he core’s ulcers, its back pains and arthritis, its coughs and hiccups, magma unhinged: The all of it inevitably leaves aboveground residents slack-jawed. They ponder their broken constructs at once terrified and rapt.
Worry varies based on the status of the wrecked above: rugged Japan matters more than ruined Iran; Chile ranks slightly ahead of China. The more the bubble wrap contains, the more cinematically identifiable its popping. If California shook loose, so would Los Angeles and Apple. Hyperbole would have a stroke.
God (or Shiva, pick your poison) was more put-upon before science. When the core lurched, abovegrounders wondered about wrongs, offered placation, contemplated the lessons and edicts a fissure was seen to promote. What maker of waves had lost his temper, or hers? The Earth as ruled by a whimsical tyrant.
Few were the feasible freedom movements against that kind of raw authority, since superstition convened resignation as a partner. Fear and trembling. Mere mortals. God’s wrath. Towns were the least a landscape had to offer when the deity slammed his gavel. Humility was immediate; the planet’s days seen as numbered (a pre-science assumption since proved correct); paintings and literature followed in homage.
Physics and celluloid make-believe leveled the playing field, or seemed to, over the course of the last century. War could play God starring nuclear weapons as manmade coronaries. The tricks of film effects put apocalypse in the mind’s eye, and in the dark no less. Streaming into a cave, people watched as the world was destroyed many times over. Fear and trembling dissipated from overuse. Abovegrounders appeared to hold the upper hand, albeit now depressed. The fate of the world was up to them.
Trick of the light, that, and a cosmic farce, at least if the long run gets its due. While you’re contemplating the savagery of the core’s latest snort, glued to pictures of gurgling coastlines and plumes of fire, consider the lifespan of the Sun.
Science says it’s a middle-aged bulb slowly running out of nuclear fuel. As the filament dwindles, it will, in stages, heat up, burn out, and collapse on itself, “White Dwarf” the nickname for its elfin afterlife. All biological life it supports will die. This reality, which human progress is compelled to rationalize or deny, is mitigated by an unfathomable time frame: another three-to-five billion years.
Aside from the sun’s dotage, asteroids are bees to honey when it comes to gravity, and several, over millennia, have buzzed the treetops, most skimming past, like stones off a pond and into a celestial forest. Another is scheduled in two decades. Imagine the run-up.
But popular culture has already many times covered that ground. Abovegrounders have also dreamed up earthquakes and tidal waves the likes of which would impress the core if it had a conscience and a critic’s curiosity, which it doesn’t. It merely burps. Pop goes the wrap.
Picture-taking has put painters out of business. Like poets, painters portrayed and interpreted hand-me-down legend of gargantuan scope. Awe depended on their idiosyncratic snapshots. As did seeing the movement of God’s gavel. Monsters and demons as well. The coughs of the core always had an artist-in-waiting.
Now, in a time of the all-seeing and all-seen, abovegrounders are thrilled not so much by the power of the core but by their ability to show of the what’s happened, like holding up a broken saucer to an audience of tea-drinkers, who gasp. The gasp exhausted, another saucer follows, and another.
Being there, or seeming to, takes the place of humility, making one man’s fissure into another’s distraction, framing fate and fantasy into a vision so rehearsed that it grows calluses, which spread. Terror and raptness are scripted, “See all about it!” Which leaves Shiva and the hooded Sun concealed in the audience, biding their time.