over on Public Sociology made me think of it. The post I'm referring to is titled "Tragicomic Sociology." (I'd link to it, but there seem to be some bugs still in the Berkeley Blog.) Okay, fine, technically if we're going to talk about the flagship post, it would be the earlier one titled "Welcome to our new home." (Again, sorry, no link, same reason.) If we're going to be that technical, though, then we should really talk about the last incarnation of that blog, in which case the flagship post would, perhaps, be this one. Confused? Yeah- me too. Hopefully Public Sociology will enjoy a long and fruitful life at its current home, because I just don't want to have to grapple with issues like these any more than necessary.

In any case, bmoodie tackles the question of why leaders of major parties in the United States seem to come from rich families, whereas in Great Britain they come from lower social stations. S/He cites structural causes as the responsible forces, arguing that our electoral system is the culprit. I have no particular quarrel with this interpretation. In fact, I think S/he has a pretty damned good point about our governmental structure and I think S/He is probably largely right. There is just something I'd like to add, and it relates to the horrid movie I started this post with.

In Armageddon our main character is an oil driller named Harry Stamper, played by Bruce Willis, whose daughter, whom I will refer to as "Filler" (because god knows her only purpose is to stand around, cry, and look pretty), played by Liv Tyler, is preparing to marry another driller I'll call "Stud" (Similar reason) played by Ben Affleck. Now, Harry isn't too pleased about the impending marriage of Filler to Stud and resists it with all his ham-fisted might. At one point, however, he observes to his drilling crew that he didn't work all his life so he daughter could marry a roughneck. He follows that up by saying, "She's better than us. She's better than all of us."

Indeed. We all know, or should know, that the doctrine of Social Darwinism has been taken too far, particularly in arguing that those in the upper classes are somehow "better" than others. Yet, despite this discrediting, I wonder if some aroma of it doesn't persist in modern American culture. In our supposed meritocracy, those who have money, who have prestige, who have homes and pretty cars, are thought to deserve them. Since anyone can have these things if they work hard, it must therefore be the case that anyone who works hard will have them and anyone who does not have such things doesn't work hard. Ridiculous? Yes. Illogicial? Of course. Popular? You betcha. Perhaps Americans, who live in a supposed meritocracy, prefer the rich because, unlike the British, we think that wealth equals merit. I've said this before, so some of you may be bored, but I think it's worth repeating. In a society that equated worth with birth perhaps it's easier to resist the notion that one's material circumstances determine value. Ironically, perhaps the American determination to reward effort may be backfiring by justifying a classist understanding of the world.

So why do American voters prefer wealthy candidates? Well, because of the structural causes bmoodie so ably identifies, but also for a simple belief: the wealthy must be harder working and better than the poor. Wealth equals merit. Call it a myth, call in the Protestant Ethic, call it the iron cage, but on a certain level, voters prefer rich candidates because they believe that their wealth proves their qualifications. So, America demands a Bush or a Kerry, for the same reason that Harry objects to the marriage of Filler and Stud. A powerful, great nation demands an excellent leader, and how better to select that leader than from the ranks of those who have already proven their worth with their wealth? Of course, the question that follows immediately is this: does it have to be that way? Must the human need to draw distinctions among ourselves always take its toll? To that, I can only offer some good news and some bad news drawn from Armageddon.

The good news? Filler and Stud were married in the end, perhaps suggesting that people are willing to accept the idea that worth and class are not the same.

And the bad news? Filler's dad, Harry, had to get blown up by a nuclear warhead first.

Well, nobody said it would be easy.

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