Ken Chitwood talks about his favorite asteroid disaster films and what we can learn about how to respond to conflict from them.
An asteroid the size of Brangelina’s Malibu home skimmed past Earth last Friday, February 15th. Although it was not on a collision course, it is a cause for concern for many.
Knowing the stress and panic that an imminent asteroid impact induces, movie makers have long utilized such a plot to entertain audiences with their own entry to a library of over-the-top disaster flicks.
Overwhelmingly, these films play to male moviegoers and scanning the repertoire of such “choice” films, there are a few stock responses to such portentous events that mirror how many men react to stress.
To illustrate this point, and draw a few conclusions about men and reactions to tough situations, it is good to look at three disaster films that play on the asteroid-about-to-strike-earth theme: “Armageddon,” “Deep Impact” and “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.”
This is the consummate asteroid movie. Bruce Willis. Aerosmith. Fiery rock. Big boom. Save the world. You can’t make it better, or worse, than this.
The film centers around a team of deep-sea oil drillers blasted off into space to land on the Texas-sized asteroid and drill a nuclear device deep inside, which will explode and save the world. Boom. Done.
I can almost guarantee you that this idea was “thunk” up in a room full of dudes. Because men tend to react more aggressively than women to stressful situations ranging in severity from asteroid impacts to financial turmoil in the household.
Scientists in Australia reported that the SRY gene, which helps direct male development, may promote aggressive reactions to stress. This leads to less logical and empathetic reactions to demanding circumstances and more often means a big blow up, rather than a reasoned response.
Hence, the “let’s blow up the big rock in the sky before it hits us,” plan of action in “Armageddon.”
Unfortunately, while such a rejoinder may be a great tear-jerking heroic move in a movie, its poor form when dealing with everyday human situations with the people you love. Instead of fixing the situation, it leads to more pain, deeper issues and potentially, unnecessary violence.
The other half of the SRY gene’s unfortunate endowment to the male stress-response system is typified in the movie, “Deep Impact.”
The basic idea is similar to the previous film, and (surprise, surprise) the world’s leaders, led by Morgan Freeman playing POTUS, decide to detonate the doomsday bolder in the sky. As explained above, this only creates a bigger problem – now they have two massive rocks hurtling towards Earth. So what’s the next response? Hole up in the ground to survive the impact and its after effects.
Typical. Guy. Move.
If reacting out of frustration and vexation does not work, the next tactic employed by most guys is the “flight” side of our evolutionary heritage. If outright confrontation isn’t the answer, then surely, avoidance is the next best option.
This type of counteraction to a pressure-packed situation can involve stepping outside, taking a drive, retreating into a man cave, chilling out with a beer, going to hang with buddies, etc. While it may allow the boiling blood of both parties involved to cool down, it does not address the problem.
Instead of attending to the issue, it just gets buried deep so it can eventually bubble up in the form of criticism and contempt on the part of the offended party and further stonewalling from the man.
The more stonewalling there is, the less of an emotional connection there will be between partners and the more likely it is that the two won’t make it through their next fight, or successive ones, and their relationship will terminate.
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
“Seeking a Friend for the End of the World,” is kind of a sad, depressing, film. Not your typical Steve Carrell movie. But as viewers follow the story of the sorrowful protagonist, a love story begins to emerge and hope begins to bloom. (Spoiler alert!) Of course, the asteroid is still destroys the world and the newly devoted couple dies, but an important truth is revealed amidst the ironic comedy and dreary backdrop.
When horrible things happen, when it all hits the fan, it is best to turn towards your partner than to blow up or walk away.
The researchers in Canada who discovered that men more typically emotionally detach themselves in reaction to stressful stimuli found that women “tend and befriend,” engaging in nurturing and social networking.
Men have something to learn here.
It’s easy for us to react to conflict and tension with an attack. We are genetically wired to head into flight mode if the fight seems too big and hairy to handle. Nevertheless, we are called as men to engage the moment and do something amidst the calamity.
The best reply is to turn towards the person you love and cultivate care and encouragement even in the midst of an emotional meteor shower.
Will it stop the asteroid impact? Probably not. Conflict is always going to happen. Will it save you from emotional vulnerability? Absolutely not, it necessarily involves opening your heart to others. Will it engender you to your loved ones and build strong bonds that will matter the next time conflict comes? Definitely, and that’s what really matters when disaster strikes.
Because, when you look at these movies, the asteroid doesn’t really matter – in the end, it’s about the characters and their relationships with each other.
So the next time conflict comes, resist the temptation to react like Bruce Willis or Morgan Freeman and make like Steve Carrell; turn towards your loved one, and care for the relationship rather than the conflict itself.
Photo credit: Flickr / Dreaming in the deep south