5/15/2006

White Float

WASPs beat out cockroaches when civilization goes belly-up.

Went to see Poseidon Sunday with my friend Robert. Movies like Poseidon aren't good entertainment in and of themselves. The acting was unbelievably bad owing to an awful script. And we have seen better special effects. But as a cultural document of our time it's definitely worth a look.

Movies like this are products tailored specifically for mass consumption. That's really the sole point of them. And there's nothing wrong with that. There's entertainment value even in the washed-out stereotypes the studios think we'll identify with. It's like pandering politicians. Or your parents trying to be cool. Somehow they always get it wrong, but it's flattering they think enough of us to try.

My favorite character was Richard Dreyfuss's. In case we missed the fact that he's supposed to be GAY, the filmmaker's had him wearing a HUGE diamond stud in his left ear. There was, of course, nothing subtle about anything in the film, but you don't go to a disaster movie in search of subtle insights. I thought sure the Dreyfuss character would end up being the Shelly Winters of this version of The Poseidon Adventure.

But, sadly, while Dreyfuss was allowed to be gay, and to survive, along with only five other representatives of specific demographic groups (more about which later), he was not allowed to camp it up. At all. Talk about politically correct. BO-RING!

I want to be clear about this. I honestly believe there was nothing even subconsciously subversive about this movie, or any of the stereotypes it depicted. There was no reflexive irony. No meta. Which makes it especially ripe for ridicule, and sets it apart from Mission: Masturbation: III, even.

The two most interesting things about the characters are (a) how helpless and cloying all the women are, and (b) how only the WASPs survive.

As regards (a), are we finally seeing some kind of backlash against the GI Jane Feministas of the nineties? There are no bad-ass Sigourney Weavers here, nothing even remotely butch about any of the Poseidon girls. You’ve got a devoted Latina—a stow-away on her way to America to care for her sick brother. You’ve got a devoted mother, cute tot in tow. And you’ve got a devoted daughter/girlfriend (sure, she gives her overly-protective pop some lip early on, but it’s nothing more than innocent post-adolescent rebelliousness in the end).

The women have no special skills to aid in their, or anyone else’s survival. Their role here is pretty much to alternatively screech in terror, whine about their plight, and make unreasonable demands on their men. The men are eager and for the most part able to please. The gay one doesn’t do much to help anyone, but he doesn’t hurt anyone, either. Well, except for the immigrant busboy he kicks down an elevator shaft. But he only did it because the Alpha male, played by Matthew McConaughey clone, Josh Lucas, orders Dreyfuss to “SHAKE HIM OFF!”

You can tell Dreyfuss feels sort of bad about sending another minority to his death, being one himself and all, but in the new minority hierarchy (they released it around the same time as the new food pyramid) gays are now above illegal immigrants (but still, surprisingly, below satanists, who are tied with Mormons, go figure). You do what you gotta do.

It takes a little while to shake off the other darkie in the crowd, the castaway Latina, but finally they manage it. It’s a maudlin scene, and everyone cries, except the audience members who’d had enough of her mewling when she got all claustrophobic in an airshaft, of all places (I mean, she’s a castaway, for chrissake), and almost drowns our sexy Alpha with her flailing around and caterwauling. You don’t mess with our Alpha Male, chica.

The interesting thing about her demise by drowning (I mean, talk about unoriginal) is the reverence for her corpse everyone shows. Since there is zero character development, and we have been right there with them the whole time, we have no idea what she has done to endear herself to her cohorts. Unless whining, bawling, freaking out in air vents, and screeching, “I can’t go on!” are suddenly endearing qualities (guess I didn’t get the memo).

But, wait. It’s not only her corpse that is lovingly attended to, but her cross necklace, which it turns out can been used in a pinch as a screwdriver. Now that’s Practical Christianity. Thank ya Jesus! Halleluja!

Once the minorities are all shaken off (I mean, take a hint), the rest of the rescue is really a piece of cake. SHAKE ‘EM OFF, AMERICA! They’re holding us back.

Another thing I'm not sure I liked or thought necessary was the graphic depiction of death and dead bodies. This movie is chock full of dead bodies, of course, and at points it lingers on them to a degree that borders on perverse. Part of this, I'm sure, is an appeal to a generation of gamers that has finally come of age and expects the graphic and realistic gore they get in their video games. I don't. It's more than enough to suggest without having to see the impact of falling bodies, or to see them impaled or incinerated, or bloody, burnt, and bloated.

There is, in fact, something grossly misanthropic about it. We can laugh at the carnage when it is somewhat abstract, but when we see bodies burnt and piled in a heap in the wreckage, when the camera lingers on the bodies of the dead, we have to ask what the point the filmmaker's trying to make is. I mean, the fact is, Poseidon is not a serious film. It doesn't need these grave images.

Which brings me to my final observation. There are shamelessly unsubtle veiled references to 9-11. And the hunger to see the carnage, perhaps to force some sort of catharsis, as the victims’ statements in show trials seem intended to do, seems to justify the more graphic depictions of bodies being broken in our big screen disaster fantasies.

Because these are fantasies. The cruise ship is the height of decadent luxury our society has to offer, and when civilization is turned upside down, you get Poseidon. Who escapes when civilization crashes? Should we have anything but contempt for those who perished, trusting like sheep in their empty authority figures?

Fittingly if a bit ironically, when finally they emerge from the butt-end of the behemoth, the military is there to pluck them from the ocean.

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