Wherever you walk here it is hunks of buildings standing up without roofs or sides, and people living in them. Except the Ghetto, where it is just a great plain of bricks, with twisted beds, and bath tubs and sofas, pictures in frames, trunks, millions of things sticking out among the bricks. I can't understand how it could have been done...It is something so vicious I can't believe it.
— John Vachon, on Warsaw, 1946. Quoted in Savage Continent by Keith Lowe.
Picture this: you are making your dream After the End film, comic, manga, or book, and you need a way to really knock it into your audience that this world is, indeed, a Crapsack World. What do you do? Cue slow pan over abandoned, bleak, ruined cityscape or radiation-scorched wilderness. Preferably both. If you're doing a Cyber Punk work, be sure to have gloomy, twilit, ominous skyscrapers towering overmasses of stinking poverty — lots of smokestacks, toxic waste and pollution by the slums, and decadent advertisements choking the more economically robust areas. If you're making a Disaster Movie, be sure to have tons of destroyed skyscrapers, overturned cars, general burning chaos, or in the aftermath, mute, smoky desolation.
If it's post-apocalyptic, it's a look of abandonment rather that slums/sprawl or recent destruction. Buildings are crumbling, collapsed, torn open, leaning. There are rubble piles at the base of walls, peeling paint. Familiar objects are weathered, rusted, rotted, sun-bleached, and may be encrusted in dirt and dust which has been wetted by rain at some point and dried. Buildings, vehicles, etc may be half-buried in sediment as if a flood had come through, basically they're melted into the ground. Cracked desert soil is common, though not required, the next likely option is jungle-like overgrowth as the Earth retakes the city. Many of these elements are directly based on what has already happened in real abandoned locations.
Scenery Porn refers to lavish attention to background details, made in order to suck the viewers into a beautiful, gloriously detailed otherworld. Scenery Gorn, on the other hand, means to bludgeon viewers with a lavishly detailed depiction of absolute hell on earth, or scenes of complete and utter destruction and deprivation.
This is also popular with apocalyptic and disaster films. Compare Desolation Shot. Ruins of the Modern Age is a subtrope. Contrast Apocalypse Wow, which has a broader variety of uses. If the apocalypse involved a plague or virus instead of bombs, expect Ghost City.
High Dynamic Range (HDR) renderings seem to go hand-in-hand with Scenery Gorn, as everybody taking pics of real-life examples (below) seems to be addicted to HDR. Seems to be uniquely useful here since interiors lit only with sunbeams through windows or holes can't be accurately depicted with normal photographic technology when lit as they actually occur, and that natural lighting is essential to remaining authentic to the scene.
Keep in mind that the line between Scenery Gorn and Scenery Porn is highly subjective. Especially in settings where the abandoned ruins have long since been reclaimed by the forces of nature.
Crapsack World pretty much always involves Scenery Gorn, but the principle difference is that Scenery Gorn is just the scenery aspect. Crapsack World is the overall dynamics of the entire world.
Closely related (possibly sub-) tropes are Saharan Shipwreck and Ribcage Ridge, and often includes an Empathy Doll Shot. Not to be confused with Gorn Scenery.
Watchmen. The aftermath of the psychic explosion from the post-teleport death of the creature Ozymandias beams into New York. Not much damage to buildings but TRUCKLOADS OF DEAD BODIES.
Inverted in the movie - buildings crashed by the hundreds in a perfectly spherical crater, but nearly all the dead are completely disintegrated.
One comic in the Marvelman series, featuring Kid Marvelman, has London becoming just about the closest definition of Scenery Gorn after he goes on a murderous rampage through the city and gruesomely murders nearly every inhabitant in a highly disturbing manner. Some of the things shown include people running from a rain of severed hands and feet, skins hung up on clothes lines, corpses impaled on the hands of Big Ben, the Tower Bridge in ruin, mounds of severed heads, heads on pikes, cars full of people plummeting to earth, mutilated children wandering screaming through the streets, and countless dead bodies.
The Invisibles has the blasted, holocaust-slum lands of the Outer Church, devastated cityscapes filled with impaled corpses and stalked by the nightmare figures of the Archons and their servants.
Bio Apocalypse has the entire planet covered by a hideously mutated, constantly evolving organism where lesser organisms are being perpetually consumed, defecated, tortured, impaled, and digested out of other constantly evolving and rotting orifices. It has to be seen to be believed.
The Mysterious World starts out normal. Later, it shifts to an outright scenery gorntastic depiction of post-apocalyptic London.
Time Gate LBT has some scenery gorn depicting the entire US in the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust.
Out of the Shadows is an extremely dark and very bloody fan fiction. It starts out normal but dark. However, dark becomes pitch black, when the scenery gorntastic descriptions of a war ravaged Great Valley come in.
