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No More Disasterporn, Please?

With fears of nuclear meltdown in Japan following last weekend’s terrible earthquake and tsunami, it’d be nice to think that Hollywood wasn’t already working on how to cash-in on our newest fears. Nice, but let’s face it, probably very unlikely.

Maybe I’m just too sensitive to everything that’s going on right now, but I’ve found myself wondering whether there was any chance that the last wave of disaster movies – and alien invasion movies, and superhero movies, and any movies that feature wholescale destruction of buildings, national landmarks or anything similar, for that matter – could be… well, the last wave for awhile, really. Or, at least, the last wave that always puts that kind of thing into a heroic narrative with last-minute saves and stirring music and a complete lack of the confusion and unsettlement that the real thing brings.

Don’t get me wrong; I understand about the demands of the genres that normally feature such scenes, and that such destruction is really just collateral damage in the rampage of the real story – both figuratively and literally, oftentimes – but I wish that there was something out there to balance it out, something that wasn’t necessarily about heroes and villains and epic themes, but instead was closer to… well, real life, where there can sometimes just be uncertainty and worry.

(Typing that, I find myself thinking about ABC’s V, oddly enough, and the way that every single character is not only connected to the conflict, but taking an active role in it. Where are the innocent bystanders? If we had some of them, even just occasionally, maybe the show would have more depth and feel less like a glossy direct-to-DVD adaptation of a videogame.)

It won’t happen, of course; even 9/11 didn’t put media off destruction for too long, even though at the time it felt as if everything had changed, and the flipside of all these stories we’d watched for so long was finally visible. It’s much easier to ask audiences to buy into this kind of thing by making them make sense, after all, and making things into stories where there’s a definitive ending and, more often than not, happy ever afters. Yes, I know that Warners pulled Hereafter from Japan because it featured a tsunami, but that seemed more about saving face than a genuine attempt to be sensitive (After all, it was still released on DVD in the US the following day); I just wish that, just once, the entertainment industry would look beyond benefits and publicity and start coming up with something that doesn’t appeal to our base natures and desires to be comforted and told that everything will be alright. But instead, everything that’s going on is probably leading to meetings where nuclear disasters are being talked about as new hooks to make things seem more timely and more relevant to today’s audiences. What’s that saying about “cheap holidays in other people’s misery” again…?


  • that guy

    Totally agree. Please, Hollywood, give it a rest.

  • lead sharp

    I kinda agree. While I’ll stand by the right of anyone to make anything they wish (so long as it’s legal and so on) I would say that people right now are looking something to lighten their day rather than remind them it might end.

  • Jesse

    You act as if “disaster-porn” is the only type of story coming out of the entertainment industry. The nice thing about having so much media to choose from is that you can ignore what you don’t like. If it bothers you, don’t read/watch it. Simple enough.

  • Adamh12110

    I think there are two different lines of thought here. One is the desire to get away from the mayhem and disasters so commonly featured in blockbuster movies. This I can understand. Even without all the disasters happening in the world, it can feel a bit like too much. We not only get desensitized to how tragic the real ones are supposed to be, but also to the sense of excitement that the fictional ones are supposed to create. However, on the other hand, you suggest that these movies show more of the sense of unease and confusion that such things cause and maybe focus on the innocent bystanders and how they cope. That brings up the question of “aren’t we unsettled enough by what’s happening in the world?” Hollywood movies are kind of the modern fairy tale where good is rewarded, evil is punished and everything ends well. There’s basically a question of desensitization versus escapism here.

    My suggestion: watch other genres for a while.

  • Anonymous

    Wrong, wrong and wrong.

    On 9/12/01, the most-rented video in the country was Independence Day. People were making side-by-side comparisons with the horrors they saw on their TVs live, and often found the fake explosions more impressive.

    We LOVE this stuff. And saying it’s wrong to make disaster movies after there have been real disasters is as muddleheaded as saying we’re not allowed to make jokes about tragedy, or any other touchy topic.

    We make movies and tell jokes to DEAL with tragedy. Children draw pictures of horrific events so they can deal with them. Japan has been destroying itself in Godzilla movies for years, a film that was itself made to deal with the horror of nuclear armageddon.

    Now if you want to say it’s wrong to make a movie that directly exploits a traumatic event with no attempt to put the feelings in context, I might agree. After all, look at all the negative piublicity The Day After Tomorrow got when it came out and exploited people’s fears of global warming. Oh, wait…

    I think the reason our skin has gotten so thin is cause we’re stretched so tight worrying about everything. Jokes are jokes, movies are movies. Don’t speak for other people, claiming “I’M not offended, I’m speaking for those who might be” .

    If that person over there is offended, let them get up and leave. If enough people do that, that kind of movie won’t get made anymore. We need to stop assuming we know what’s in other people’s heads, and asking things not be said or done because someone else who you don’t even know, see, or may not even exist will be potentially diminished.

