Sunday, October 21, 2018

It's Still the Same Old Story

Yes, you can find anything on the internet....

You can buy Nerf guns now marketed to 10 year olds designed to resemble a gun put together from disparate parts assembled in a zombie apocalypse so you can shoot the things.  Of course you can buy stickers to put on your car identifying it as a "ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE RESCUE VEHICLE" or something like that.  Apocalypse by some cause (mutant virus created by evil corporation, nuclear holocaust, environmental collapse) has been a source of entertainment since the '50's (yes, Virginia, it's at least that old).  And some people take it much more seriously than the people who design and market toys and car stickers.  Is it any surprise, then, that it's on people's minds not just as entertainment,  or that it may even be attractive?

“Though we tend to think of the apocalypse as negative, the idea may counterintuitively be attractive to some,” he said. “In a world in which life feels uncertain and often unfair, in which people struggle to find a sense of personal purpose, the idea of an apocalyptic ending, though terrifying, can also feel meaningful.”

Meaningful because entertainment always makes catastrophe meaningful.  "From Here to Eternity" shifts from a tawdry tale of men at a Navy base easily bored when they don't have enough to do (or the right women to screw; pardon the jab at poetry, but that's pretty much how the women are presented in that story), that turns redemptive because of the attack on Pearl Harbor.  At the other end of the war, "The Best Years of Our Lives" provides redemption and meaning in recovery from war and return to normal life, a life that would soon explode into the suburbs and Mad Men of the '50's and '60's.  And of course, all those WWII movies that showed John Wayne winning the war singlehandedly, with a rag tag group of Americans including one drawling Southerner, a wise guy from the Bronx, and a handful of other colorful "regional" characters, all meaningful because of the war that has destroyed whole nations but brought meaning to their individual lives, nonetheless.  It's a Hollywood thing (Shakespeare's characters are seldom redeemed in his stories; at best they live happily ever after, but that's all), but then Hollywood has shaped American culture in ways deep and disturbing.

So why wouldn't people think chaos and the end of life as we know it would prove the making of who they are?  We all believe that in times of crisis our true nature rises to the fore, and we are all convinced our true nature would make us the heroes of our own action movies.

“Some are attracted to these ideas because they would be tested and could find their true purpose, maybe even emerge as heroes or people of importance in a new world,” he said. “And some like to imagine the possibility of a simpler life, what might be almost a form of nostalgia.”

(You can read the original article to find out who "he" is there.)  There's nothing really new here.  Ever imagined what you wanted done for your funeral, or who you think would be there?  That's another favorite entertainment trope, letting the deceased see who showed up to mourn, or at least get something to eat.  But you won't be there, and life isn't broken because you die; in fact, it's usually a wound that soon heals over.  It's certainly a stone thrown in the water; the hole closes, the world moves on.  We imagine our true worth will come when we die (probably one the motivations for suicide), but we don't become heroes in apocalypse or disaster:  we end up dead, or wondering how to live without electricity.  I went for three weeks without power after Hurricane Ike.  There was no lawlessness, no looting, no breakdown of civil order, as one might imagine.  But it was hot and dark meant dark, and all my usual pastimes, including work, were cut off for so long it seemed I might lose them forever.  I didn't become a better person, or a hero.  I was just me.   There was nothing redemptive about it, I was just glad when it was over (when the forces of order, the men who came to clear trees from power lines, the men who came later to repair the power lines, had come).   If looters and murderers and rapists had come calling, I doubt I would have become John Wayne in an instant.

I suspect the people who fear a collapse of society do so because they know their power and prestige rests on nothing more than society.  If governments collapse, money becomes useless, and then who is a rich person, and what does "rich" mean?  If your power rests on something so ephemeral, so insubstantial, what could destroy it?  Sure, government and society are substantial, but apocalypse in culture has taught us to think of them as more impermanent than violence.  Most Americans don't have inherited wealth, so they can easily imagine losing what they have.  Because it seems insubstantial, and because entertainment has taught us nothing gold can stay, not even the world as we know it?  Or because it all seems to be based on running as fast as you can to stay in one place, and if that place is gone and there is no place to run to, what then?

O, sinner man, where you gonna run to, all on that day?

That, I think, is the root of the fear of apocalypse.  Our anxiety tells us that what we have can be more easily lost than maintained.

Or maybe, more bluntly, it's just a matter of unenlightened self-interest and the fact that rich people aren't necessarily geniuses:

“A lot of people I see are wealthy and conservative and many of them believe we’re on the right path with this president, and that liberals aren’t understanding of it,” he said. “When I hear the anxiety from these clients, it is about heading to the extreme left.”

Yeah, about that:

In an interview with the Russian outlet Interfax that was flagged and translated by The New York Times and other outlets, [former Soviet Union leader Mikhail] Gorbachev, 87, wondered aloud: “Is it really that hard to understand that rejecting these agreements is, as the people say, not the work of a great mind.”

Gorbachev called Trump’s decision “a mistake” and “very strange.”

“Do they really not understand in Washington what this can lead to?” he asked.

“All agreements aimed at nuclear disarmament and limiting nuclear weapons must be preserved, for the sake of preserving life on earth,” he added, per the Times.
The hero, of course, always survives the apocalypse, and thrives.  Maybe that's the problem.


  1. Alan Feuer, the New York Times reporter who disgraced himself with his positive piece over the thug Gavin McInnis has also done positive pieces on those "prepper" nutters.

    The fantasy about maintaining or restoring middle-class life after some world wide cataclysm seems to me to be mostly, in its current form, a produce of Hollywood. It reminds me of my niece who was frantic about Y2K, though she was an intelligent, college-credentialed young woman at the time, she was sure that planes were going to fall from the sky and all manner of insanity happen.

    The great Canadian comedy show, Corner Gas has an episode sometime well into the millennium when Emma says to her old crank of a husband, Oscar that he's cluttered up the house with more junk than the Y2K junk he'd hoarded to get ready for that apocalypse, he says, "Don't slam the Y2K, it could still happen."

    Adventists had a more rational let down than the secular end-timers.

  2. Funny the religious end-timers are always the subject of derision for their devotion to an illusion. OTOH, "preppers" put their money where their mouth is, And it's money that matters.

    The former usually act to abandon earthly ties, the latter think more stuff will save them. Easy to see where the world's sympathies lie.