Music for the Post-Apocalypse

Here’s a playlist for the end of the world:

  • David Bowie, “Five Years”
  • Barry McGuire, “Eve of Destruction”
  • Blue Oyster Cult, “Don’t Fear the Reaper”
  • Bob Dylan, “All Along the Watchtower”
  • Coldplay, “A Rush of Blood to the Head”
  • Creedence Clearwater Revival, “Bad Moon Rising”
  • Crosby, Stills and Nash, “Wooden Ships”
  • Crowded House, “Don’t Dream It’s Over”(because of that scene in The Stand miniseries)
  • Morrissey, “Everyday Is Like Sunday”
  • Neil Young, “Don’t Let It Bring You Down”
  • Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, “The Weeping Song”
  • Nick Drake, “Pink Moon”
  • Peter Gabriel, “Here Comes the Flood”
  • Pink Floyd, “Two Suns in the Sunset”
  • Prince, “1999”
  • Rolling Stones, “Gimme Shelter”
  • Ryan Adams, “Afraid Not Scared”
  • Sisters of Mercy, “Black Planet”
  • Steeley Dan, “King of the World”
  • Talking Heads, “Swamp”
  • TV on the Radio, “Staring at the Sun”
  • White Stripes, “Seven Nation Army”

A more complete list of apocalyptic songs at Wikipedia.

Advertisements

The Post-Apocalypse Fantasy

Why do we enjoy imagining such a horrific event as the demise of most of humankind? We never seem to tire of books, movies, TV shows and music about the post-apocalypse. While not many of us would like actually experiencing the apocalypse, imagining it is a cathartic fantasy.

Who hasn’t fantasized about starting all over again from a completely clean slate? Walking away from your family, friends and stuff, moving to a new place, perhaps even changing your identity. Just starting from zero. The post-apocalypse is that fantasy writ large. It’s not just you starting over, it’s the whole human race.

Also, the apocalypse provides a neat solution to the overwhelming problems that face us today. Such issues as climate change, overpopulation, scarce resources, poverty, epidemics and never-ending violence are overwhelming to us as individuals, when we feel we can’t do much about these global problems. The apocalypse — usually caused in some way by these problems — is also the universal solution to them. In one fell swoop, the number of people is reduced to a manageable number. No more climate change because no more pollution. And unless they were destroyed in the event, resources become plentiful. Depending on who is killed off, such pervasive problems as violence and even disease might be ended. Humanity gets the chance to start over and not make the same mistakes this time.

Finally, the post-apocalypse is an individual fantasy of the ultimate challenge. What would I do if the world ended and I survived? How would I react? How would I deal with the new problems I would have? Would raising my own food be a better deal than having to go to a soul-sucking job at an office every day? (Perhaps.) It’s the greatest “what if” situation, one we may never get tired of contemplating.

As is the norm, I’m sure that if the apocalypse actually did occur, it would be both nothing like and very similar to what we’ve already imagined it to be.

The Boston Globe also has an article wondering why we are so fascinated with the apocalypse in books and movies. It gives a bit of a retrospective of the apocalypse envisioned in film over the years.


Apocalypse By Type

We have so many ways to end civilization now that we’ve had to break them down into sub-categories. Here are the types of apocalypses we might expect:

  • hard apocalypse — “The living will envy the dead” (The Road, Mad Max, Terminator)
  • soft apocalypse — It’s over, but it still goes on (Alas, Babylon, World Made by Hand, Earth Abides)
  • happy apocalypse — It might be over, but now we’ve got something better (Always Coming Home, Ecotopia, and various other utopias)
  • cozy catastrophe, where apparently you get to ride out the apocalypse in a comfortable country house (The Day of the Triffids)

“Welcome to the Soft Apocalypse” lists media that you might enjoy if you favor the middle ground.


2012: The Next Doomsday?

National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City...

