Judgment Day is everyday with Mike Davis. The La Brea tar pits are his spiritual birthplace, apocalypse is his middle name and the plagues that visited the ancient Egyptians are his psychic companions. As readers of his earlier powerful apoca-literature, City of Quartz and Ecology of Fear, know, this mordantly scathing writer doesn’t just research his work, he exhumes it.
Damning humankind’s “malice to the landscape” and its abused inhabitants, Davis turned Southern California’s palm-strewn paradise into an allegory of fire and brimstone, a climactic urban horror story. “The best place to view Los Angeles of the next millennium is from the ruins of its alternative future,” he proposed in his signature work, City of Quartz, a decade ago. “The desert around Llano has been prepared like a virgin bride for its eventual union with the Metropolis.”
After setting the match to the City of Angels, Davis’s books illuminated parallel graveyards–ravaged cities, maltreated minorities and scenarios scarred by ecological and racial conflagrations ablaze in a decade less potentially holocaustical than our own. These days, when real life lives up to his nightmare visions–and Bill Moyers confirms that “if you like God in government, get ready for the Rapture”–this chronicler of urban pestilence might find still more readers for his new book, Dead Cities: And Other Tales.
As today’s citizens tremble to the color-coded warnings of Washington’s terror demonologists, they should be receptive to the narratives of this eloquent standard-bearer of ecological destruction. “Maybe God…is mad at us for making all those dirty movies,” as Davis quoted an LA columnist in Ecology of Fear. And Allah may be his willing guardian.
Godly, or simply secular, Davis’s preface, “The Flames of New York,” considers today’s troubles with his usual flair for the noir, relinquishing neither the dramatic style by which he turned the City of Angels into the City of Demons nor his rousing use of history. His vivid vituperation against post-9/11 America begins with H.G. Wells’s 1907 warning note about the “massacre of New York.” It works. Wells’s text is an ominous foreshadowing of our day, when “a foreign policy dominated by the Trusts and Monopolies entangles America in a general War of the Powers,” and “New Yorkers, still oblivious to any real danger, rally to flags, confetti and an imperial Presidency.”
In this preface, Davis milks Wells’s dark language to create a gripping warning of “the end of American exceptionalism” with a damning portrait of the “Last Days of America’s Pompeii.” He begins by mining pre-attack America’s terror-mongering, reminding us of the now “laughable” media-fueled warnings: “the occult menaces of black helicopters, killer asteroids, maddog teenagers, recovered memories.” And he offers sociologist Barry Glassner’s list of the overfeared, more common goblins thereafter, including “young Black men, street drugs, terroristic political correctness and so on.” The inventory extends to satanic preschools, road rage and other random ills, excluding little else but the West Nile virus, it begins to seem.