Disaster Movie!

SUBHEAD: The economic crisis is playing out like a slow motion disaster movie.

By John Schettler on 3 August 2009 in The Writing Shop -

Image above: Tibetan monk rushes to mountain top sanctuary. Scene from "2012", From http://www.apple.com/trailers/sony_pictures/2012

 I just happened across a couple of trailers for what must surely be the granddaddy of all disaster movies, arriving in theaters November 13, just in time for the holiday turkey fest. The movie, 2012, is a spin off all the furor over the Mayan calendar supposedly tabbing the end of the world to occur on Dec 21, 2012. And brother, this movie has it all.

Trailer 1 shows a frantic Tibetan monk rushing up the steps to his mountain top temple watch post and hammering the great gong there to ring out a warning. But what could he be worried about up in those inaccessible mountain hideaways... renegade Yeti?

 The answer, just a few frames later, shows a massive wall of seawater literally inundating the Himalayas, spilling over the vast peaks and promontories in an unstoppable deluge, which is enough to cement the idea in your head that this promises to be one hell of a disaster movie! Trailer two, in living HD, has a grand montage of amazing Hollywood special effects scenes.

Ominous warnings from the Mayans are followed by a mass suicide event, rioting in the streets, trouble at the hajj, crumbling statues, a meteor shower interrupting a family outing, collapsing buildings and skyscrapers, government officials fleeing in air force one, the Vatican laid waste, massive city swallowing sink holes, Miami sliding into the sea, a huge tidal wave sending the aircraft carrier JFK cascading into the White House—all this from the director of "Independence Day" and "The Day After Tomorrow".

Gotta love that guy. After we open up a can of whup-ass on the aliens thanks to Jeff Goldblum and his Apple Macintosh (fully compatible with Alien technology), we then manage to survive the whole northern hemisphere being blown into a deep freeze by the mother of all perfect storms…now we get the finish, the grand finale, the end of the world as never seen before on the big screen!

Traailers: "2012"

 I guess the whole nation is a tad shell shocked from the never ending disasters that crossed the headlines in recent months. We’ve had front row seats to our very own disaster movie. No it wasn’t St Peter’s Basilica collapsing or skyscrapers falling like dominoes in our cities. The building are all still standing, though some are strangely empty now, devoid of life, tenants, useful productive activity.
In some cities, like Detroit, there is an eerie fog of gloom. Houses sell there for less than a down payment on a new car. Neighborhoods have become abandoned tracts of copper gutted repos. It wasn’t the grim reaper that visited the city, but the grim repo man. Hard times bring out the Godzilla in any real director’s heart. I’ve often thought that the Japanese fascination with death ray spitting dinosaurs trashing Tokyo was their way of culturally processing Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

In like manner, recent Hollywood offerings have reflected our own sense of cultural doom, as we all struggle to cope with the end of no-doc loans, equity extraction, our collective credit card binge, and the sad fact that one in five is out of work, and two more in five have seen their retirement go up in smoke over the last year, all thanks to the Boyz on Wall Street that we’ve been bailing out with truckloads of taxpayer money.

 In December of 2008 I wrote: “2009 will be the year the choking, asbestos ridden smoke of the financial collapse settles into the lungs of the broader economy. It is no wonder that all through the eight year agony under Bush we have been treated to Hollywood mega-buster spectaculars like The Day After Tomorrow, 10.5 Apocalypse, Volcano in New York, Category 7, The Eleventh Hour, Perfect Storm, Children of Men, I Am Legend, and Cloverfield, where a monster of immense proportions lays waste to New York’s expensive high rises, spawning hundreds of tiny rapacious raptors who do the real damage down on Main Street.

The movie moguls have shown us the destruction of New York in every way possible, but their imaginations pale before the audacity of men like Bernie Madoff and the appalling financial scandals that ravaged Wall Street and brought the economy to the edge of perdition. In 2009 the pain ripples out like a cloud of steel eating nano-bots from The Day The Earth Stood Still, and it will leave no city or town in this country untouched.

