Chris Norris recently deployed the term “asteroid porn” for a certain gratuitous style employed by those writing about meteoric catastrophe:
Here is a brief summary of a typical piece of asteroid porn. Dinosaurs are peacefully grazing (or browsing, or doing whatever) on a warm sunny day (or at sunset, or some other time of peacefullness) when they see a big fireball fall out of the sky. It hits the Earth so hard that larva comes out, like a big bursting geological zit. The larva shoots up hundreds of miles into the air and comes down, setting fire to, like, the whole planet. All the forests are on fire, and all the dinosaurs are on fire as well. Then there’s this big blast wave, and it’s so big it goes round the world, like, 5 times at the speed of Concorde, and when it hits the burning dinosaurs they all get blown into burning pieces…
Not all porn is so literate though. Books, television, film and, most especially the internet abound with visual artworks that operate in the same vein. One well-worn style adopts a “dinosaur-eye view,” typically peppering the foreground with a tyrannosaur, hadrosaur or ceratopsian or some combination thereof. A few enterprising artists even manage a nod to Charles Knight.
The players in these epic finales span a comical range of emotive reaction to the impact, from “wha?” to “HOLY EFF!” to “screw extinction–I’M GOING TO EAT YOU!!!” A few contemplative dinosaurs, cast in silhouette, even appear rather philosophical about their impending demise.
And of course, it’s a nearly irresistible vehicle for a one-liner:
Large pterosaurs offer a convenient excuse to adopt an aerial perspective that permits a more graphic celebration of “the junk” (the bolide that is). Plus there must be a sense of clever satisfaction tat comes when you work Quetzalcoatlus into a painting of Mesoamerican Armageddon.
This view shifts the victim role from the dinosaurs to the planet itself. It also lends a certain historical anonymity to the event–this could be a catastrophe in the distant past, or the not-so-remote future. In fact, some even depict an anachronistic geography that necessarily implies the latter to the careful observer.
It’s tempting to speculate that this orbital perspective might not have occurred to an artist working prior to the advent of satellite photography. A similar argument has been made regarding the link between the Victorian “aquarium craze” and the subsequent proliferation of artworks adopting an underwater perspective (Clary and Wandersee 2005).
With their melodramatic flair, stereotyped compositions and limited pool of motifs, these images might easily be regarded as derivative at best and sure, pornographic at worst. Much like metal album art. However, these depictions will also afford ample fodder for a future, likely poor, overeducated and underemployed, generation of science/art historians interested in the cultural impact of late 20th Century neo-catastrophism. Unless we are all wiped out by an asteroid first.
Coming up: Stravinsky, climate change and the Bataan march
postscripto: Huh, look at that. 300 microecos posts in just over 3 years. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.
A note on the images: All are thumbnails gleaned from Google Image searches of “asteroid impact”, “dinosaur extinction” etc. They are reproduced here for the purposes of discussion only. This is a cultural studies blog. Deal.