The original Godzilla, in its first cinematic incarnation (1954), was a veiled criticism of American firebombing of Japanese civilian cities. Some scenes, such as Japanese defense forces impotently firing their guns at an impervious enemy, a radio announcer choosing to broadcast words of farewell rather than evacuating, the thermonuclear monster disappearing toward the sea after the destruction was done, all echo specific incidents of the war.
Two years later, Hollywood released Earth vs the Flying Saucers, the first of many movies featuring aliens in superior flying vehicles attacking, nominally the planet Earth, but actually the United States. You do not have to even look at the short, slant-eyed space creatures to see where the inspiration came from.
Eventually, as memories of the war faded, and new forms of paranoia took the place of the old, Godzilla evolved into a kinder, gentler monster and flying saucers gave way to Star Trek.
Popular stories are a product of our common fears and obsessions. Which begs the question: Why are we so obsessed with zombies today? The answer seems quite straight forward. We see zombies everyday in our lives. Money obsessed capitalists shooting themselves in the foot environmentally to achieve their narrow minded objectives. Power obsessed politicians doing everything but serve their country to get where they are going. Overworked office employees mindlessly doing their segmented and compartmentalized jobs. News media telling their divided constituents what they want to hear for the sake of ratings. Even books and movies, tracing the manuals, covering the bases, and repeating the “sure fire” formula.
And the vampire obsession? Doesn’t the blank, emotionless face of Kristen Stewart remind you of every teenager you ever worried about? The stories are not so much about vampires as they are about alienated teenagers: People who stay up all night, live on disgusting nutrition and complain that they do not feel alive. These are people who believe their lot will continue forever and are bored to death before the fact. They do not have to worry about growing old or making a living, yet are encumbered by their own set of problems that nobody but themselves understand. They feel invincible and dead at the same time. You see too many of these people and they are encroaching on your world. Why wouldn’t they be reflected in popular culture?
So what is the next big thing?
My guess: Romeo and Juliet. Seriously. Think about it. We live in a world where Bill O’Reilly and Bill Maher co-exist and compete for audiences. A world where some colleges are so sensitive to heresy that comedians refuse to perform on the campuses, while other colleges are so sensitive to heresy that they teach that the earth is five thousand years old. These are the modern day Capulets and Montagues bickering in a world where refusing to serve a wedding cake, the most peaceful way to voice objection imaginable, is a reason to close down a business, and bringing a phony hand-made bomb to school, a prank straight out of Disney Channel, is a cause for nationwide brouhaha. If a world so divided were to be reduced to a simple popular entertainment story, it could either be about people caught in an Aliens vs Predators setting, a couple of star-crossed lovers caught in a schism, or both. Or maybe Romeo and Juliet in an Alien vs Predators setting in Wonderland. Since the schism is between people who disagree on whether or not the world is melting, let’s say, Romeo and Juliet in an Alien vs Predators setting in a smelting Wonderland.
Is that too obvious? Too clear a reflection of the daily news for fictional entertainment? Maybe we should change melting to freezing. Instead of space aliens, we can make them medieval looking warriors in quasi-European/Japanese armor fighting for supremacy. In order to compensate for the lack of monsters, we can throw in a few dragons if you like. And instead of just one pair of lovers, why not a whole family scattered across the landscape. A mother, a father, a few brothers, a couple of sisters torn by war and other circumstances would make for good melodrama. And why not throw in a dwarf or a cripple, just for diversity’s sake? Okay, so we have The Game of Thrones.
Now we are looking at a formula. This just might be the next big thing. A Swiss Family Robinson caught in a violent and divided world. What are we going to call this genre? Divided world fiction? Conflict romance? The genre is about Incidental Separation in an Intractable Schism. That would be ISIS. Hmm. I think I need to work on that.