Apocalyptic Imagination Journal Article
Contagion, 2012, Day After Tomorrow, Last Night
The Simpsons and Family Guy
The Book of Revelation
The end of times seems to loom in the background of our civilization, a reminder that we can’t last forever. However, we are baffled by the idea that we have an expiry date. We are plagued by a curiosity that can now be satisfied by a Wikipedia age, but try looking up the apocalypse and find definitive answers. It is because we don’t know that we continue to worry about the end of days. We dive into an age of ‘what if’s. What if aliens attack earth? What if there is a nuclear war? What if we start a new ice age? What if the stories in the Book of Revelation occur? What if we die? What if we get sick? What if what if what if.
These questions are why we continue to consume apocalyptic culture like it’s our last supper. We stream into the movie theatres. People predict the end of days and panic ensues. Post-apocalyptic graphic novels, comic books, and novels take over our book stores. Of course, following these are the satires. Whether it be Homer Simpson predicting the apocalypse, sleeping through church actually being the end of the world, or the Griffin’s surviving Y2K to rebuild a society in a Twinkie factory, the satires are clearly trying to say something.
The definition of Satire is a novel, play, entertainment, etc., in which topical issues, folly, or evil are held up to scorn by means of ridicule and irony. So what is up for ridicule here? Our apocalypses, and satires our powered by our initial response of fear. I can’t tell you how many times my sister was afraid of the sun exploding after seeing The Knowing, with Nicolas Cage. I feared a meteor after seeing Deep Impact. Reading Book of Revelation had a certain fear implied that any can see as terrifying. This book in the Bible helps restore morality in people because it evokes fear is what is to come for their misdeeds. In Y2K, people build bomb shelters and cleared out grocery stores, like Peter did in Family Guy’s Da Boom episode. It is this kind of relentless fear, and the satire of it that resonates with us. The end of the world remains a mystery, regardless of how many movies and rumours there are. So how reasonable is it to panic?
The Apocalypse comes in many shapes and sizes. In Christianity, it’s the end of the entire world based on the second coming of Christ. In Hollywood it’s the alien apocalypse where Will Smith blows up the mother ship It’s an earthquake like no one has seen, which influences tsunamis, which takes John Cusack and his family to the ends of the earth for survival. It’s the environment disaster that buries New York, and Dennis Quaid goes searching for his son. These movies challenge the two things it comes down to in the end: Our homes and our family.
The world is our home. As humans, we have taken over the ends of the earth, building sky scrapers on fault lines, entire cities in waterways, highways across continents and boats big enough to house thousands. These landmarks are ours. The ‘What if’ question returns. What if it were all gone? In most apocalypse movies there is always the shot of some kind of landmark of our culture getting destroyed just to show the impact.
The sense of stability is gone. This is what we fear: A world without security, choice, freedom, safety. We are stuck in a rut of infrastructure, relying so much on our material entity that is our country, our town, our home. The apocalypse, whether it be nuclear, environmental, alien, sun explosion, or other is a change of epic proportion that challenges our stability, takes away our support. Since the family, or what is left is still in tact, there is hope. The importance of the family becomes amplified (Watch some apocalypse movies with this in mind, a lot of them focus on a families struggle and the father or mother searching for help, emphasizing family values) and the hunt is now on for a new home.
Challenging the Norms
The zombie apocalypse is different. The world is over, but all the landmarks are there. The statue of liberty is not impacted. You can still live in your home. The only thing is you cannot rely on each other. Your family and your community can become your worst enemy in a heart beat, or lack there of. Therefore, one of the differences is that the end of the world threatens our homes, whereas the zombie apocalypse threatens our people and our support system. Without it, there would be no use for our landmarks and houses and offices and community centres.
The zombie apocalypse is a family apocalypse. It is a humanity apocalypse. It is an individual apocalypse. Our very selves our challenged; our morality and survival is put up against a crowd of our most primal sins. It is no longer Man vs. Nature, but it is Man vs. Man, in the most literal sense. It is Man vs. What he has become. A thoughtless killing machine, with no remorse or morality. This zombie takes over the world with not its money or its fame or its capacity to build, but the shock of humanity turned primal animal. When our mothers, fathers, sisters, mayors, police, doctors, and colleagues become zombies, our community is at risk. We trusted them. We are not taken over by something foreign to us, but something that is us. A zombie is an animal that feeds off human flesh when before it used to sit around the dinner table at thanksgiving and carve the turkey. When we have to kill it, we feel changed, especially if that person is our family.
Why Does the Zapocalypse Take Us by Surprise?
We can expect a nuclear disaster because nuclear powers exist. We can expect climate change because it is happening. We can expect a solar flare or a meteor because we know it to be a possibility, so why should we not expect it. However, we can’t expect a zombie apocalypse because it isn’t assumed it is not a reality. People in these movies are so shocked and scared because they could not be assumed to believe it was true. The army doesn’t respond because it doesn’t make sense. People are turning into cannibals? The dead our rising? My daughter bit me? Not possible.
A regular apocalypse makes us feel small, bit not alone. The fact that an unknowing meteor can come from distant space and just happens to be in our path makes us feel a tiny bit more insignificant. In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy, our world is demolished simply because we were in the way of a highway being built. However, in a total doomsday like Hitchhiker’s, we die together.
Zombie apocalypse shocks us because is a war on home soil, where we feel far from insignificant and far from important. We feel alone in a world that does not cease to exist. It is just a continuous battle for survival were you could very well be the last one left. That is what makes it hard to keep our identities and our families safe, and to not succumb to the zombie infection. It is not only about being yourself and not becoming a zombie, the symbol of primal regression and horrendous acts. It is about holding on to that last inch of what makes you human, what makes you different from you oppressor, and what can keep whatever small group together– humanity.
The zombie apocalypse is terrifying because we may not lose our homes, but we lose ourselves. And once it gets to a certain point, if we let the zombies get to us, it will be impossible to get ourselves back.
Until next time,
Stay tuned for next week – The Survivor