Vox‘s Alissa Wilkinson writes about the metaphorical meaning of the absence of the great American movie blockbuster from this awful year:
From Indiana Jones to Captain America, Ellen Ripley to President Whitmore, Ethan Hunt to Batman, both the world and studio budgets have been saved every summer, in one manner or another, by lone-wolf badasses who don’t take anyone’s guff but can also deliver inspirational speeches when needed. They are the descendants of the white-hatted Western good guys, reimagined for a world where the West has been won. Blockbuster heroes respond to the call of duty, the charge to save humanity led by American authorities — or, in the event the government is in shambles, by everyday Americans.
“We can all just sit here on Earth, wait for this big rock to crash into it, kill everything and everybody we know,” Bruce Willis’s Harry Stamper says to his fellow oil drillers in Armageddon. “United States government just asked us to save the world. Anybody want to say no?” [Alissa Wilkinson, “The Summer Without Blockbusters,” Vox, 2020.08.28]
We are the heroes of our own blockbusters. We wield the asteroid drills and blasters and lightsabers that the blockbuster characters use to affirm our confidence in ourselves. The blockbusters tell us that yes, we can! that when Harry and Ben and President Whitmore ask us regular Joes to save the world, we can make that grand sacrifice, bear that cosmic burden, and triumph against our greatest enemies.
But this summer, when a virus shuts down the blockbusters, we learn we can’t even put on masks and put off going to the bar:
The very reason Americans — and the rest of the world — couldn’t go see any new blockbusters this summer has to do with American failure. And that failure spans all levels, from the White House to average citizens, in the face of a humanity-threatening virus. As the summer of 2020 has worn on, and other economies have warily but safely reopened around the world, the US has looked less and less like a leader and more and more like an ostrich with its head buried deep beneath the dusty ground [Wilkinson, 2020.08.28].
We have failed to live up to the affirmations of forty years of Hollywood myth-making. We are not Harry Stamper (hard anti-Harry view here), or Bear, or even Rockhound. We have chosen to sit here on its barstool, wait for the big virus to crash into us, and let it sicken and kill whoever it sickens and kills. America, its blockbuster movies, and its blockbuster mythos thus lie defeated by the pandemic.