Culture

Return of Godless-zilla

Culture | The Asian connection and other cultural buzz

Issue: "Foster or faster?," June 6, 1998

I stomp New York
Back in 1954, the early days of the Cold War unleashed an unexpected threat on mankind, or at least on Tokyo. Every few years, Godzilla would stomp around, knocking over buildings and creating havoc. Now he's come to America to make the West pay for its nuclear-reactor-loving ways. Actually, in this year's update (Tri-Star, rated PG-13), the big monster is French, not Japanese. And instead of Raymond Burr, this time we get Matthew Broderick as our tour guide through mayhem. He's a biologist who studies radioactive worms for the government. Since the government, as usual, hasn't watched enough cable TV to know how to handle giant monster attacks, he's the only one who can save us. In fact, the military causes as much damage as the monster. Godzilla doesn't make many stops on his journey. He comes in through lower Manhattan and stomps his way north. He lays his eggs in Madison Square Garden. Like most tourists, he doesn't get to see all of the city; he misses the art museums, the Apollo Theatre, and the other four boroughs. He also doesn't pick up any souvenirs for Rodan, Gamera, or Ghidrah. Meanwhile, to make the world safe for special effects, the entire city is evacuated to New Jersey about five minutes after Godzilla shows up. Another amazing feat: The lights and power stay on throughout all the carnage. The filmmakers redesigned the monster to make him more Jurassic Park-like. That unintentionally cute green face of the original monster is gone. The effect is like watching Godzilla's understudy. There's a plot with people in it somewhere, but that's not what people pay their money for. Godzilla himself is the show, but he doesn't have the same stuff as his Japanese counterpart. There is hardly any content, except for the obligatory anti-nuclear sentiments. In the original, the Japanese filmmakers were obliquely criticizing the United States for the nuclear destruction of Japanese cities that ended World War II. This time, the nuclear villains who created the monster are the French, whose recent underwater nuclear tests so outraged Greenpeace. Maybe the inevitable sequel will try to lay a guilt trip on India, or maybe by then Pakistan or Iran or Iraq. But a 20-story monster ravaging Calcutta just wouldn't be as satisfying as watching New York get demolished-a motif that, from the evidence of Independence Day and Deep Impact, Americans just cannot get enough of. Our manchurian candidate
Communist Chinese try to take over America by manipulating an American presidential election-no, I'm not talking about Bill Clinton, but about Frank Sinatra. The late crooner with the shady life but stunning voice wowed on numerous projects, but one of his most unusual sat in a vault for a quarter century. The Manchurian Candidate, perhaps his best movie, was released in 1962, then was withdrawn from circulation for 25 years while Mr. Sinatra and others fought over the rights. The chairman of the board plays Major Marco, an Army officer who can't sleep. Neither can his buddies. They just got back from the Korean War. One of his men, Shaw (Lawrence Harvey), won the Congressional Medal of Honor for saving their lives. Now every time Marco goes to sleep he has flashbacks that Shaw was brainwashed by the Commies into becoming an assassin who kills under hypnosis and forgets his crimes. That means his buddies didn't die in combat, but in a Chinese mind-control experiment.(Where else do you think last year's Conspiracy Theory got that idea?) There's more. Shaw's life would be messed up even if he weren't a killing machine. His stepfather is a McCarthy-esque senator with presidential aspirations. His mother (Angela Lansbury) is a power-hungry manipulator who must be seen to be believed. Both parents are secretly working for Red China, which now cannot help but bring snide comparisons to the Clinton administration. After some high-profile deaths occur, Mr. Sinatra races to put the pieces back together before more disaster strikes. Woven through this story is enough conspiracy theory to keep both Left and Right on the edge of their seats. The crises of two decades are thrown together into two hours of suspense. The Manchurian Candidate sat on the shelf until the Reagan era, after Mr. Sinatra stopped making movies. Since the movie resurfaced, many audiences have seen the film's mix of film-noir and paranoia as a dry satire of the era. (Imagine the next generation giggling over The Hunt for Red October.) As a political thriller, The Manchurian Candidate redefined the genre, perhaps too well. After President Kennedy was assassinated, the film was considered too close to home to watch for many years. The film never fit in with Sinatra's Brat Pack persona from the era-or with the rest of the performer's canon. But the posthumous retrospectives of Mr. Sinatra's career and the unfolding revelations about real-life Chinese manipulations of American political campaigns will undoubtedly get this movie rediscovered in the video stores. Druckerism
Peter Drucker has never managed a business, but he revolutionized American managers. With endless books published over seven decades, he has given endless advice to America's executives. Living on the precipice of Left and Right, he has had some good ideas, some bad. Both Newt Gingrich and Al Gore drink from his fountains. Even at 90 years old, he is still a highly sought-after business consultant. When Mr. Drucker started in 1939, few books on management existed. Today, the world is deluged with them, usually with prominent citations of the man who started it all. A new book, The World According to Peter Drucker (Free Press, ISBN 068483801X), gives a synopsis of his ideas. Author Jack Beatty admiringly profiles the theorist who continuously taught himself about the problems of economics and society. Drucker's work began in Austria when he took his swing at explaining the roots of fascism. He said that laissez-faire capitalism had lost its nerve. The economy had buckled and people screamed for an easy solution to their problems. To keep this from happening again, capitalism, he said, must become more compassionate. In Mr. Drucker's mind, big government and big business should work hand in hand. His focus narrowed on the linchpin of economic and social survival: the manager. Mr. Drucker's work captures every trend from privatization to corporate raiding to the information economy. For example, he told GM officials they should restructure and offer lifetime employment to workers. Detroit ignored him but Japan listened, using his ideas to help fuel their industrial upswing (which is now headed in the other direction). Mr. Drucker's devotion to management even led him to endorse today's megachurch movement. Mr. Beatty says this fits his "dream of a new postmodern social form based on commitment instead of conformity." This begs the question of whether a church can survive if management technique checkmates doctrine and worship. Right or wrong, Mr. Drucker's influence and ideas have become endemic in American culture.

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