So the other day, No.2 Son asks me a question. I don't know if this was a spontaneous thought or something he'd been pondering for a while, but he looked up at me and:
"Y'know King Kong?”
"At the end, when he falls off the building…?
"How many people did he squish when he landed?”
Obviously I had no idea.
But because, as the all-knowing high-father of my house (sorry, I’ve been reading a bunch of old Thor comic books, recently), there is nothing I don’t know the answer to…. at least as far as my kids are concerned, I fell back on my default answer:
“What do you think?”
He pondered this for a few moments, shrugged, said, “Plenty!” then moved on to discussing how to throw a change-up when pitching in Little League.
That was it. He’d moved on. But the question hung in there for me. It was less the actually question itself. What stuck in the back of my head was a much shorter question. Why?
And not, why didn’t I know the answer to that question, but why had I never even thought of it?
(For reference, I’m a purist, so the movie we're talking about, the one my kids have seen, is the original King Kong.)
Let’s be honest, Kong IS a bad guy. He IS a monster. He IS a killer. On Skull Island, the big ape kills plenty of people, locals and tourists alike. When he breaks free in New York, the body count starts to build pretty quickly…. and in some places, quite deliberately viciously.
Yet not only do we care about Kong; not only do we feel sad when he dies; not only do we walk away feeling that Kong was a victim…. THE victim; we completely forget the deaths he’s caused, directly and indirectly…. and we never once think about who might have been under that giant, hairy, bullet-ridden…. and now significantly more squishy, body.
Compare that to the palpable, frothing outrage of the fans, when Metropolis suffered a whole slew of damage and deaths as Superman fought Zod in "Man of Steel.”
Why didn’t people care when it came to King Kong, but they were outraged in Man of Steel?
Initially, you might think it’s down to special effects. The power of computer graphics makes it easier to destroy a movie city; that creative toolbox didn’t exist in 1932. But that doesn’t hold water. The movie 'Independence Day’ did WAY more damage, caused WAY more deaths, and THAT movie had people cheering in the cinema. (I have no idea why…. I thought it sucked.)
You might argue that the effects in Kong are so crude, compared to the sophistication of todays CGI masterpieces, that as an audience, you don’t TOTALLY buy into the reality…. you don’t completely suspend belief. But again, if that WAS the case, why do we also feel sad when Kong dies?
Honestly, I STILL have no idea what the answer is. Why that question never occurred to me before. Why don’t we care how many people King Kong kills?
Do you know?