Image via Wikipedia

A recent re-watching of the movie 2012 left me wanting to delve more into this propitious date. Next year — specifically December 21, 2012 — has been named as the next date of the apocalypse, or perhaps a worldwide spiritual awakening. NASA and CERN have both stated that the world definitely won’t end in 2012, but what do they know?

The source of this particular apocalyptic prophecy is the ancient Mayans. On December 21, 2012, the 5,125-year-long cycle in the Mayan calendar known as the Long Count comes to a close. The Mayans used a cyclic calendar, like we do. When it comes to the end of a cycle, the calendar flips over and begins again. It doesn’t stop, and archaeologists can find no evidence suggesting that the Mayans believed the world would end on that date, or that anything at all momentous would happen.

But modern-day spiritualists, prophesiers and doomsayers have latched onto the end of the Mayan’s calendar cycle as significant, imbuing the Mayans with greater predictive and scientific powers than they possessed. The ancient Mayan civilization, which reached its height between 25AD and 900AD, was a highly advanced one, though. It had the only known written language of the pre-Columbian Americas and had made significant achievements in art, architecture, mathematics and astronomy.

The Mayan civilization eventually collapsed, although it did not disappear; there are Mayans living in Central America and Mexico today. However, the Maya had abandoned their great cities by the 10th century. There is no universally accepted theory for why this collapse happened, although the cause is likely environmental, such as a decades-long drought or other climate change. Other factors, such as foreign invasion or internal revolt, may have played a part. The last independent Mayan city-state was conquered by the Spanish in 1697. If only the Mayans had been able to predict their own collapse or the Spanish colonization, that would have been much more relevant to their world than what may happen centuries in the future.

We humans routinely assign doomsday to a specific date. The turning of the millennium always invites such predictions, and most of us can remember the hype that built up around Y2K. Similar dire predictions were made when the year 1000 was reached. Other dates have also taken on significance for one reason or another, but so far, doomsday hasn’t come.

This time, the predictions focus on several unlikely scenarios. The Earth may collide with a passing planet or black hole. The planets in the solar system may align, causing a shift in the Earth’s polar axis. Or unusual solar activity may cause worldwide havoc. Simple astronomical observation can (and has) refute all of these predictions.

In the 1970s-1990s, the end of the Mayan Long Count was actually predicted to be a positive event, a transition from one world age to another, and therefore a time for transformation and spiritual growth. I guess it all depends on whether your spiritual glass is half-empty or half-full. I predict that we’ll muddle on, much as we always have, and NASA backs me up on that.

Personally, I think the 2012 hoopla should have ended with Roland Emmerich’s highly improbable movie. No one else, not even a rogue planet or black hole, would destroy the Earth with such glee.

We have to keep in mind that calendars, as prophetic as they may seem, are merely human inventions. The universe is not obligated to live by them or provide an apocalypse on our timetable. Just as our calendar begins with a date that is culturally significant to us — the birth of Jesus Christ — so the Mayan calendar began with a significant date for them — the creation of the present world order. However, these dates are significant only to people, not to planets or the sun, for which 5,125 years is but a blip.

Here is a summary of the 2012 predictions and why they won’t come true from Sky & Telescope magazine (PDF).


A Poem for 2012 (the Movie)

2012 (film)

Image via Wikipedia

I’m sorry it’s been so quiet around this blog lately. It feels downright post-apocalyptic around here (ha ha). I don’t get a lot of time in the day for researching and writing, and I’ve been spending that time on other projects lately. But I haven’t forgotten this lonely little blog, and I plan to put some more pieces up here soon. I hope I won’t be talking into the void.

To tide you over, I was flipping channels the other night and got stuck watching the end of 2012. I can only compare it to the urge to slow down when passing a wreck on the road — the biggest wreck EVER! Whatever you want to say about 2012, no movie destroys the earth with as much maniacal glee. In fact, the first time I saw it, I wrote a poem about it, which I will share with you now.

