Saturday, November 22, 2008

Revelation of the Sacred Aliens

Consider the following.

This poster has so many levels to it, I don't even know where to begin.

It is a prime example of the sacred revealing itself in the mundane. Not much more mundane than a movie poster.

What strikes you about the poster? Aliens—creatures from the sky, the incomprehensible sacred vault of the heavens, attack America!

Where do the aliens arrive?
At the Empire State Building, the highest single point in America's largest city, widely perceived as its greatest, its true capital, one of the world's capitals people worldwide consider the greatest city in America, or even the world. At the least, it is the tallest building in America's largest city—a record New York has held uninterrupted since it first claimed it in 1790.

But what about the Twin Towers? Those were taller than the Empire State Building! They don't count simply because they were twinned. Tall, yes--but as a symbol of man reaching toward the heavens, only a single spire has the full effect.

The Empire State Building is that spire. And it has been a symbol of New York City and America since it was built, a symbol of hope constructed during the Great Depression. When it was built, it was the tallest building in the world.

New York State and the Building share the same moniker—the Empire State (The State had it first).

The ESB was and is much more than a mere symbol of America's power. It is the most powerful of all symbols—the AXIS MUNDI!

The Axis Mundi.

The spire, tower, needle which connects mortal man to the Heavens above.
Thus, the ESB is a fully realized Tower of Babel. It is the very heart of New York City, and of America.

And when man tries to show that he is good enough to reach God, Heaven gets ticked off.
In this case, Aliens get ticked off (as they are wont to do).

That's why the poster features a massive beam of light connecting the axis mundi of America, its proudest monument, with the alien warship—foreign, incomprehensible, beyond anything we know. The blast of light symbolizes the portal that the axis mundi creates between the profane and the sacred. In this case as in all cases, the sacred is beyond our power to control or understand.

Of course, it is no coincidence that the film was released on and is named for Independence Day. July 4th is a sacred day in America—secular, but sacred. But this is obvious and played a prominent role in the film's marketing.

Anyway. That's why the aliens chose that particular building on that particular day to kick our ass!

Not much needs to be said about the next image, except that it is awesome, and most of the same principles apply, but note that the White House is not an Axis Mundi. It is, however, in the realm of differentiated space. But that's a topic for another day.


  1. I will respond more at a later date; but my initial criticism is that the aliens in fact arrived on a ship one quarter of the moon's mass in the Earth's orbit. The smaller ships which went to major civic centers around the Earth were part of a coordinated attack on the popular imagination: a rebuttal to the notion that UFOs would land in cornfields or harass farmers through crop circles and anal probing.

  2. Does blogger randomly make some of your sentences bold a la Stan Lee/Mad Magazine or do you do that yourself?

  3. I like to think of this more as the continuation of the American love of fantasizing about our own destruction. This nation that has been the world's leading superpower for most of living memory, the nation that has not had ground warfare on its territory since the 19th century, and, compared to Europe, suffered very little during the World Wars of the 20th century.

    Yet these fantasies, in addition to being extensive, aren't recent either. There was a subgenre of fiction, "future war", that developed in the late 19th century. These frequently racist stories taking place usually 20 or so years into the future, featured hordes of foreigners, usually asians, seeking to conquer the United States and Europe only to be driven back by white superiority and heroism. They frequently featured extensive descriptions of the catastrophic destruction of major landmarks of the time, most commonly the Brooklyn Bridge. (This is covered far more extensively in Howard Bruce Franklin's War Stars if you're interested.)

    Independence Day is the modern incarnation of these stories. Though thankfully stripped of their racist elements, these nationalist apocalypse narratives remain essentially the same: invading force cripples the world (ie the US) but is defeated in the end by the pluck, grit, and determination of a few valiant Americans.

    I never looked at it from the wrath of god angle, though. That will give me something to think about.

    P.S. I like the Brueghel Tower of Babel better.

  4. Since we are still allowed to discuss Ancient Greek: instead of an axis mundi, the visuals from Independence Day might better be described as συνεκδοχή (I learned that from the trailer for Synecdoche, NY!: a term denoting a part of something is used to refer to the whole thing!)

    Axis Mundi seems like a vague concept; I prefer synecdoche! Down with Latin, up with Greek!

    On another note, movie posters might be mundane, but they love symbolism! What better place to find sacred or profane imagery than in a movie poster? Show us the subtle sacred undercurrents of our culture: illuminate!

  5. @Demosthenes: It is perfectly sensible that the aliens would attack the cities, for cities are one of the profoundest difference between human and non-human; only we have the ability to modify our environment to such a degree. Cities are also fundamentally nonmagical; they are the epitome of the practical and the real, even though (like the Empire State Building) they may be stunning in scope. In this case, the sacred reveals itself where it is least expected, not in the vast empty farmlands which themselves still recall some vestige of primordial wonder.

    @Anonymous: Fine. Henceforth I shall assume basic reading comprehension skills of my viewership. Don't disappoint.

    @Demosthenes again: I'm curious about synecdoche. I'd love to hear more of your thoughts on this matter. Perhaps via a guest post?

    I agree with you that movie posters tend to espouse symbolism rarely seen in daily life. This one was more pronounced than most. And I shall provide more examples of even dailier life in the near future.

    Agreed on the Down with Latin, Up with Greek point, as well.

  6. @Ozzieslashnflea:
    I didn't know about that subgenre. That's very cool; it makes sense considering the prevalent imperialist zeitgeist. The genre sounds like it expressed a fear that what the Europeans/Americans had done to the rest of the world would be done to them in turn!

    Would you agree with the following interpretation: that genre, along with the modern ID4, DOES represent the protrusion of the sacred with the profane (mundane)--but not quite in the same way I posited in the post. Rather, Americans conceive of themselves as the sacred, because of their nation's hallowed ideals, the remembered days of Manifest Destiny, and a more universal racism by which every culture conceives of itself as better than others (cf. The Middle Kingdom). And those other cultures are the normal, the undifferentiated masses, the abnegation of holiness with sheer unremarkability? The aliens in that sense are the same--ignorant non-Americans destroying in their ignorance a society they do not realize to be a self-perceived unique embodiment of the spirit of Liberty.

    That's why, in the end, American pluckiness always triumphs--the traits they perceive as reserved for Americans alone allow them to vanquish their foes who are not so endowed. Sacred triumphs over profane; differentiated vanquishes undifferentiated.

    Take a look at the poster again. Note that the axis mundi does not merely ascend skyward; it connects the ESB with the alien ship. That means both interpretations are correct; to us, the axis mundi connects our profane earth to the sacred heavens, the alien ship; to the aliens, the axis mundi connects their profane ship to our sacred earth.

    I love onions.

  7. I'm not sure I particularly mind the random bolding, it's just that it makes you look like one of those bloggers who thinks that Bush is part of a satanic cult or that fluoride is added to the water supply to enable government mind control.