Poké Wars shows the raw power of undampened Pokémon by describing the ravaged landscapes that the battles leave behind.
Fallout: Equestria is full of very poignant visions of post apocalypticEquestria: Ponyville a destroyed ruin used as a raider outpost, Cloudsdale vaporized by a balefire bomb leaving nothing but a vast necropolis of pegasus skeletons, Canterlot inundated with Pink Cloud and inhabited by nigh-unkillable feral ghouls, and the Everfree Forest a radioactive wasteland overgrown with Killing Joke plants.
Sonic X: Dark Chaos vividly describes a galaxy torn apart. Sonic and his friends find many worlds devastated by the Metarex conflict and Shroud pandemics, and some changed beyond recognition from losing their Planet Eggs. Others have been turned into glassed hellholes by the Demon Empire or transformed into living conduits of Dark Chaos Energy.
The Dark Tower contains numerous, detailed descriptions of the post-apocalyptic land of Mid-World. Some of King's descriptions are quite creative, especially when it comes to mutated animals and "thinnies."
A lot of things King has done have some of this. Some examples being Cell and the future with JFK in /11/22/63.
In the later Harry Potter books, as Voldemort has risen to power, Diagon Alley (the reader's original introduction to the fantastical magic world) is depicted with abandoned storefronts and dark figures. Evidence that the magical world is truly turning into a dark and unhappy place. The only exception is the Weasley twins' store, which stands out as a colorful and delightful shop... the reader knows it would have been just another store in the first or second books.
Swan Song by Robert R. McCammon, which is hardly surprising as it deals with the aftermath of a nuclear war.
The Zone from Roadside Picnic is a town that got turned into a disaster area by an alien visitation. It's described as looking completely normal, if deserted, at first glance, yet having many subtle unsettling details - non-decaying trucks, shadows that point in the wrong direction. It's riddled with invisible death traps and physics-defying artifacts.
The Deltora Quest series has the Shadowlands, a completely desolate, flat, empty grey wasteland, where the sky is always covered with clouds and the only inhabitants are feral monsters and the occasional heaps of imperfectly made Grey Guards. It's so gorntastic that just being there is fills you with magically induced soul crushing despair. The 3 Doors adds the Saltings, which is basically the proto-Shadowlands, only completely filled with carnivorous Snails. The Scour and the Harbour aren't much prettier, either.
H.P. Lovecraft generally preferred describing attractive scenery, but when ugly scenery did show up, he certainly didn't skimp on descriptions of that, either. The "blasted heath" from The Colour Out of Space is particularly notable (though in that case, it's relevant to the plot).
Although it did not happen in the Miniseries, The Plan had shots of (almost) every Colony during the Cylon Holocaust, with Nightmare Fuellerrific images of burning cities and fleeing (or dying) people in a 10 minutes sequence.
"1980, Sarah, if you want to get off..." The quote comes from "Pyramids of Mars," the scene where the Doctor takes her to an alternate 1980—a barren, stormy wasteland, shredded in the wake of Sutekh's wrath. Other Doctor Who stories to feature this include just about ANY Dalek story, "The Brain of Morbius," "Survival," and countless others.
The opening scene of "The End of Time, Part 2" definitely qualifies. Remember that beautiful CGI Gallifrey from "The Sound of Drums"? We get to see it at the height of the Time War - the city dome broken, the ground littered with destroyed Dalek saucers, the Time Lord Citadel in ruins.
FlashForward (2009): The first 17 minutes of the first episode is dedicated to showing the destruction that occured in downtown LA when the entire world's population simultaneously blacked out for 2 minutes and 17 seconds. There are more images from around the world throughout the rest of the episode.
Life After People: Doesn't just show us scenery gorn, it gives us a depressing play-by-play of just how well the stuff we made would last without constant maintenance.
Power Rangers/Super Sentai: Shows up occasionally. Usually in Zord fights only a few buildings, if any, are damaged. But on special occasions the city can get quite smashed up. One of the best known is of course the rampage of the Dragonzord towards the end of the Evil Green Ranger saga from Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers.
Sanctuary: Taken somewhat literally in one episode, with the shredded bodies of hundreds of mermaids floating in the ocean. (Humorously enough, the mermaids are shown in graphic, almost clinical detail—except for Barbie Doll Anatomy.)
Threads: From the moment when the bomb hits Sheffield, there's nothing but scenery gorn - collapsed, burning buildings, piles of corpses, feral dogs. And when the action moves into the countryside, nuclear winter has taken care of all plant and animal life. Crapsack World doesn't even begin to cover it.
