Culture Notes: Oil Spill Monster

As the days went on and BP kept failing to contain the Gulf oil spill, the disaster’s cinematic predecessor became all too obvious: every monster movie in which a man-made accident spawned an (almost) unstoppable creature. (The “almost” part of the BP spill remains to be seen.) From giant ants in the Southwest desert to Godzilla to the Blob, the stages of the scenario in those movies (official fumbling, attempts at cover-up, initial efforts involving Army men with guns, then the heavy artillery that falls uselessly to the ground, and finally crackpot schemes that at least look sort of cool) are a prediction of the BP catastrophe and its slow-winding aftermath, complete with helpless public looking on from the sidelines. The Army men with guns will have to be taken as a metaphor, but you get the idea. Especially important, in both fiction and reality, are the men of business/science who failed to plan an adequate exit strategy.

Even B-movies (especially B-movies?) can operate as rehearsals for public anxieties, and those monster movies were doing their job. I talked about this phenomenon on KUOW’s “Weekday” program this morning with host Steve Scher, along with a few other topics. The talk is here, and the movie  bit begins around 14 minutes in. (If the Marvin Hamlisch references sound like non sequiturs, he was the – awesome – guest during the previous hour of “Weekday.” Actually, the references are still non sequiturs, but that was the inspiration.)