Monday, September 7, 2009

This is a Typical Example of My Thoughts Before Bed

What's a more impressive threat: Reducing someone to a smoking ruin or leaving nothing but a smoldering crater?

The latter is a vast representation of destruction, but the former is a visual record of the damage you did. Think about some famous ruins, like the Colosseum. The Colosseum is a big deal because it's still standing, but it's a bigger deal because there's only enough left to hint at the grandeur it once possessed. From an objective perspective, it (and in fact most ruins) looks like shit. However, it's dramatic shit. When I think of ruins, I think of that- something which was large or grand or unique enough, once, to make an impression but now looks like shit. If it's still impressive now, it's all the more impressive for having its grandeur despite its markedly reduced state. I will make a Baldwin Brothers joke now, or at least acknowledge the space where one might fit. I don't know if people in their mid-20s are supposed to make Baldwin Brothers jokes; they've seemingly settled into their respective lifestyles, be they reality shows, self parodies, extremely successful comedies, or being beloved for playing an asshole cowboy in outer space (and not actually a Baldwin brother). The whole cachet of the Baldwin Brothers joke, once so unassailable, has crumbled to its foundations in the present day. Like a ruin.

That's what makes ruins work. If you think about them long enough, you can usually reconstruct their unmarred state, at least mentally. Once you do, the comparison between the two lends weight to both the earlier magnificence and the current squalor. It's even more impressive once you consider the effort it took to construct the conceptually unblemished edifice in the first place; the resources, hours of work, and even lives. Combined with the ruin's current state, this serves to reinforce how fickle and merciless time and fate can be.

Contrast that with a smoldering crater. Name a smoldering crater. I'll wait.

Tough, isn't it? The Grand Canyon is a big (admittedly non-smoldering) hole, but does anyone think about what used to be there? What might have existed there? Are people losing sleep over that, or selling scale recreations of the Arizona that might have been without its major tourist attraction? Craters leave no real frame of reference, just an absence, and that means they fail to be real to us.

After all, the biggest smoking crater, the largest example of something completely undone, is probably Atlantis. How many Russell Crowe movies feature that?


  1. You actually are your own worst enemy in this argument I think, as you've already made the point I was going to bring up quite well: The Colosseum is not only still there, it's still COOL. It hasn't really been taken away, and while one might look upon it and feel the pang of what it once was and will never be again, at least you get that bittersweet thrill of picturing it, squinting your eyes and almost seeing it whole again. A ruin leaves the victim something to memorialize and cherish, while a blasted hole is sterile, unrelatable, and completely out of reach. It may be less of a monument to your own might then a crumbling hulk would be, but it certainly is a much crueler fate for the blastee.

  2. I think we're in agreement on this; both that I'm my own worst enemy and that ruins win, hands down.

    But then you go and throw in crumbling hulk, and I'm left wondering where that ranks.