Friday, March 5, 2010

Welcome to Ogden Marsh, Iowa

Ogden Marsh is a small farming community in central Iowa. Compared to many other rural communities of it's size, its chamber of commerce operates an extensive website where visitors can discover "The Friendliest Place on Earth."

You'll also find a link there, through the Ogden Marsh Gazette, to Kim Jonson's blog. She's a local citizen organizing against some environmental abuses in the region. Below, she puts her own local perspective to work on the 25th anniversary of one of the most devastating environmental disasters in recorded human history:
I remembered today that December 3rd marked the 25th anniversary of Bhopal, and it makes me so angry that after all these years, and all the terrible repercussion we have seen from that disaster, that we do not have comprehensive regulations for toxic chemicals! It totally freaks me out that something like Bhopal could happen here in Ogden Marsh because the government hasn’t taken appropriate action to protect its citizens. It’s crazy that these chemical companies are still trying to keep dangerous chemicals on the market just to make a buck. Remember when chemical companies spent millions of dollars to squash a bill in California that would ban toxic flame retardants from furniture? Why? I understand industries need to make a profit, but why at the expense of public health?
What is Ms. Jonson describing exactly? Slurry ponds, mountain top removal, Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), Terminator seeds? No. Crazy Zombies.

The Ogden Marsh Chamber of Commerce site is part of the "viral marketing" campaign for the new horror film The Crazies, which, like so many recent Hollywood projects, is actually a remake of a previous concept: George A. Romero's The Crazies from 1973. Instead of using any of the very real environmental challenges (or otherwise) facing rural americans, the filmmakers have chosen to use the "secret government project" conceit familiar to many horror/science fiction films. Though it certainly links to contemporary conversations about the environment, it may miss the mark in how it adapts this line of concern to a rural community--as the success of this website relies heavily on its (largely urban) viewers believing that this town could exist in their vision of rural America. A kind of filtered verisimilitude is on display here.

On a positive note, the film doesn't seem (at least from the trailers) to be trafficking in the long and all-to-familiar Hollywood stereotypes of hicks, rednecks and hillbillies. Yet, a larger cultural anxiety speaks through the director Breck Eisner's own synopsis of the movie's horror potential. It's a mix of a traditional american "pastoral" sense of the rural, but also a real sense of alienation that exists upon the thought of being disconnected (physically, technologically) from an urban center:
There is this husband and wife, David and Judy Dutton, and they are in this town of Ogden Marsh, in the middle of these cornfields, in the middle of Iowa. They are trapped not in a box, not in a small underground bunker, they are trapped in the midst of these epic landscapes and these fields that go on forever. To get away from the crazies is this dangerous journey across these epic and open landscapes. There's nowhere to hide. There's no trees, no houses, no buildings. You can walk down a road and you are seen for thirty miles.