It will end as it began, in neighborhoods all across this nation, where real estate loan sharks duped one family after another, people who had come to them for that hope of the American Dream, with nothing down and a teaser rate, interest only, adjustable loan rigged to go off like an IED.” So this mega-disaster movie could not be better timed.

Think of it like the “three minute warning” before a sudden death clock runs out in a sports event. It screens just two years before the “real disaster” is scheduled to occur, giving us all plenty of time to pile up tin cans of spam, bags of flour and rice, and shotgun shells. But when you see these video clips the scope and breadth of the disaster will reduce all your “head for the hills” doomer preps to much ado about nothing.

Because if that monk in the Himalayas ain’t gonna make it out of this movie alive, neither are you. At least we have the lead actor John Cusak to remind us “don’t worry, we’ll all stay together” as the world comes ripping apart at the seams and everything that hasn’t already been destroyed in a previous movie gets utterly obliterated while a chorus of drunken medieval choirs sings ominously in the background with their ever so taunting “I told ya so!” set to a full orchestral score. What a way to spend an afternoon with a big bin of buttery popcorn! Why, it looks almost as thrilling as the trading pits on Wall Street.

All these disaster movies are our way of psychologically processing the loss of the great American Dream—or rather the rude and sudden awakening we have come to now that our homes are no longer ready sources of quick cash and the credit cards are all maxed out. Unfortunately, what we’ve been through so far is just the trailer of what may yet be coming.

Dimitri Orlov set down the four stages of collapse that I wrote about last year in The Road Ahead. We’ve witnessed the first stage, financial collapse, and the second stage of commercial collapse is well underway. Just ask GM and Chrysler, who would have no chance of recovery were it not for things like free "Cash for Clunkers" artificially boosting sales for a few weeks or months.

If Orlov’s roadmap is correct, then the third stage must be nigh at hand—political collapse spawned from disillusionment and resentment that the changes promised by the new administration have not come. Instead Larry Summers has mounted a full court media press to try and convince us all that the recession is over, but that new taxes may be a necessity now. The powers that be have been filling the airwaves with a lot of happy talk and positive chatter about green shoots and therecovery.

Yet the “fundamentals” that all the analysts on MSNBC talk about are not promising. Wall Street and the banks may fool themselves by hiding bad assets with accounting tricks and rules changes. They may announce phony profits to boost the stock tickers, but the reality on Main Street has gone from bad to worse.

Speaking of those fundamentals, James Kunstler wrote on Aug 2:

“Here, in the dog days of summer, it seems to me that the situation in the USA is so fundamentally bad, so unpromising, so booby-trapped for failure, that I wonder if there has ever been a society so badly deluded as ours. We're prisoners of our wishes, living in a strange dream-time, oblivious to the forces gathering at the margins of our vision, lost in a wilderness of our own making.”
We’ve seen the banks topple, the storied firms on Wall Street pan-caking down on one another like floors of the World Trade Center. Months later the smoke and ash has finally reached our neighborhoods. Trying to sell your home now for anything close to what you paid for it in 2005 is a near impossible task. The lines at the unemployment office just get longer while the government continues to fudge the numbers, pairing the “official” rate down to about half of the real figure for joblessness.

People’s benefits run out and they are no longer counted, yet they still face the hollow reality of a life without productive work, and wonder how they can possibly pay their bills or keep themselves fed. How long before this pain becomes resentment directed at the government and we get to Orlov’s stage III political collapse? The movies we watch are so catastrophic that when we exit the theaters this November, right at the start of the “holiday shopping season,” things will look fine by comparison. Our buildings will still be standing. There will be no terrible monsters in our streets.

Tidal waves will not have washed away the White House and swamped the Himalayas. 

