Apocalypse Now and Then
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This is Marc Porter Zasada with The Urban Man for KCRW.
Today, the Urban Man finds himself strolling through the Universal Studios theme park near to closing time. Even though the faux 'streets' have almost emptied, the outdoor speakers play the music from some epic Hollywood disaster flick. Again and again it peaks toward a dangerous moment...da da da !.. da da da!! In fact, I've just stumbled out of the noise and fury of the Terminator 2 show, where skeletal robots battled through a landscape of concrete rubble and twisted steel.
At Disneyland, they trade in pixie dust, but here at Universal, they explore an equally basic section of the human psyche. Here, the underyling theme is always apocalypse. The WaterWorld show takes place after a global flood. The Backdraft attraction includes a fire at a chemical factory. The tram takes us through an earthquake. Something has always just gone terribly wrong. The end of the world always lurks just around the corner.
With all the real-life disaster in the news these days, it again amazes me that fake disaster has not lost its appeal. Surely I've learned that genuine catastrophe rarely includes leaping like a gazelle over concrete rubble or utilizing laser tag skills. But I don't expect that Universal will create a ride anytime soon in which I'll be asked to wait for tardy evacuation buses and FEMA checks.
No, the gaudy stage calamities continue to offer their strange attraction. In fact, the worse the news in the outside world, the more the Urban Man finds himself craving the giddy sense of safety these people offer in their little trams and boats.
It's embarrassing to remember now, but when I was a small boy, I hoped that epic disaster would come to my neighborhood. Some big rain would wake my family late one night, and we'd escape in canoes out the upper story windows of our suburban home. Or if I were really lucky, the big one would send us straight back to the stone age. I suppose I wanted not only the cinematic adventure, but the release of responsibility: Homework forgotten. Dishes left unwashed. Thank you notes to distant relatives rendered unnecessary.
The people who run Universal know that even adults secretly harbor such fantasies -- at least when we're sitting safe in cushioned seats and air-conditioned theaters. Briefly, we daydream about an end to our own orderly lives: No more tax returns. No more visits to Aunt Edna. No more payments on that absurd hunk of metal in the two-car garage.
At last, I recall that Freud wrote a little book about the hidden wish to see everything come crashing down. He called it Civilization and Its Discontents. Of course Freud got the idea all mixed up with sex. Here in Hollywood, we'd never make that mistake.
This afternoon at Universal, I feel a hint of true autumn in the air, and as I head across an open plaza graced with the huge, intimidating sculpture of a Coca-Cola bottle, I find the benches almost deserted. From the overlook, I can look west across the roofs of soundstages to a smoggy stretch of the valley, where the sky has begun shredding to red.
Standing here, the Urban Man forces himself to let the real news return to his memory. As a result, I wax less and less enthusiastic about apocalypse, and grow more and more content with mere civilization. By the time I head for the exit, I find myself looking forward to paying taxes, washing dishes and writing thank you notes to necessary aunts.
Overhead, the music from the outdoor speakers peaks again: da da da! da da da!! But now it seems to offer a forlorn and bitter kind of splendor.
Copyright- 2005 Marc Porter Zasada. All rights reserved.
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