This type of movie, with extreme fantasy super heroes and over the top special effects, is not my cup of tea, but I decided to watch them to get some insight into what our culture is thinking.
The bad guy, Thanos, understands that the universe is in overshoot which will soon cause extreme suffering from wars and starvation, so he acquires a technology to humanely vaporize 50% of life, without causing any suffering, so that the remaining 50% can live in peace and plenty, with new found awareness to constrain their populations going forward.
The good guys, played by the largest and most expensive collection of movie stars ever assembled, think Thanos’ plan is evil, and spend the next 5 hours of multi-million dollar special effects to thwart his plan.
In the end the good guys “win” by vaporizing Thanos and his thousands (millions?) of evil helpers. The outcome for civilization is vague but it seems technology solved the overshoot problem by providing more stuff so everyone had plenty. There was no tying up of loose ends to explain why Thanos’ all powerful technology could not have done the same.
Sadly, two of the heroes are killed in the final fight, but we are promptly and explicitly informed that their spirits live on, and that they know their sacrifices were not in vain.
I skimmed a few fan forums that debate the plot and motives of Thanos. As you might expect there was lots of heat and noise.
Fortunately, one of our most respected and well known scientists, Neil deGrasse Tyson, stepped up with a tweet to comfort the world that brilliant physicists think we’ll be just fine as long as we push on to Mars:
It’s a reasonable assumption that popular movies reflect the current zeitgeist of our culture and I observed the following:
- The fact that the Avengers explicitly discussed the perils of overshoot suggests that many people must be thinking, at least subconsciously, about our predicament.
- Which role was assigned to the bad guys, and which to the good guys, demonstrates how exactly wrong our culture is about reality.
- The movie’s finale demonstrated once again how strongly our species denies death.
- Neil deGrasse Tyson demonstrates that our best and brightest deny reality as strongly as the common man.
In a similar vein, a top grossing movie of 2014, Kingsman: The Secret Service, is a Tarantino’ish version of James Bond whose bad guy understands that the only way to address climate change is to rapidly reduce the population. The wrong guys win again in this movie.
The 2013 TV show Utopia, was cancelled after only 2 seasons, perhaps because it had a little too much reality.