    (sarcasm)And by the way, I found your use of the term “last wave” to be highly offensive. (/sarcasm)

  • Evil_s2003

    Disaster movies are a Hollywood staple. Ones like 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow are so based in fantasy you’d have a hard time tying them to reality.
    I’m a fan of disaster movies and when I watch them I don’t think about what’s going on in the world today because movies are my escape (second only to Comic Books) so, as long as we get interesting scenarios, I don’t have a problem with disaster movies being made.

  • Charles Pechonick

    “but instead was closer to… well, real life, where there can sometimes just be uncertainty and worry.”

    Seriously? Movies are about escapism. People don’t want to go see something filled with uncertainty and worry. They want to see someone over come something far worse then anything that they are facing so that they can feel good about the chances of overcoming their own problems…

    They want to forget their own problems for those two hours and see big bangs and excitement…

    That is the way the majority of people feel and want.
    That is why the movies you talk about make big money while the real life indy movies dont.

  • D Tenore-Bartilucci

    “I wish that there was something out there to balance it out, something that wasn’t necessarily about heroes and villains and epic themes, but instead was closer to… well, real life, where there can sometimes just be uncertainty and worry.”

    They’re called “documentaries”.

  • Excelsior

    You hear that Hollywood. We want an Ostrich with his head in the sand movie. You see the best way to deal with harsh reality is to ignore and deny its existence!!

  • Santos. L. Halper

    How can you know what the most rented video on a single day was?

  • Scavenger

    Well..there goes my reply.

  • Santos. L. Halper

    From IMDb, here is the list of top rentals for the week ending Sept. 16, 2001:

    Independence Day is not on the list.

  • Anonymous

    So does this mean you also don’t want movies involving Nazis since the Nazis were terrible? How about no movie with war at all since war is so bad? And disease is also terrible. IN fact let’s make sci-fi movies with no stakes or risk of death toll, let’s have them just be PG movies without any death or threats. Gimme a break.

  • Jacob

    Exactly, I’d never heard a Justin Beber song until about a week ago. It’s not hard to avoid annoying things. It just involves your brain going “Ouch, hot, do not touch” but with entertainment.

  • Anonymous

    Well now that you mention it, photos suggest they’re trying to diminish the amount of Nazis in the Captain America film – Red Skull is wearing HYDRA insigniae, not swastikas.

  • Palmer
  • Kdiebold8715

    imdb isnt the most reliable source to use but yes i would like to know where that stat came from too….i also completely agree with you.

  • Dsaturnyne724

    this type of thinking ruined the authority after 9 11 and fucked dc wildstorm… stop being so sensitive .. its a movie not a documentary

  • Anonymous

    Political correctness and hypersensitivity will eventually ruin movies. As studios and marketing houses rely more and more on people with no interest in being challenged entertainment will just get worse and worse. And then the people who are the cause of it, the whining people who are offended by everything, will wonder why we have so many movies based on cartoons and toys, with interchangeable plots and characters.

  • Wyatt

    In fairness, the Hydra symbol is more prolific because there are multiple nations in Europe that have ‘anti-propaganda laws.’ These laws make it difficult to profit off of the use of symbolism that the lawmakers found offensive. So Marvel scaled back on the swastika to avoid any issue. As such, in this case blame France, Austria, and one or two other nations that have similar laws, and not Marvel (this time)

  • Scud

    That’s lame as hell.

  • Rob T.

    Yup, you are too sensitive. Even when the big evil hollywood puts out “disasterporn” (which I guess says you think that apocalyptic mayhem on the screen is the same as showing naked people getting it on) the stories always contain people overcoming the odds. That makes for good story. Why watch something where the person has to overcome their need to internet surf when you can watch someone having to literally surf the tides in order to survive.

  • Deanjsimons

    Nonsense. Business is business. If a large proportion of the population thought the same way as you then sales of these movies would decline and the studios would have no reason to pay for them in the first place. Unfortunately popcorn mashers don’t all want to sit and watch another biopic. Disaster movies with big explosions make money. Moral standards don’t apply in a balance sheet, what does apply is who will buy and is it worth the investment.

  • Yanks5179

    There were disasters before Japan, and will be disasters after. Placing a moratorium on all disaster movies is ridiculous.

    Should they perhaps shy away from specifics like “Disaster: Japan” or “Tokyo Tsunami Terror?” That’s one thing.

    But to never have a movie of a type that has been a staple of Hollywood for decades because there have been real disasters is like suggesting we never have a movie where war or crime occurs, because of the real victims of real instances.

    If people don’t want to see such movies, they don’t have to; they can go see some completely innocuous film with gumdrops and rainbows and instead of getting popcorn, they can super-size a bucket of Get Over Yourselves, and it’ll all be fine.

  • Mideon

    Personally I think it was ridiculous how the media overreacted after 9/11 in regards to what can and cannot be shown on TV. Like abolishing every image of the towers from every form of media that they could, for example. I think the reaction to Columbine was about 100x worse and much less deserved though.

    Keep in mind, I’m neither American, nor overly sympathetic to dead strangers haha

  • Anonymous

    Actually, with all these disasters happening so close to 2012, people’s interest in disaster movies will probably increase.

    I’m not saying I don’t agree that they should, for example, have less tsunami movies for a while, as a sign of respect to the families of the victims- but human fascination with mass destruction will probably never fully go away.