Oh world
How many ways can I destroy you?

1. Drop LA into a bottomless chasm.
2. Explode Yellowstone with a volcanic spasm.
3. Coat Vegas in a layer of ash.
4. Wipe out Washington with a big splash.
5. Decimate Europe so everyone must leave it.
6. Drown the Himalayas (though no one will believe it).

It’s my world and I’ll do what I want to,
And all I want to do is destroy you.

Stay tuned for more on 2012 (the year, not the movie) and other interesting topics of the post-apocalypse.

 


Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said:—Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter’d visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp’d on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock’d them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.


Apocalypse vs. Dystopia: Some Definitions

Cover of "The Children Of Men"

Cover of The Children Of Men

In doing research for this blog, I have noticed that two sub-genres frequently get confused: the dystopian story and the post-apocalyptic story. While these two areas of future storytelling may overlap, they don’t mean the same thing at all. So let’s define some terms, shall we?

We’ll begin with apocalypse. An apocalyptic story is one that depicts the end of modern human civilization as we know it, usually due to some cataclysmic event. A nuclear war, a meteor impacting the Earth, a zombie uprising, a 99 percent fatal epidemic — all of these things can usher in the apocalypse. A post-apocalyptic story concerns itself with what happens after that apocalyptic event, whether immediately following it or far, far in the future.

Often what happens is the rise of new societies. These societies may sometimes be dystopias. A dystopia is the opposite of a utopian society. Utopias are pretty much perfect, providing for the needs of all of their citizens. Dystopias, on the other hand, are usually oppressive, totalitarian and violent.

Utopian and dystopian societies do not have to arise out of an apocalyptic event, however. 1984 and Brave New World are both classics of the dystopian sub-genre that do not depict an apocalypse. Or take, for example, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, which is often mis-classified as post-apocalyptic. In that novel, a fundamentalist Christian group overthrows the current government and establishes a totalitarian society that enslaves women. Although environmental degradation has caused widespread infertility, no true apocalypse takes place. In fact, the primary point of view of the novel is of a future society looking back on this time in history.

Compare that with The Children of Men by P.D. James (or the movie based on it). In that case, although the apocalypse has not yet occurred, it is anticipated, because every person has lost the ability to reproduce and no children have been born in a generation. The novel could even be classified as pre-apocalyptic in that sense (see my previous post). This situation has directly created a dystopian government, which took power to enforce order on the growing chaos and anarchy occurring ahead of the apocalypse. So The Children of Men is an apocalyptic novel, whereas The Handmaid’s Tale is not, even though the subject matter is similar.

Sometimes the dystopian society is the cause of the apocalyptic event. This is the case in Margaret Atwood’s companion novels Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood. The futuristic society she depicts is overwhelmingly consumerist, with a huge gap between rich and poor. One character takes it upon himself to engineer a virus to wipe out humankind and start all over again from scratch.

While I enjoy dystopian novels of all kinds, I am most interested in those dystopias that directly arise from an apocalyptic event. There are numerous examples of these, which may be why the two terms are so often confused. One I recently finished reading was The Gate to Women’s Country by Sheri S. Tepper. After a devastating war, a society of walled cities based on ancient Greece arose. The cities are governed by women, while the men are forced to live outside the city walls as soldiers. Another good example is Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm, where the human survivors rely on cloning to reproduce. The cloned generations gradually change, losing their individuality and other essential human qualities, and oppressing anyone who differs from the norm.

Or if it’s a post-apocalyptic utopia you’re looking for, you might try Always Coming Home by Ursula K. Le Guin. Set in the far future California, it depicts an agrarian, idyllic society. Although they have access to technology — computer networks that survived the pre-apocalyptic civilization record their stories and occasionally provide information — they maintain an pre-Industrial Age way of life. Such an idealized lifestyle certainly seems unattainable without an apocalypse to first wipe the slate clean and allow us to start all over — and do it right this time.