Debating the political effects of bad movies
The Day After Tomorrow is now in theaters. I will not be attending — not because of the film’s ludicrous environmental theories, which make for some cool-looking FX, but because the director dissed Chicago. Reading the reviews, however, it’s clear that the film has put left-of-center movie critics in an awkward position. The Hartford Courant‘s ...
The Day After Tomorrow is now in theaters. I will not be attending -- not because of the film's ludicrous environmental theories, which make for some cool-looking FX, but because the director dissed Chicago. Reading the reviews, however, it's clear that the film has put left-of-center movie critics in an awkward position. The Hartford Courant's Deborah Hornblow, for example, thinks the film will help the environmental movement:
The Day After Tomorrow is now in theaters. I will not be attending — not because of the film’s ludicrous environmental theories, which make for some cool-looking FX, but because the director dissed Chicago. Reading the reviews, however, it’s clear that the film has put left-of-center movie critics in an awkward position. The Hartford Courant‘s Deborah Hornblow, for example, thinks the film will help the environmental movement:
[Director Roland] Emmerich’s thundering, sometimes pulse-pounding summer blockbuster is a digitized city-destroying, freeze-drying depiction of the effects of manmade global warming. Inspired by scientific warnings and early evidence that the Earth’s atmosphere is changing because of mankind’s abuse, “The Day After” is a scientifically hyperbolic clarion call to greedy fossil-fuel consumers and Bush administration pols who refuse to recognize the problem, much less do something about it…. For all of its chilly scenes of destruction and Emmerich’s practiced control of the dramatic tension, it is one of the disappointments of “The Day After Tomorrow” that it is so unbelievable. The film does capitalize on our collective guilt, but it makes too much of it, catapulting itself into the realm of hyperbolic nonsense…. It is with palpable glee that Emmerich uses his film’s premise to throw snowballs at targets ranging from Tinsel Town to the Bush administration. The white-lettered Hollywood sign is obliterated by a tornado. A shopping mall is shrouded in ice and snow. The issue of Mexican immigration and border crossing is reversed, as Americans stream toward the border, only to be forbidden entry by Mexican patrols. Kenneth Welsh’s vice president has the wire frame glasses, white hair and the intransigence of Dick Cheney…. All that said, if “The Day After Tomorrow” gets even one person to pressure a congressman or trade in a gas-guzzler for a subcompact, it will justify all of Emmerich’s digital exaggeration. (emphasis added)
Slate’s David Edelstein frets a little more about blowback:
[I]f I had to catalog all the moronic plot turns in The Day After Tomorrow, we’d be here until the next ice age. It’s just so very bad. You can have a pretty good time snickering at it—unless, like me, you think there’s something to this global warming thing, and you shudder at the irony of a movie meant to warn people about a dangerous environmental trend that completely discredits it…. The sad part is that Emmerich really thinks he’s making a political statement, and he and his producers and actors are making the rounds blabbing about the movie’s message to the world. As a German, he’s no doubt eager to teach the United States some humility: The most amusing scene features North Americans racing illegally across the Rio Grande as Mexican troops attempt to turn them back. But the mainstream American audience won’t want to know from humility, even in a fantasy alternate universe. It’s too Jimmy Carter. Meanwhile, global-warming experts I know are already girding themselves for a major PR setback, as everyone involved in this catastrophe becomes a laughingstock. Is it possible that The Day After Tomorrow is a plot to make environmental activists look as wacko as antienvironmentalists always claim they are? Al Gore stepped right into this one, didn’t he?
[So what’s your take on this global warming deal?–ed. Click here to find out.] UPDATE: Julian Sanchez has a wickedly funny take on the flick:
Having seen it, I now want to be the first to say: are you f***ing kidding me? George Bush should be buying people tickets to this movie. It’s preposterous from start to finish—maybe the D.C. audience has an unusually ironic sensibility, but the crowd was laughing from start to finish, during many of the ostensibly most dramatic scenes…. The catalyst for the movie’s meteorological mayhem is an ice age brought on practically overnight by a vaguely specified disturbance in the Atlantic current caused by melting icecaps. But the effect is not to deliver some kind of chilling, potentially mobilizing warning about the perils of our current environmental policy. Instead, the fantastic and sudden global catastrophe turns a genuine issue into a sci-fi threat: It puts global warming in roughly the same category as attacks by Godzilla or The Blob…. In short, the movie makes a genuine (if tractable) problem into high camp. It’s about as likely to spur political pressure for more environmental regulation as the X-Files movie was to prompt demands for an alien invasion defense force.
Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast. Twitter: @dandrezner
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