  • Rene

    If the Japanese were so sensitive to nuclear horror as Graeme implies, we’d never have Godzilla.

    No offense taken, but Graeme is the dude in this site that I most disagree with. You really got an abrasive manner, you know that?

  • Palmer

    It’s been confirmed that the movies will have Nazis and that HYDRA is a sect within them.

  • Jmacdougall

    Because Hollywood is all about dealing with HARSH reality!

  • Jmacdougall

    Business is business like the slave trade or genocide. Come on whats with the morals.

  • Joh

    Yeah it’s not like this was 9/11.

  • Anonymous

    I concur. We’ve had a bunch of “Aliens out to eradicate the human race” movies the past few years. It would be nice to have a new take on Close Encounters or E.T. where they aren’t coming to kill all of us.

  • Mameluco

    If you don’t want to watch “disasterporn”, buy tickets to another movie. Simple.

  • Jacob

    You mean like Paul?

  • Jacob

    I am American, and I completely agree. I remember people flipping out when Fringe showed them still standing post-9/11 (but no mention that the White House was apparently destroyed instead xD).

    But the disaster in Japan is far worse. Current official death toll is over 18000.

  • Jacob

    I have no idea what you said.

  • Xenos

    Well, calling something pornography is a giant red flag in the first place. You’ve already discredited any value to films featuring large natural and man made disasters. Yes, cheap Hollywood disaster films are one thing. Yet to say no one can talk about potential or recent disasters? That’s insane and overly sensitive. Not everyone wants to stick their head in the sand. That’s like saying you can’t have any media talking about a recent war, when there are clearly plenty of people who want to say something about it and plenty of people that want to watch something.

    Also, let me add that the so called disaster with the nuclear reactor is hardly that. It’s a serious situation, but the way the media is focusing on it and ignoring the real horror of the tsunami and earthquake that caused is it even more disgusting. There are plenty of other radiological and chemical dangers much greater people, especially these idiots in California, need to worry about than a reactor leak in Japan.

    Yes, if they’re cheap, then it’s just a bad and expletive movie. If Hollywood has a movie about a horrific reactor leak with all the scientific accuracy of 2012, The Day After Tomorrow, or ID4? Yeah, that’s pornographic. Yet a serious look at the human loss of recent disaster like that Hereafter? While you have to tread carefully, I don’t see why you need a moratorium on the subjects. Just don’t make a bad movie about them

  • doggydaddy

    I have a sneaky suspicion that this tradegy will only speed up Godzilla’s retirement. Seriously.
    Godzilla X Destroyah was primarilly about atomic meltdown and it’s unstoppable consequences.
    Some of the more recent films had him arriving at a dockside waterfront with a tidal wake washing over everything. Most all of Godzilla’s films are made in response to current worries and especially man vs nature. Nature wins….
    Toho’s tenacity for destruction is best demonstrated in Submersion of Japan, While watching the destruction as it ocurred, I had a feeling that I had seen this before. It was odd.
    The weirdest thing was that Guillermo del Toro announced Pacific Rim, which from the sound of things, is probably the ultimate Japanese kaiju disaster concept.

  • doggydaddy

    whoops.. I meant that Godzilla’s return from retirement will be sped up.
    Del Toro’s announcement came out on the day of this disaster.

  • RunnerX13

    Forget Japan, these movies are simply terrible, but Hollywood will never stop making terrible movies.

  • Anonymous

    Not sure Paul counts since it’s a comedy. Does Rango count as being a “western”?

  • Zen Strive

    Just wanna say: Hi Vinnie :)

  • Jacob

    Howabout District 9? That wasn’t a comedy. (not seeing how comedies don’t count, but okay)

  • Jacob

    Considering the only thing he posts on this site are articles like this, I highly doubt anyone on this site agrees with him.

  • Anonymous

    District 9 was a good one, even if it was a ‘dark’ film. Still, that we have to search to find those kind of movies while we keep tripping over bunches of “disaster porn” films just makes my point.

  • Jacob

    I don’t see how we had to search for it. I’ve named two alien movies that have come out in the past two years that weren’t an invasion story. Are they out numbered? Definitely. But there are other films out there.

  • Anonymous

    I’m not just specifically talking about Invasion movies, I’m talking about “WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE!” type movies in which someone or something is out to wipe us out. Ranging from Zombies, Viruses, Aliens, Asteroids, or even the damn Trees trying to kill us all. (The Happening)

    These type of films are far and away more numerous than any hopeful visions of the near or far future.

  • Jacob

    Except you haven’t mentioned that before this post now.

  • Anonymous

    I was only using aliens as an example of the type of movie the article is talking about.

  • Anonymous

    According to the director, Joe Johnston, there are plenty of Nazis in the movie, including the head honcho, Hitler himself.

    The reason for Hydra being prominent in the film has more to do with merchandising than political correctness. It would be difficult selling toys to kids with swastikas on them. But that won’t be a problem with a Hydra symbol on them. The bottom line always comes down to $$$.

  • Anonymous

    In direct reaction to this article, The Wife and I wrote about our favorite disaster films on her blog.