Murderers Among Us (1946)

We’ve all had the feeling that it’s coming and for good reason. We’ve been primed for a long time to feel, for whatever reasons, that everything will be or needs to be destroyed. Destruction is the primary method of renewal, of cleansing, of starting over. And it makes for great entertainment.

Since the Abrahamic religions succeeded for thousands of years using some version of the general concept of complete worldwide destruction as a foundation, the entertainment industry has capitalized on that ready-made audience. It has worked well for them, for the most part. People are drawn to the big screen if a film features realistic destruction.

“…the disaster film is able to tap into prevailing fears in any particular era and, indeed, appeal to the human fascination with people in peril; the rubbernecking motorist, craning to catch a glimpse of the car crash at the side of the road, is that evening’s disaster film viewer.”
John Sanders in Studying Disaster Movies, (p. 18)

My primary reason for starting this project was the lack of response within the U.S. population regarding climate change. Originally, I focused on studying apocalyptic thought throughout history, thinking that people tend to view climate change as just another apocalyptic prophecy. And, like all other apocalyptic prophecies, one that would not pan out. The principle reason some people feel that climate change is just the environmentalist take on the apocalypse comes primarily from how popular media reports on the issue. I will explore this more later.

While the apocalyptic view was one of the many factors involved in the lack of concern over global warming, it didn’t answer all of my questions. I was also struck by the desire for destruction, not just among believers in the apocalypse, but how popular media keys into that desire to boost sales of magazines, books, and films. The photo of two dejected followers of Harold Camping’s highlights the idea of desiring an end to it all, whether in a film or in the prophecies of a deranged religious leader.

The key difference between popular representations of apocalypse and of climate change is the time scale. While we are entranced by the images of destruction by individual storms, the slow build of climate change doesn’t lend itself to an emergency countdown or date of destruction. Every year becomes the new normal as we settle into our seats to see who gets it next. As long as we still have popcorn, there’s no need to worry.

For this project, I will examine texts and films that explore human reactions to destruction, relating them to our current reaction to climate change. I will be using World War II as my starting point since it represents the penultimate event in the techniques of human destruction. My focus will be on the Western view and experience of destruction, although I will certainly mention destructive events from around the globe through that lens.