Tragedies give rise to some of the greatest icons. For example, had there been no second world war, there wouldn’t have been any Great Dictator either. And had there been no depression, then people would not have been able to appreciate something like the iconic Modern Times. Art in its various forms reflects the society as it has been, is now and will be in future. Most of the art of this kind is intentional – the auteur approaches a subject with precision, crafts it gently in the façade of a mirror and produces a work that makes people sit back and think. And at the same time… there is art that is created for a particular purpose and somehow as the time and place changes, the same piece of art comes to reflect the present in such an uncanny manner that people sit back and wonder at the futuristic observations of the auteur.
When H.G Wells wrote “War of the Worlds” in 1898, he did not expect someone like a Tim Burton to mimic him and create “Mars Attacks” (1996) – a burlesque so original and so pure as to make the intended audience sit back and watch how Americans laugh at themselves and their icons. What Mr.Burton did not realise, and hopefully can now fathom the connect, is that someday the burlesque that he created is going to reflect a society that is going heavily wrong.
The story of Mars Attacks, a direct take on “War of the Worlds” and the science fiction movies of the 1950s and 60s showed the Martians sending a spy to planet earth to check out on the scheme of things. The spy, dressed as a lanky blonde (Lisa Marie), even made way to the White House pretending to show affection for the Press Secretary Jerry Ross (Martin Short) and leaving him dead in his room. A few days later after this clandestine visit, flying saucers begin to appear and signals are exchanged between the US authorities and Mars. While General Decker (Rod Steiger) wanted US to open immediate attack on the invaders, the President (superbly played by Jack Nicholson) and the scientist Professor Donald Kesler (Pierce Brosnan) wanted a meaningful exchange between the two planets. As a consequence, the Martians are welcomed with open arms and promises of peace. The country reacted in a mixed way - while the First Lady Marsha Land (Glenn Close) could not have bothered less, the journalist Natalie Lake (Sarah Jessica Parker) waited for the Martians to respond to the US invite. With the typical tone of “I-kind-of-rule-this-planet” the US authorities opened their dialogue telling the Martians how inhabitants of the earth were more than happy to see them land and if they have come in peace. Listening to the tirade, the Martians looked around boredly and decided to open fire. The next part of the movie, turning all the clichés that had beset the science fiction movies produced in Hollywood on their head, was a complete laugh riot showing the Martians attacking every possible symbol of the great American dream, blowing up the White House, taking pictures before temples before blowing them up and living through bullets, missiles and even Hip Hop. Just for experiment, they planted the heads of Natalie Lake and Donald Kessler on two dogs and watched them exchange words of love. While the Martians virtually won the war, the trusted Tim Burton came up with the unlikely heroes, as always, to save the world. As a consequence the invincible Martians were defeated through relentless relaying of western classical pieces over radio, television and all mediums possible. The point being – what cannot be defeated otherwise, can be defeated by culture shock.
Consider this movie in the context of the terror attacks in Mumbai. US has anyway been cautious since 9/11 s and India has always been waiting for the next bigger attack to sit back and ponder over whether to realign, restructure or get rid of altogether – it’s anti terror laws and policies. Tim Burton seems so right now when the Pakistani Government is quick enough to rule out the fact that ‘stateless actors’ who carried out the mayhem were not supported by the state even though they planned, trained, acquired weapons in the state itself. The US government asked the Pak to take notice and act in the face of recent terror attacks and while the Pakistani government and media went into a tirade over how the Indian media was blaming them and there was no real proof in spite of everything that points towards the Indian neighbour, the Taliban went on television to declare that they would soon take over Pak. This brings us to the basic point – what exactly is happening here? Are we so blind as not to notice the obvious? Do we need more proof at this point of time to show the world that the perpetrators of countless mayhem seem to emerge from just one place and it is not coincidental anymore? While they have several names like a Lashkar e Toiba to Deccan Mujahideen the outfit end of the day is the same and this particular country also harbours the names like Dawood who are well known in terms of criminal records and have also been suspected of being linked up with the attacks. And if that wasn’t surprise enough, we have had the Taliban going on air to declare that they will soon be ruling the country.
This is pure confusion. And it is so confusing because sitting right over the bomb itself all of us have been wondering about whether we can keep diplomatic relations intact. Act in the face of terror is what we end up saying – but neither do they give in nor do we coerce. And we the people, those of us who travel by public transport as well as those who end up paying huge sums for the security of a five star hotel, would keep on thanking our luck for not getting killed for just another day. It all seems like a scene from “Mars Attacks” where the diplomats ask just like the US President Dale, “Why can’t we work out our differences? Why can’t we work things out? Little people, why can’t we all just get along” and the perpetrators in question answer like the Martians, “Ack ack ack ack ack”. Perhaps, all that we are awaiting for is culture shock to relive us of our differences or our enemies.