Spoilers follow, to the extent that I reveal that at the end of several recent blockbusters, the good guys win.
What the heck does Hollywood have against San Francisco? In a state where one’s character is judged by how you voted on Proposition 8 — or how much money you donated and to whom — it’s confusing that Milk-loving L.A. would have such destruction fantasies about America’s gay Mecca, or that its liberal elite would so assail that hotbed of Pelosism. And yet, so far, three studio-backed movies of 2009’s blockbuster season have targeted the city for demolition or decimated it altogether, and summer hasn’t even officially started yet.
But it may not be rooted in hatred after all — at heart, it might be about the cultural decline of New York City.
In J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek prequel (released May 8), Frisco is headquarters for The Federation, a U.N.-style conglomeration of intergalactic peacekeepers. So, when a monomaniacal alien race lusts for revenge against The Feds, San Francisco is naturally their primary target: they attack the city with a black hole-creating probe, though Starfleet is able to hold the villains off before they destroy the city and, with it, the planet.
To Abrams’ and his screenwriters’ credit, they don’t raze San Francisco, just put it on notice, which is more than can be said for Dreamworks’ Monsters vs. Aliens (released March 27). The filmmakers behind that animated moneymaker drop an egg-shaped robot-monster into the Bay, which proceeds to destroy not only the Golden Gate Bridge but also copious buildings and streets before the film’s ragtag heroes are able to stop it. But the damage is done, as though the city were hit by 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina wrapped into one.
Monsters vs. Aliens knocks the city to the ground; the latest installment of the Terminator franchise (released May 21) takes it down once and for all. In that film, human-enslaving conscious computers, known collectively as Skynet, have bunkered down in San Francisco, which has already been largely destroyed (like the rest of the country, in fairness) by a prior nuclear holocaust. That doesn’t stop John Connor, though, from breaking in and rigging more nuclear material to explode, like salting the earth with radioactive sodium chloride so that no man, cockroach or computer could ever occupy the metropolis again.
So, what’s with the desire to crush, nuke, or create a black hole in the city of hills, trolleys and Hamburger Helper? The easiest answers could be that the film community has decided that New York, the usual go-to city for annihilation, deserves a break after the Spiderman series, I Am Legend, Cloverfield, The Day the Earth Stood Still and others have been clobbering it in the years since 9/11-that the American public is exhausted with iconographic reminders of its first Patriot’s Day. Or, maybe it’s merely rooted in a regional rivalry — Angelenos in competition with their neighbors to the north.
More likely it’s that, after September 11th, the collapse of Wall Street and the extended mayoralty of the mediocre Bloomberg, San Francisco has begun to overshadow N.Y.C. as the country’s premiere urban center, in the eyes of Americans and the world, and thus it would be the metropolis that aliens and supercomputers would want to destroy. (Since the loss of the Twin Towers, the Golden Gate Bridge has arguably become the dominant symbol of non-D.C. America.) That is, it may not be a hate thing after all. As my colleague Benjamin Sutton suggested to me, “maybe it’s love, because the surest sign of the impending apocalypse is when our greatest city comes under attack.” The Big Apple is now to the country what America is to the world (pre-Obama honeymoon, anyway)-a once-dominant power whose popularity and hegemony are fading fast. If you don’t believe me, go see a movie.