In the town where I live fireworks are not only legal but are easily accessible thanks to a fireworks stand on every corner. As soon as it was dark out the neighborhood erupted in a cacophony of explosions. A brief walk to the end of the block revealed that dozens of our neighbors were out on the sidewalk setting off firecrackers, roman candles, and in one case even running out to the middle of the road to set off a box of skyrockets during a gap in the traffic. The echoing thunder from other firework displays near and far never stopped rumbling around the horizon and the air was actually hazy from all the smoke.
Having had my fill of real-life explosions I retreated back into the house to watch "Independence Day". I remember seeing "Independence Day" for the first time when it was in theatres in the mid nineties and I was curious to see how well it held up in the present day. An establishing shot of the New York skyline featured the Twin Towers signifying that this was a film from another era. This was followed by the appearance of enormous, ominous alien ships over major cities including New York, Los Angeles, and Washington DC. This was followed by the fiery destruction of all three cities beginning with landmark buildings such as the Empire State Building, the US Bank Tower, and the White House.
"Wow," I thought, "You couldn't make that movie today!"
And then I remembered that one of this summer's blockbusters is "White House Down" which I haven't seen yet but I've already seen trailers rife with fiery explosions coming out of White House windows.
And then there's "Olympus Has Fallen" in which the White House is destroyed by North Koreans.
That's messed up. I realize that just by pointing this out I've probably added myself to several watch lists and will probably get an extra pat down at every airport from now until forever, but I repeat: that's messed up!
Do American's really like watching the White House explode? Personally I think not. I think it is, deep down, one of our greatest fears. There is a fear in all of us that our way of life might very well be blasted to oblivion in front of our eyes and every time we run that thought across our mind we get a little frisson of dread. But when we are confronted with this dread in the form of a movie there is a little part of our minds that knows that we can walk away again.
The movie will be over. The White House will still be standing. We will still be safe.
So perhaps this American obsession with extreme violence is our mechanism for dealing with our worst fears: a chance to look at the things we dread the most in the eye and still be able to walk away. Perhaps this isn't a fantasy about destruction so much as a coping mechanism for events like 9-11 where we can't walk away and we don't feel safe and we need the reassurance that we can still survive and be victorious in the end.
And for what it's worth, Homeland Security, I really, really don't ever want the real White House to explode.