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Apocalypse Now small group - Section 1 - “Volcano”

“Apocalypse Now” Small Group
For Lent — from February 25 (Ash Wednesday) to April 11 (Easter is the 12th)
All Saints United Methodist Church

Part One — Volcano
Showing at the All Saints UMC Ministry Center, 7 PM, Friday, February 27

[All quotes and images are employed under Title 17, “Fair Use” law, and no portion of this study is for profit.]

Notes on Volcano

Note (1)

The idea for viewing Volcano, which is neither the worst nor best of the genre, came about because it placed such emphasis on Los Angeles as its setting. Several years ago, I picked up a copy of Mike Davis’ superlative book Ecology of Fear — Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster. This book comes with a strong endorsement for both content and style. Peculiar at first, the book is a mesmerizing page-turner of revelation about the reality and the myths of the effects of urbanization (an ecology) on culture and personhood.

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Note within a note: Though Davis and others (like Matthew Lassiter, who wrote about Southern suburbanization, another facilitator-recommended book, The Silent Majority), would call themselves radical urban theorists (RUT), their actual research and publications place them in a more prophetic role in society today.

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Reviewer Walter Kern wrote of Davis’ book,

Davis’ sixth chapter “The Literary Destruction of Los Angeles,” explores LA’s destruction in novels and film by hordes, nukes, quakes, cults, monsters, bombs, pollution, gangs, terrorism, floods, plagues, riots, aliens, volcanoes, sandstorms, mudslides, freeways, distopias, and more (pp. 280-281). I took the significance of Davis’ account this way: the fiction is an obsessive exploration of unconfronted dangers in fantastic terms, and it perhaps reflects a desire to break through the denial locking LA in a system of doom.

Here is a key point about many extremity stories; they are a public imagination of breaking out of inertia — inertia experienced as a “system of doom.”

Note (2)

From: A Dictionary of Sociology |
Date: 1998 |
Author: GORDON MARSHALL |
© A Dictionary of Sociology 1998,
originally published by Oxford University Press 1998.

heuristic device Any procedure which involves the use of an artificial construct to assist in the exploration of social phenomena. It usually involves assumptions derived from extant empirical research. For example, ideal types have been used as a way of setting out the defining characteristics of a social phenomenon, so that its salient features might be stated as clearly and explicitly as possible. A heuristic device is, then, a form of preliminary analysis. Such devices have proved especially useful in studies of social change, by defining bench-marks, around which variation and differences can then be situated. In this context, a heuristic device is usually employed for analytical clarity, although it can also have explanatory value as a model.

Using films, readings, and cultural criticism to study social phenomena is employing them as heuristic “devices.”

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Note (3)

Volcano is a Hollywood production. It follows Hollywood formulas. It’s story contains a handful of pretty standard film conventions. It idealizes many aspects of reality, and it reproduces idealized archetypes, characters polished and idealized to give us some recognizable essence as viewers and participants in the film.

Note (4)

Hollywood produces films that are generalized cultural commodities. Cultural because they are expressions of our social life, generalized because they are now almost universally available in American society, and commodities because the primary motive for making them is to accumulate monetary wealth.

The scale of the industry which makes these cultural commodities has made it into an effective transmission belt of social values.

What differentiates the disaster or apocalyptic genre(s) of film from other films is the condition of extremity that is the setting and background.

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So in addition to, and often mixed with, the transmission of social values — which may be diverse and situational, there is a circumstance that forces greater moral questions to the forefront of the story, often presented as ethical dilemmas confronting the protagonist(s).