So here’s the story behind this particular set of contributor picks. We’d originally decided to celebrate April showers by suggesting oeuvres that stand out for their depiction of rain, but Mother Nature this year has chosen to grace us instead with summer heat, an Autumn breeze, some hail, and even a snow storm or two. Whether you blame man-made global climate change or a shift in the Earth’s axis, please find below four recommendations about changing weather patterns.
G.I. Joe: The Revenge of Cobra (1985)
With a crisis of national identity stemming from post-Vietnam malaise, the America of the nineteen-eighties sought to balance its sociopolitical interests with moral obligations in the international sphere. The military yearned for a neoliberal framework, reshaping its image as responsible actor in global civil society, but more complex challenges were emerging at the time, notably the tide of scientific data on climate change. Never were these two separate trends more shrewdly addressed than in Ron Friedman’s 1985 classic G.I Joe: The Revenge of Cobra miniseries, which captured the tumultuous zeitgeist of the era as America struggled, in post-imperial fashion, to frame its military interventions in the context of a moral response to emerging terrorist networks.
G.I. Joe: The Revenge of Cobra is not merely about the military at war with itself. It tells very human stories by addressing cultural relativism (the fight between Spirit and Storm Shadow), southern race relations (the friendship between Roadblock and Honda Lou West), and the electorate’s dismay at political two-facedness (Zartan’s many impersonations). In the backdrop of all this, the quest for the Weather Dominator still dominates, an existential question that forces the viewer to confront the price of man’s technological ascendancy: chaotic and destructive weather conditions across the Earth. In hindsight, this G.I. Joe series is nothing less than prophetic. Yo Joe!
Deadliest Catch (2005-2013)
I’m usually not a fan of reality shows, as they tend to create artificial conflict in order to build up the drama. Running for nine seasons straight now, Deadliest Catch does no such thing. Crab fishing on the Bering Sea, one of the most dangerous bodies of water in the world, presents enough dangers as it is! Imagine trying to maneuver a full cargo of 750-pound crab pots on a rolling ship while Mother Nature throws massive swells and ice at you and your sleep-deprived colleagues.
When I started watching the series, I viewed it as a simple documentary, but season after season, I got to know the fishermen more and more, and their lives just became riveting to me. This show has so many memorable moments: some high, like the Time Bandit’s hands saving a man who fell in thirty-foot seas, some low, like the loss of Captain Phil Harris to a stroke, and some funny, like the various pranks the crew members play on each other. I find it fascinating that crab fishing has elicited a stronger emotional response in me than any scripted television fair or movie I’ve seen in recent years. Available on DVD and, of course, on the Discovery Channel, Deadliest Catch makes for a perfect distraction when hurricane force winds prevent you from fishing.
The Illustrated Man (1951)
In this rainy season, my mind keeps coming back to Ray Bradbury’s 1951 collection The Illustrated Man, of which I still own the old paperback copy I acquired as a teen. The sixth story in the collection, “The Long Rain”, tells of astronauts stranded on Venus, soaked in a horrible, never-ending rainstorm. The group is making its way to what’s referred to as a sun dome, a protective shelter, but things, of course, go awry. As a detail, the weather, made horrific by its ceaseless, malicious, pounding rhythm, does more to sketch a fully alien world than anything James Cameron’s Avatar (2009) offered me.
One by one, the explorers are driven mad by the unrelenting downpour, and the winnowing down of the team allows for an easy dramatic hook that could have been exciting enough in another writer’s hands. However, when an astronaut finally gives up, opting to sit down, lean his head back toward the sky with his mouth open to the rain, and wait to drown as the water fills his lungs, we’re left with an image of such utter horror that we can’t help but know we’re in the hands of a master.
Nothing like the Sun (1987)
When I was a little boy, I wasn’t allowed music of my own, but I did get to listen to whatever pop hit to which my mother felt like singing along on any given day. This meant a lot of Duran Duran for some reason and the occasional political ballad by Sting. “Fragile” from the latter’s 1987 album Nothing like the Sun was a recurrent number in the house, and I remember my mom humming absentmindedly until the lyrics, “On and on, the rain will fall like tears from the stars, like tears from the stars”, which she would belt out as loudly as possible because they were the only words she could make out. It used to grate on me to no end, but I suspect, one day, the memory will serve to warm my heart in the dead of winter.
For those of you wondering, the rest of the lyrics pertain to our destruction of the rain forest. As I now listen to “Fragile”, it occurs to me that, in the age of preprocessed boy bands and Disney princesses, politically minded singer-songwriters have become somewhat of a rarity. What’s more, with tracks that range from the bombastic “We’ll Be Together” to the understated “Englishman in New York”, Nothing like the Sun offers an intriguing mix of jazz, rock, and folk, all genres that seem to have disappeared from the charts today. Sure, the eclectic nature of Sting’s work makes for a stark contrast with the auto-tuned dance beats currently in vogue, but that storm too will pass.