But the relative calm on our streets may be deceptive. The quiet despair building in households all across the nation will have to be resolved in some manner. It could be that the non-stop entertainment that has so served to distract us from our pain will no longer suffice. Our “Obstacle Golf” and our “Feelies”, the distractions Huxley penned into his novel Brave New World, will no longer delight. The soma of alcohol and marijuana may prove incapable of deadening the pain.
People may then look for other means of expressing the simmering anger and resentment they feel. There may come a time, all too soon, when conspicuous displays of wealth will be bad for one’s health. The ratio between Rich Dads and Poor Dads is already badly skewed in this country.

The few that have may soon feel the growing wrath of the tens of millions that have not. If you read the rosy headlines promising an end to the recession these days, then tour Main Street, you will quickly perceive this disconnect, a vast disparity of wealth that just gets worse each year. The media reports on what is good for Wall Street, thinking that when everything gets back to normal there the rest of us will soon benefit as well. It’s just the first stage of the grieving process—denial.

But if we move from denial to the next stage, anger, all bets are off. The political honeymoon with Obama and Change.gov is already long over. People will wonder what has really changed, and soon.

As Wall Street announces its Christmas bonus payouts, things may get ugly on Main Street when people can’t afford to engage in the normal swipe and spend reflex of holiday shopping. I wonder if Black Friday will have a new meaning this year? At the moment we are all wondering how this movie will end. If we follow Hollywood’s normal template, things will suddenly be better and we’ll have a real family loving ending as the final destruction of earth is narrowly averted and all is well again. The existing political establishment wants us to believe the worst is already over. They go on the TV talk shows and Sunday morning news to lay out the talking points, but reality is reality.
The worst will be over when the nation starts putting people back to work, and finally paying down its debt, but this isn’t happening—nor is it likely to happen until 2012 and beyond. I’ve read lots of forecasts on what the finale of this flick might turn out to be. Some predict the US must eventually default on its debt, devalue the dollar, and start over, like pressing the reset button on your computer.

Too many people already have that look of complete shock that Tom Cruise so ably portrayed (in 2004 version of "War of the Worlds") after he witnessed the first alien Tripod emerge from beneath the tar and asphalt of his neighborhood. They’ve lost their home, joined the migrating masses looking for a new rental, a new job. Millions more have seen their access to credit cut off, their portfolios and 401ks shrinking, their prospects for the future diminishing. And folks, Tom Cruise can’t save us from this one, and Keanu Reeves or and John Cusak certainly can’t save us either.

By the same token, cheery trumped up news assessments will not make all the pain out there suddenly vanish into history, no what Bernanke, Geithner and Summers would like to have you believe. Debt has to be either paid back, serviced, or defaulted on. We cannot take option one, as the debt is so massive that we can barely manage option two and need the Chinese and Japanese to buy out T-Bills by the billions each month to stay afloat. Lately, however, China has been cutting back, and the Japanese have been trying to slip across the Swiss border with suitcases full of bonds.

Hummm. Could those predictions of default come true in a theater near you soon? So far we are all still in the seats, watching it all unfold on CNN and MSNBC. But things could change. National sentiment could move from the seats to the streets if things get much worse in home town America. But then I guess that’s what a Swine Flu Pandemic is good for—tamping down growing public unrest with the trumped up fear inherent in the word “epidemic.” Want the vaccine? Better behave. Otherwise it’s a FEMA camp for the unruly.

Image above: Tibetan mountain top under the ocean. Scene from "2012" Sound preposterous? 

Let’s see how you feel next January. The last taunting line on the official 2012 movie poster reads: “We were warned.” You can go back years and years ago and read the warnings I made about the disaster movie we are living through these days. Ditto for most of the better bloggers out there, like Automatic Earth, Kunstler, Orlov, Denninger, MISH, Weiss, and so many others.

Yes, we were warned. But the official 2012 movie logo also asks another interesting question: “Who will be left behind?” As always, the answer looks like Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan. Isn’t capitalism wonderful?

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1 comment :

Mauibrad said...

Oh, those are some neat trailers. Looks like there may be a little too much drama and not enough science in the movie, but I'll pay to go see it anyway, next November.

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