Warehouse 13: At the end of Season 3, we get a rather graphic depiction of the Warehouse being completely destroyed in an explosion. It's quite impressive.
Low Winter Sun is set in Detroit and uses many of the city's more clapped out locations to emphasise the show's Crapsack World setting. Even the police station is shown to be crumbling into disrepair.
In The Wire, the neglect of West Baltimore is captured in all its glory. One beat cop even jokes that if some terrorists were to "fuck up" the Western district, nobody could even tell.
The cover of Midnight Oil's 1984 album Red Sails in the Sunset features a spectacular image of Sydney Harbour, with famous Opera House and Bridge, as a water-free, crater-strewn, post-nuclear-holocaust wasteland.
The Planetstrike expansion allows Scenery Gorn of the do-it-yourself variety. Scenarios consists of a defender setting up a fortress, and the attacker blowing it to hell with orbital bombardments and drop troops. One battle report displayed before-and-after pics of the battlefield - the "before" image was a standard-issue Imperial desert fortress encrusted with fortifications, and the "after" image was mainly craters, still-bubbling laser beam scars, and similar wreckage.
Rifts wallows in this, between the post-apocalyptic ruins, the Cyber Punk aesthetic of the cities, and the Alien Intelligences and their magical creations and experiments. External and internal artwork is full of Scenery Gorn; check out the cover of Madhaven, for example.
Wraith: The Oblivion and the later books of Orpheus go into great detail describing the Shadowlands, the realm of the dead. Places and things with strong emotional attachments that are destroyed in the world of the living still exist in there, but greatly damaged and decayed and crammed in together with other things from different eras. Necropoli, or reflections of still living cities, are particularly prone to this, as are places strongly associated with death; several places associated with the Holocaust are so horrific they get their own very disturbing yet surprisingly respectful volume. As it takes place after a huge Underworld cataclysm, Orpheus makes the Shadowlands an even nastier place to be.
The blasted landscape of Dominaria in Magic: The Gathering's Time Spiral block is as much a star as the characters going through the block's storyline.
The imagery and flavor text on "Burning Blade Askari" drove the point home rather poignantly: "This can't be Jamuraa. We could not have failed her this badly..."
Shadowrun gives us such appalling sights as the Shattergraves, Bug City, the hellhole that is much of West Africa, and assorted toxic waste zones.
Every description of the surface world in Dragon Mech emphasises the mid-apocalyptic setting. Natural beauty is so rare following the coming of the lunar rain that kings will pay a fortune for a bunch of daffodils.
Homestuck: the Exiles meet in a post-apocalyptic desert hellhole that used to be Jade Harley's tropical island home. Plenty of other locations are blasted to rubble, struck by meteors, shredded by Jack Noir, or otherwise hideously mauled, but this is the one that gets the most post-Reckoning screentime.
Marble Hornets: The strange industrial basement that Alex and later Jay searches has strange blood marks smeared over the walls. Alex's house is in a similar state on the second story before the blood mysteriously disappears later.
The short video RUIN could be summed up as "scenery gorn with a motorcycle chase thrown in for good measure".
In The Animatrix compilation, The Second Renaissance has a shot of a ruined city in the snow in the aftermath of the robot-human war and a scene featuring vast ranks of robot mega-buildings: the buildings are densely covered with matrix pods, each holding a helpless human.
Thundarr the Barbarian took this one step further: forget the trashed cities, is that the MOON in pieces up there?
Who-Ville in Horton Hears a Who, after Vlad drops the clover from what would be unspeakable hights; to the Whos at least.
In Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, the Kill Sat race between Terry in the Batmobile and Joker with the Halcyon-class laser weapons platform. It's an awesome action scene until you pause to reflect on the fact that Terry just overflew a local shopping mall. The casualties probably outdo those in the first Batman movie's gas attack by an order of magnitude, at least. Then consider the plan to burn a smiley-face into the city from orbit For the Evulz, then add in the typical cyberpunk themes of urban decay and corporate-owned megastructures...
The opening sequence of Adventure Time has this right at the beginning. You see a wasteland with some nukes and broken televisions lying around, followed by a zombie-like arm waving out from a tree stump. Also, in "Ocean of Fear", you can see the remains of a city when Finn and Jake go underwater. That's not all, though. In "Mortal Folly", the entrance to the Lich's lair bears resemblance to a subway that's been attacked by the black plague. Oh, you can also see a huge crater in the Earth in "The Real You" if you pause fast enough when Finn puts the glasses on and when they're taken off.
Whenever there's an episode about Marceline's past, there will be plenty of this.
Motor City does it beautifully, drool worthy beautifully.
Galaluna becomes this after it has been invaded by Modula and the Mutraddi in Sym-Bionic Titan.