Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Apocalypse Market Is Booming. By Steve Almond


When I was a kid, one of my first literary obsessions was the 1953 sci-fi classic “Childhood’s End,” by Arthur C. Clarke. As the novel opens, a race of aliens called the Overlords has appeared. Rather than decimating humankind, they foster unprecedented peace and prosperity. Only decades later does their true purpose emerge: to recruit Earth’s children into a single cosmic entity called the Overmind, which represents the summed consciousness of all the civilizations in the universe. What begins as a utopian collaboration ends with the planet itself evaporating in a pulse of light.

I cannot begin to convey how heavy I found all this as a 14-year-old stoner.

Inevitably, more visceral forms of apocalypse supplanted Clarke’s heady visions. The major media event of my senior year in high school was the 1983 television film “The Day After,” a grisly rendering of what life would be like following a nuclear war between the United States and Soviet Union. It involved a lot of Midwesterners being flash-fried into skeletons, while survivors stumbled about delivering noble speeches.

In college, a hallmate hipped me to the world of Mad Max, Australian cult films that featured roving biker mobs cruising through desert vistas looking for mayhem and, more obscurely, gasoline. This was our destiny: “The Gumball Rally” gone berserk.

In the ensuing decades, I avoided giving much thought to the end times. It never struck me as a particularly valuable area of human inquiry. But over the past few years, I’ve found it difficult to ignore. Impossible, actually. Because as a culture, we’ve become obsessed with creating and consuming visions of the apocalypse.

Of course, there’s no real database that compiles apocalyptic narratives. The best you can do is Wikipedia. But consider the following grim statistic: in the 1990s, Hollywood released 24 films with apocalyptic themes. We’re at 26 and counting for the first four years of this decade. This is to say nothing of the zombie feasts on cable TV or the hundreds of video games that offer us a chance to roam our blighted planet loaded for bear. Or the Apocalypse app, which offers instant updates on the fate of Earth via “our secured server housed deep under the surface of the moon.”

Yes, Virginia, apocalyptic ideation has migrated from the realms of science fiction and horror into the fun house of shtick. Back in the ’60s, “Dr. Strangelove,” a satire that played nuclear war for laughs, held the power to shock. This past summer, two apocalyptic comedies (“This Is the End” and “Rapture-Palooza”) came out within a week of each other, followed two months later by “The World’s End.”

As a form of disposable entertainment, the apocalypse market is booming. The question is why. The obvious answer is that these narratives tap into anxieties, conscious and otherwise, about the damage we’re doing to our species and to the planet. They allow us to safely fantasize about what might be required of us to survive.

Of course, people have been running around screaming about the end of the world for as long as we’ve been around to take notes. But in the past, the purpose of these stories was essentially prophetic. They were intended to bring man into accord with the will of God, or at least his own conscience.

The newest wave of apocalyptic visions ...Read the full article by Steve Almond in New York Times




Source: New York TimesA version of this article appears in print on September 29, 2013, on page MM48 of the Sunday Magazine with the headline: ‘A Culture That Lurches About Within the Shadow of Its Own Extinction’.
Author: Steve Almond (USA, 1966─) is an American short story writer and essayist. He is the author of ten books, most recently, the story collection “God Bless America” ... more
Photomontage: by Taato│Adventist Reportbased on Tom Gauld original illustrations for this article in New York Times.


 

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