Following our President’s most recent reveal (yes, he is a racist, has always been a racist and will always be a racist), I’ve been searching for a metaphor that encapsulated how I feel about the past several years, some genre reflection that can help me get a handle on it all, a means for understanding it that uses familiar tropes.
It can seem as if we are in free fall, dropping helplessly through a series of calamities, some natural, others of our own doing. From Fukishima, to unprecedented terrorist actions, to endless wars, starvation, gigantic storms, impending nuclear war. It feels like we’re living inside a tin can and someone is rattling it around.
We, as a species, also don’t seem to be able to get out of our own way. Scientists and informed individuals have been talking about climate change since the 50’s and yet the US just pulled out of the Paris Accords. Genocide is being committed in several regions of the world, but all we do is argue about it.
Though tempted to pull our heads in and hope it all goes away, we can’t stop ourselves from watching the train wreck.
All of it has left me feeling rudderless and frustrated.
I found that metaphor in the Universal Serial Flash Gordon’s Trip To Mars.
Ming, having survived the crash of his ship into his palace at the conclusion of Flash Gordon, allies himself with Azura, the witch queen of Mars. Together, they attack the Earth with a ray that causes atmospheric disruption.
Azura, who is universally reviled by her subjects, has the fetching habit of turning her enemies into clay people who can’t survive on the surface of Mars and therefore inhabit an underground kingdom.
The ray is undetected by Earth’s greatest scientists who are seeking more prosaic explanations for the catastrophes -volcanoes, earthquakes – and are engaged in endless, meaningless argumentative debate, unable to take any action owing to their divisiveness. All hope lies with Zarkov, Flash and Dale, but they’re nowhere to be found…
until an intrepid “gentleman of the press” manages to track them down.
Trip to Mars has it all: a ruler everyone hates, the good guys confined to the underworld, endless calamities, the press seeking the truth, government locked in confusion.
About the only place where this metaphor breaks down is with the lack of a hero who can solve all of the problems with some well-placed punches and a couple of lines of witty dialogue.
Which is, in a way, ironic, because what got us at least halfway into all of this mess is trying to elect a “hero” to solve all of our problems.
Problem is, they don’t really exist in the real world. There are no handsome, blue-eyed, blonde-haired, polo playing, airplane piloting, spaceship navigating, sharkmen-wrestling, fire dragon-defeating space soldiers, and we’ve got to stop looking for them.
What we need are attention-paying, vote-making, issue-engaging citizen soldiers who will go to the polls and vote as if they have a say over what happens in the future. Because they do.
ETA: John Whalen notified me that I’d conflated the first serial Flash Gordon and Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe, which I have since corrected. Good catch, John! The serials, in order, were: Flash Gordon (1936); Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars (1938) and Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (1940)