Trailers shown before my weekend viewing of The Avengers included a preview for other blockbusters; the trailers offered hot samples, like the cinematic variant of something you get in a plastic cup at the Trader Joe’s sample counter–samples of huge, destructive bombast. Producers apparently have no confidence that we’ll be interested in any calamity that isn’t world-sized. Vessels containing thousands of soldiers were destroyed in the Battleship trailer, massive buildings were flattened, fireballs festooned the preview like red balloons at a 12 year old’s birthday party. This was followed by spicy samples of the new Spiderman movie with trailer bites of more huge destructive bombast, including, yes, festooning fireballs, a succession of wrecked buildings, bodies flung wildly about and impossible action. (I fully intend to see it.) Even before the previews, there were previews–HD video about a TNT alien-invasion TV series involving, you guessed it, huge destructive bombast.
I haven’t been one to denounce this kind of thing–I am one of those people who defend the sci-fi action film Independence Day–though some people point to it as the beginning of the end for true American cinema. I enjoy the ride, if well crafted, and as an ex punk-rock singer, I enjoy the world-class ruination. But for decades social critics have fretted, “Aren’t people getting jaded with this? Isn’t it boring for them? Aren’t kids getting the idea that mass destruction itself is…fun?” Those questions were perhaps precipitous–until now.
In the 21st century, special effects have become so effective, huge destructive bombast has become so prevalent in film, you have to wonder if the nervous nellies were right. Sitting in the audience during The Avengers–a clever film fraught with huge destructive bombast which I thoroughly enjoyed–I turned and glanced at the kids a few rows back. They were having a good time, but seemed strikingly unimpressed by the extraterrestrially-expedited execution of countless people. They are, after all, veterans of many Transformers viewings. How far can we take this? Will it take us in a circle, from the gigantic back to the particular? Will we soon be surfeited…with huge destructive bombast? How much can you consume and still be interested?
John Shirley is the author of numerous novels, story collections, screenplays (“THE CROW”), teleplays and articles. A futurologist and social critic, John was a featured speaker at TED-x in Brussels in 2011. His novels include Everything is Broken, The A SONG CALLED YOUTH cyberpunk trilogy (omnibus released in 2012), Bleak History, Demons, City Come A-Walkin’ and The Other End. His short story collection Black Butterflies won the Bram Stoker Award, and was chosen by Publisher’s Weekly as one of the best books of the year. His new story collection is In Extremis: The Most Extreme Short Stories of John Shirley. His stories have been included in three Year’s Best anthologies. He is also a songwriter (eg, for Blue Oyster Cult), and a singer. Black October records will soon be releasing a compilation of selected songs, BROKEN MIRROR GLASS: Recordings by John Shirley, 1978-2011. The authorized website is at john-shirley.com