Rhodopsin and Rhinos
“You know what my favourite disaster would be? And Jesus, I pray for one of these. An asteroid. A big fucking asteroid. And I mean big. Never mind this shit. It destroyed the barn. I'm talking about a big hunk of rock the size of Minnesota, a flaming asteroid the size of Minnesota screaming through the atmosphere and smashing right into hey, Minnesota. Fuck the fuck. You can never have too many dead people.”35
In defence of Carlin, not that he needs it, the demolition motive, adopted by many disaster film climaxes and the weather channel alike, makes the analogy that a mass death event, near extinction event, levelling of the city, provides an opportunity to start anew, a temporary lapse in capitalist ordeals, leading to cooperation, a hard tug at the loose threads of this paradigm that perhaps can create a tear in the system.
Rhodopsin36 is a light-sensitive chemical found in the photoreceptive rods of your retina, commonly known as “visual purple” and responsible for the phenomenon of the afterimage. The afterimage usually occurs following a flash or any nimble transition from darkness to illumination. This encounter with light temporarily “burns” an image into the eye, which you can carry with you momentarily. The afterimage is a suspension of a moment, a reflection of the past on the present. Now I jump- should the disaster be jolting enough, the afterimage of the event propagates from the retina to the media, offering a moment for reflection, but only if the flash is grand enough. Size matters- when it comes to disaster, comedian George Carlin and Italian realist filmmakers agree that Aftermath is an opportunity. The afterimage, which for our purpose is synonymous with the aftermath– as in the moments after a jolting event that temporarily suspends time– has the potential to move an individual, community, society to immediate action. Yet, if the reflection is stronger than the damage, once your vision clears, the afterimage will quickly be forgotten or rendered symbolic. There is benefit then for sensationalising disaster, which Sontag's good war, Carlins anticapitalist solar system and even Rossellini’s film sets consider, the opportunity presented by complete and utter demolition. However Hollywood rejects this opportunity, favouring again and again the Adam and Eve plot-line: which reinforces a desire to return to a pre-disaster state rather than imagining new possibilities for the future. To truly transform our perspective, we must consider how we can move beyond this narrative and imagine new ways to address climate change.
There are only two northern white rhinoceros left in the world and they are both female. A mother and daughter, both infertile women at the end of their species. I have been following their story since 2018 when a hideous sculpture was erected on Astor place. 3 rhinos, one male, too old to reproduce and two infertile females. The artists, a married couple, spent time with the 3 doomed rhinos prior to making the sculpture. In an interview they said they wanted the public to know the Rhinos names- Sudan, Najin and Fatu. When Sudan died, articles about the last two spoke in hopeless riddles, but on September 11th 2019 “scientists from the Avantea laboratory in Italy announced that they had successfully created two Northern white rhino embryos.. The embryos were created using eggs from one of the last two of the subspecies (Fatu), after five oocytes (egg cells) were harvested in August 2019 from both Fatu and her mother Najin”37 So the solemn image of a mother and daughter living out the last days is now a mother and daughter under 24 hour guard, undergoing consistent egg harvesting. Science fiction prevails, Adam and Eve become Fatu and Najin, and we chug on “reflecting” and memorialising the planet to death.