Recently I had a Facebook friend post this link and write “Is it just me or is whole Polar Vortex thing starting to feel like a Michael Bay movie?”
In case you don’t want to check out the link, it is to an NPR story that essentially explains that the polar vortex that the United States is the violent byproduct of global warming and the strange systems that govern out precariously-balanced global climate. In other words, we’ve thrown and awful monkey wrench into the ecosystem and now we’re reaping the whirlwind (literally).
But why Michael Bay. Frederic Jameson famously said that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is the end of capitalism, but what does it mean when our apocalyptic thoughts go not to The Road Runner‘s endlessly-replicated media wastelands, but instead to the methodical destruction of all of the modern comforts of life in the advanced capitalism of the United States?
I use “methodical destruction” advisedly here, because I really do believe that Bay’s films tangle with some fundamental anxieties of the here and now. For me, Transformers: Dark of the Moon had very little to do with robots fighting; instead, it was about the collapse of Chicago, about the ruination of modern life, and the anxieties of an immaterial world where what is known and familiar becomes overwritten with totally unpredictable phenomenon. It is this last point that drives most Bay films: prison breaks, meteors, aliens, and even the attacks on Pearl Harbor are at the core of the films that Bay creates. He might be the most important filmmaker of rupture that we have right now.
Once again, why does the polar vortex call to mind Michael Bay? It doesn’t seem real. It seems to be from nowhere, a “freak” occurrence unprecedented in the order of things. Seeing Lake Michigan creep into Chicago, covering everything in ice, literally killing people who are caught in it — all of this was an elaborate fantasy a decade ago. Now it is pushing its way into our lives, moment by moment. It juts out. It is the uncanny effect of the World smashing into our daily lives.
Michael Bay is our beacon of hope. We need a semi-Romantic art that helps us believe that we can conquer nature and live on. We need someone to imagine catastrophe for us, to give it shape, and then to make us believe that. We’re almost certainly beyond the tipping point of global warming. The equator will burn and ice will encroach from the poles. The chances of recovery from this are small, and virtually impossible now, especially since many people the world over refuse to even believe that the process is occurring. But we have Michael Bay. We have the strange faculty of human hope.