The television show “Revolution” is getting ready to start, with its plot based on the failure of the electrical grid. That’s nothing new, though -- the most recent Batman movie, "The Dark Knight Rises," and Spiderman movie, "The Amazing Spiderman," came out this summer, each with significant events or themes involving infrastructure systems. Half of the Batman movie took place in sewers or subway systems, and main plot points involved communication systems and roadways. So it’s a great time to consider infrastructure and the movies.
I recently addressed this topic in Grist, concluding that it’s sad but probably predictable that the only people paying any attention at all to the centrality of our infrastructure are the makers of preposterous science fiction movies. (Accuracy, of course, is not their thing -- in the picture of bad guy Bane at right, note that he's standing in one of those many flat-bottomed sewers you so commonly encounter.)
Anyhow, this all got me to thinking. We all remember Godzilla destroying elevated railway cars like something out of a Republican transit policymaker's wet dream. We all remember the Phantom of the Opera slinking about in the sewers of Paris – presumably looking for Jan Valjean (mind you, a new "Les Miserables" comes out this Christmas) or maybe the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Orson Welles. And Blue Oyster Cult even revisited Godzilla, mentioning that not only does the monster disturb those subway passengers but “pulls … spitting high-tension wires down.”
Though it has to be said – once you’re pulling down high-tension wires, you’re a fool if you prefer Godzilla to the 50-foot Woman, who rips down a transmission grid pylon just to pull the plug (heh heh) on the second-rate schemings of her faithless partner. Generations of men have grown up imagining driving that highway she provocatively straddles in the famous poster. Now that's infrastructure, I want to tell you.
The point, of course, is that infrastructure shows up everywhere we look, but we never pay attention. We’ll have the predictable fight over the next couple months – progressives will clamor for candidates who pledge to invest tax money in infrastructure, and conservatives will reassure us that building infrastructure is whack and that the free market will provide all the infrastructure we need for free by some magical process if we just get out of its way.
My book On the Grid looked into infrastructure systems in great detail, and my publisher and agent could tell you -- at length -- that nobody paid much attention, so I don’t hold onto hope that anybody besides the fabulists are interested in those essential systems, and even they like them only because they crash or fail in visually attractive ways. I've kind of given up on convincing people those systems are important. In fact, I suggest instead of having responsible dialogue about infrastructure building that we follow the lead of our culture and give up talking sense entirely -- instead, let's have an infrastructure film festival.
So I’m looking for ideas. What are the movies, the TV shows, the books, records, dramas that cast infrastructure systems in starring roles? I know I’ve only scratched the surface here. There have got to be lots more movies, and TV shows, and popular songs, and books, and god knows what all – candy bars? Band names? – out there celebrating the infrastructure.
What are they? Comment – send messages. Use this electronic infrastructure to help us make a list of the best popular culture celebrations of the importance of infrastructure. “Earthquake”? “The Towering Inferno”? You know they’re out there. Help me find them. Maybe we could make a big map of the literary infrastructure -- the Phantom's lair here, those giant alligators there, the 50-foot woman's pylon somewhere else. Or even better -- maybe we can all get together somewhere and watch the movies.
As long as the power stays on.