Year of the Apocalypse

2012_energy_conservation(Marie Lambert)– Congratulations, everyone—today is December 31st, 2012, and we are officially ten days past the end of the world. Yet another apocalypse has come and gone, like the May 21st 2011 Rapture and many more before it. While it may seem like an accomplishment to have lived past the end of the Mayan calendar, looking at the bigger picture, humans have been predicting the end of the world for a long time. Whether it’s the return of the Messiah, natural disasters, or an unlucky year number, people have found reasons that the world should be ending since 634 BCE.

Interestingly, the 12/21/12 apocalypse frenzy reached its peak a couple years ago and has died down since. There was the infamous 2009 movie, 2012, and the song “2012” by Jay Sean, which featured the lyrics “party like it’s the end of the world.” Maybe it was the cloistering nature of the Amherst Bubble that led to this, but since around the time I entered college in 2011, I can’t remember hearing as much about the supposed end of the world as I had in past years. The big day itself, Friday, December 21st, almost slipped by without my noticing, thanks to my self-imposed seclusion for my pre-Logic final on Thursday. Even upon my relieved re-emergence from my exam, no one really had much to say about Friday except maybe the occasional, “Oh yeah, the world was supposed to end today. Hmm.”

While Amherst students seem to have taken the apocalypse in stride, movie executives didn’t want to let the date pass by without capitalizing on it. I went to see The Hobbit at Hampshire Mall on Thursday night after my finals and was surprised to notice a certain foreboding theme to the trailers that played before the movie. There was a tale of post-apocalyptic Earth, then a zombie love story, then another science fiction adventure film set on Earth without humans, finally Guillermo de Toro’s epic Pacific Rim, featuring giant robots fighting alien sea monsters. Coincidence?

This semester I took a fascinating course in the Religion department called “Science Fiction, Narrative, and Identity.” Something we often discussed in class was how science fiction is always really about the present, even if it takes place in the future or another world. Looking at these upcoming movies with this in mind, it is pretty clear that the apocalypse is still a part of our collective consciousness, and rightly so.

In the spirit of the traditional end-of-the-year wrap-up, let’s look back on events of 2012 that have influenced this “end times” sort of thinking:

• We encountered something reminiscent of the standard horror film zombie in Miami in May when a homeless man was attacked and part of his face eaten by a man under the influence of “bath salts”
• The CDC published emergency instructions in case of a zombie-infection pandemic (as an analogy for the flu or other such virus, but the comparison still holds)
• As no one failed to notice, it was the year of the United States presidential election. Many seemed to think that the fate of the country was at a crossroads with this election and that America’s choice would be a turning point to either socialism or theocracy
• It was a year of extreme, destructive weather, from nationwide drought to “Superstorm” Hurricane Sandy
• There were shootings and riots and betrayals, and even now, on the last day of the year, the country stands on the edge of this “fiscal cliff” that we can’t seem to escape

Looking at this list, it’s easy to see why the end of the world seems nigh. The modern world often a terrifying and baffling place to live. And to be honest, the world is ending, because time is ticking onward and the universe is expanding and everything must come to an end at some point. Someday in billions of years our sun will expand and engulf the Earth, but probably not before humans are extinct or have left Earth for a distant world. Maybe a massive asteroid or some catastrophic natural disaster will strike and wipe out life as we know it. The point is, we can’t know when the end of the world will come—whether our personal world or the world of humanity as a whole. Maybe predicting and preparing for an apocalypse is a way of regaining agency and control over a world we can’t understand.

But for now I will leave you with the optimistic words of Jay Sean:

Happy New Year, everyone!