Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Magic of The Atom

So, I’ve been seeing this around the interweb’s various social media lately:
        Now, I have no knowledge of the identities of the two posters, just-shower-thoughts and mallemerok.  I don’t know if they are Americans or not.  I don’t care.  Even if they were just having fun, the internet is taking them at face value.  And that’s where I come in.  I know I’m nerd-raging, but this is the sort of thing I started this blog to talk about.  The first poster is wrong.  You can find nuclear-spawned heroes and monsters in both American and Japanese popular culture.  The second poster is also wrong, because the narratives you get in our two countries are more the same than anything else.  The tumblr posters think the difference in the narratives is the outcome, but the heart of both narratives is that nuclear radiation is a source of power that is in effect, magic.  I do know that mallemerok is talking about the atomic bomb, and that event casts a long shadow over the Japanese imagination.  If I do not mention it, someone will think I need it pointed out.
When we think of nuclear spawned monsters we think of Godzilla and The Hulk, the Beast From Twenty Thousand Fathoms, and just about any movie featuring a giant version of an ordinary animal.  Amongst the heroes, Spider-man and the Hulk are the most famous and enjoy a large following in Japan.   But Japan’s Astro Boy also gets his powers from nuclear fuel and the lesser known Inazuman owes his powers to a radiation-triggered mutation.   The common connection between the stories about Spider-man and Godzilla is that nuclear radiation created them, but both characters go against the laws of physics.  Well, to say the likes of Spider-man and Godzilla break the laws of physics is to under-sell it.  There really is no science whatsoever in these stories.  They are so far from reality almost no one even bothers to go through the bad science of comic books and Japanese tokusatsu.  
What you have in these stories is: a) nuclear science is a source of power, b) so it confers power on other beings.  Well, a) is true.  Conferring power on another being is something that magic does.  In other words, popular culture treats nuclear science like a classic superstition.  With the right invocation, the atom gives its gifts.  Spider-man does not know the right invocation, but he could reproduce the accident that gave him his powers if he experimented.  Astro Boy’s creator Dr. Tenma did know the right invocation.  So did Albert Einstein, Edward Teller, Robert Oppenheimer and Enrico Fermi.

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