Saturday, January 31, 2015

it's the end of the world as we know it

Do you think the end of the world will come at nighttime?
    Jim Stark: 
Uh-uh, at dawn.

That was how James Dean visualized the end of the world in the 50s teen angst expose', Rebel Without A Cause. Yawn. In that movie, reference to the end of the world is underused as simple foreshadowing. Plato's gonna die at dawn, we get it.

In a larger sense, however, media and popular culture references teach us how to know when things in our society are going well. When things are good, start dreaming about how it will all go to hell. The equilibrium of life requires there to be an end time. No matter who I've encountered in this life, everyone seems to have their own idea of how all that we have which we label civilization will be drained away from us, seemingly in a matter of seconds. Jerry Seinfeld said it best when he said he's always got a friend whose up and a friend whose down, but he's always in the middle. Could it be that Jerry Seinfeld is God?

By the way, yesterday was my birthday.

(So this is why we're examining the end of the world, Ed? No, of course not... Well, maybe.)

I'm actually reflecting on a book I just read called Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. (It's title comes from a graphic novel one of the characters is working on). In it, she paints an interesting picture of what takes place at the twilight's last gleaming, when a virus ravages the earth, wiping out mankind for the most part. It's even more chilling for me, since a short story I wrote two years ago, that just got published in an anthology, has a strikingly similar account of the end of humanity. I'm sure she didn't rip me off, or vice-versa, but those end of time stories all seem to share some common elements.  

Trying to imagine what the end of the world will look like, can be fun, in a haunted house kind of way. There is no shortage of possibilities presented in literature and media, and I started thinking about those which remain prominent in my head while reading Ms. Mandel's masterpiece. Let's take a look now at the depictions of the end which still manage to keep me up at night.

The Bible
The Book of Revelation is the first account most of us are familiar with when it comes to the end of time. Jesus blows the whistle, and all game play stops, usually with everything on fire. The lesson here is every moment has to be spent preparing for the end, so get off your ass, because the big man sees everything.

Time Enough At Last
Rod Serling did his best to deprive us of sleep with his ultra creepy television show, The Twilight Zone. As much as I hate him and CBS for scaring me on a regular basis, you gotta admit, his stories were fantastic. In, Time Enough At Last, our main character is a book worm who can't focus on anything else but reading. Driven into the vault at the bank where he works so he can read in privacy during lunch, he is the only one saved when nuclear war happens. Glad that he will no longer be bothered about his lust for reading, he gathers all the books he can and settles in for a post apocalyptic one man book club binge. Good plan, right? Ha ha, fate has a different idea as his uniquely thick glasses break before he can read word one. The lesson here is no one escapes the end.

Gone With The Wind
Oh, fidlee-dee. That's right Ms. O'Hara, worry about the details tomorrow, like every other spoiled white girl does. What's the worst that can happen? Oh, I don't know, maybe every man you marry dies, there's only one chicken left for you to feed the man that won't touch you, and the privileged world you knew full of pretty dresses and genteel parties crumbles to ash? Welcome to dystopia, southern-style. No zombies here, just Yankee carpetbaggers, which I suppose are like zombies since nothing can stop them. The lesson here, slavery is wrong. (like I had to tell you that.)

The Day After
If Jason Robards can't make it out in one piece, who will? The Day After was a must watch mini-series when I was in grade school. Kind of a modern day "War of the Worlds," ABC produced this program as a way of highlighting the perils of a post atomic winter world in which human turns against human and we all learn the importance of keeping canned food in our basements. Rumor has it a town in Georgia lost power just as the scenes of the nuclear weapon detonations were shown and a riot broke out. The lesson here is we should keep spare underwear with the canned food in the basement for the kids when they watch The Day After.

Logan's Run
In the future, it's a perfect world for the first 21 years of your life, then you report to a sleepshop to voluntarily end your life or a sandman will bust a cap in your ass. I'm not sure a perfect world will look like a seventies indoor shopping mall, but in Logan's Run, it does. All this happens because of a population control initiative that rivals Obamacare in it's strict societal application. Is it an end of the world tale? Of course it is, as runners can escape to the surface where the remnants of the old world still exist. The lesson here is look as good as you can as long as you can, then run like hell.

The Jetsons
No, I'm not crazy. I'm pretty smart and I'm sure the saturday morning cartoon show The Jetsons was not only a future equivalent of The Flintstones, it was also a warning of a post apocalyptic, ravaged by atomic war, earth. What's my evidence? First off, no one walks on the earth's crust anymore. Second, no one exposes themselves to the atmosphere, opting instead to rest comfortably in clear domes. Finally, all the buildings we see are on tall stilts, obviously because of the lingering radiation and rotting corpses in the rubble below. The lesson here, invest in stilt high rise construction companies, because the future looks sweet up there.

Night of the Comet
I saw this movie in high school and it spoke to me. A comet flies too close to earth and spreads instant destruction. The outcome of exposure; either you die and turn to dust instantly, or become a zombie, all in one night. Luckily, there are a few humans left, mostly attractive teenagers looking to get it on, just like me and my friends. The lesson here is, we'll make it man, just as long as all the parents die.

Chances are, the real end won't look anything like we imagined. I bet the dinosaurs didn't think we'd replace them. Hopefully, the zombies and mutually assured destruction and mutated viruses will stay away long enough for us to meet again, or at least long enough for us to watch Night Of The Living Dead, The Andromeda Strain, Mad Max, and I Am Legend, one more time.

And if the lights go out, and all forms of communication stop working, and you decide to show up at my doorstep with a copy of that God-awful movie, 2012 to watch while society collapses, I'll shoot your ass.