A visual history of the fictional destruction of New York

Harry Belafonte, as Ralph Burton, in a deserted Times Square in The World, the Flesh, and the Devil, 1959. Image courtesy of Yale University Press via the Atlantic

I came across this quote from The City’s End: Two Centuries of Fantasies, Fears, and Premonitions of New York’s Destruction, by Amherst architecture and history professor Max Page, in the Atlantic today:

America’s writers and imagemakers have pictured New York’s annihilation in a stunning range of ways. Earthquake, fire, flood. Meteor, comet, Martian. Glacier, ghosts, atom bomb. Class war, terrorism, invasion. Laser beams for space ships, torpedoes from Zeppelins, missiles from battleships. Apes, wolves, dinosaurs. Environmental degradation, nuclear fallout, ‘green death.’ American culture has been obsessed with fantasizing about the destruction of New York. It is fascinating to explore the most common methods American culture makers have intended for the city’s end—floods and fires, bombs and ice. Why has the watery death had such staying power, along with the image of the city left physically intact but stripped of its people by a mysterious disaster? The recurrence of similar modes of death across time stands out.
[…]

Visions of New York’s destruction resonated with some of the most longstanding themes in American history: the ambivalence toward cities, the troubled reaction to immigrants and racial diversity, the fear of technology’s impact, and the apocalyptic strain in American religious life. Furthermore, these visions of the city’s end have paralleled the city’s economic, political, racial, and physical transformations. Projections of the city’s end reflected and refracted the dominant social issues. Each era in New York’s modern history has produced its own apocalyptic imagery that explores, exploits, and seeks to resolve contemporary cultural tensions and fears.

Fascinating stuff, especially of course in the wake of Sandy’s path of destruction. Read the full article here.

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A visual history of the fictional destruction of New York