Black Ray Gun’s Tropes
As I’ve posted and reblogged here, I’ve aspired to be orderly with my tags - not just to make it easier for visitors to find things, but because I enjoy identifying and tracking various the “tropes” I see in Post-Apocalypse art and culture. When I first organized my tags and their pages, there was a drop-down menu on the upper left of my blog that had names for and links to all my pages. Today I noticed it’s gone, and that all those links now appear on each and every post I make; I hadn’t noticed because Tumblr was stupid and made the text white on white. I liked my drop-down menu, and I wish it would come back. In the meantime, however, visitors to Black Ray Gun will have to get by with that ugly clump of links on each post.
And while I’m grousing about that, I’m taking some time to identify and explain some of those pages.
ARTIFACTS - Probably inspired by the Monolith in “2001”, a lot of Post-Apocalyptic art features massive inscrutable artifacts hovering over the earth and bewildering the primitive descendants of the survivors - I feel this is prevalent enough to be a trope, so I tag them. But I’m a little sloppy here: I also use the ‘artifact’ tag for strange geometries in animated GIFs and other advanced-but-recognizable technologies of the Ancients.
BEACHED SHIPS - I’m not sure where and when I saw this first, but it’s a classic: a massive ship in the middle of nowhere, listing in the sand, no water in sight. Naturally there communities living in them. In print, I think I first that this in Bruce Sterling’s “Islands in the Net”. In this silly example from ‘Thundarr the Barbarian’, a ship has (somehow) become impaled on a giant pointy rock.
CRASHED PLANES - Another classic, and in this case I trace it back to the crashed airliner in the desert in “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome”. Visually, the effect is the same as the Beached Ships, but they’re usually too small and too damaged to provide much more than shelter from the elements.
CRUMBLING OVERPASSES - This is one of my favorites, and it was a common element in Fallout 3. That’s not the source, though, but I don’t know what is. There are some beautiful examples in the Denzel Washington movie “Book of Eli”.
GRATUITOUS LANDMARK SYNDROME - Another classic, you see this on book covers and movies: visually, an apocalypse is more apocalyptic if we see familiar landmarks being destroyed, or having been destroyed. If you’re in post-Apocalyptic New York City, you’re guaranteed to see the Empire State Building. In California, it’s the Hollywood sign. London, Big Ben. Paris, the Eiffel Tower, and so on. The classic example is, of course, the head of the Statue of Liberty on the beach in “Planet of the Apes”.
LONE EXPLORER - A staple in Post-Apocalyptic art is the well-rendered cityscapes in ruins. And in most of them, there is a single lone figure somewhere in the foreground, always with their back to the viewer, taking in the scene. I’m not sure what’s accomplished, artistically, but I like it.
ROWS OF PARKED CARS - This is another favorite of mine - the idea that when the Apocalypse happened, we were all stuck in traffic and had no choice but to abandon our vehicles and make a run for it. Most recently this trope has come up numerous times in “The Walking Dead”.
STOP SIGN SHIELDS - Broadly speaking, this is armor, weapons and equipment made by cannibalizing materials found in the ruins. I call it ’Stop Sign Shields’ because that’s my favorite example, which I first saw on the cover of the GAMMA WORKD module “Famine at Far-Go” (illustrated by Jeff Holloway) in which a woman is using an old stop sign as a shield. Other examples are Fallout’s Super Mutant Behemoths using fire hydrants as clubs, wastelanders fashioning pauldrons out of old tires and license plates, and swords being forged from railroad spikes and bicycle chains.
I use other tags for organization of my favorite Post-Apocalypses, which are GAMMA WORLD, the Fallout games, and the Mad Max universe. Maybe I’ll write about them later.