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Thoughts on the apocalypse
msauvage purple
I want to begin by saying that, intellectually, I do not believe the world is going to end tomorrow, or on any other particular day--as an adult, I don't believe the ending of the world, such as it might be, would be a single-day affair. But as a child, I was terrified of it.

For those of you who may somehow be unaware of this cultural institution, the Weekly World News was a grayscale tabloid that was basically The X-Files in newspaper form, only if Mulder had never had a Scully. And one day, I was shifting idly from foot to foot in the checkout line behind my mother and our grocery cart, as you do when you're eight years old and you're having to do adult things with adults, and time slows to a crawl, maybe even starts moving backwards. I was one of those Good Children you hear about, who never threw tantrums or whined, and endured all rips in the time-space-attention span continuum with infinite quiet. So I'm reading the Weekly World News front page, and this particular summery week, they are here to inform me that the world will end, most definitely, on a particular date about two years in the future. Ironically, as much as this date haunted me for two years of my young life, I can't even remember what it was now. I doubt the WWN staffers even remembered what it was the next day; they had already moved on to another Elvis sighting and the Continuing Adventures of Bat Boy and probably three other world-ending dates. The WWN was the best fiction you could buy for your dollar, but I was only eight and didn't know that--the news, all news, was gospel. All I knew was, it was 1987, I was never going to grow up, and we were all going to die. And because I was a Good Child, I never mentioned my anxieties to anyone--I never broke my quiet to ask my parents, you know, hey, what are we doing for the end of the world, have you thought about this yet? (Probably a cookout. We had a lot of cookouts.)

And then, two summers later, the end of the world rolled around, and I watched the sky all day, and was relieved, if still a little uneasy, when it didn't even so much as rain. I won't say it was The End of My Faith in Journalism, but I was confused--maybe even a little angry--that a newspaper ("newspaper") had decided to scare the shit out of me for two years solid for no real reason. Because newspapers were never wrong. If  the Weekly World News had told me something that was not true, it was because they had LIED. I mean, was Bat Boy not real either? Was the President not really a Martian robot replacement for the real President who had actually died after being shot all those years ago? Why do people go around telling stories that aren't true as if they are just to scare people? I was already an aspiring young writer, and serious as a heart attack about it--the school had sent me to Young Writers' Conference in town every year since I was six years old, and I had even had a story published in a student-teacher magazine when I was eight, those two years before--but I had never, ever tried to claim that my story about the talking animals whose rich eccentric owner had set them free into the world on a bet to see if they could find their way back in a year (I seem to recall that they rafted over a waterfall and later hailed a cab on their travels), I had never tried to claim that such a thing could be true.

I... I was maybe a strange child. As all children are.

The interesting thing about the time in which I grew up--I was born in 1978 and turned 34 last Friday, for reference--was that doomsday warnings were not a one-off event. For some reason, the zeitgeist of 1990 was all about a sort of cheerful environmentalism--for kids!--that tried to sweeten its tidings of certain doom with a thick frosting of can-do child activism. In particular, anyone who doesn't recycle is KILLING THE EARTH, never keep the fridge door open more than two seconds, and hairspray is evil (tell your mom!). (Oddly, in addition to the neo-hippie, literal "earth child" fashion statements of the time--we are all children of the earth, you know--I remember animal print being a big trend as well. This seems... somewhat counterintuitive, in retrospect.) This was the age of Captain Planet and the Planeteers, and also, in the vague recesses of my memory, a prime-time all-star TV special in which Whoopi Goldberg was a hospitalized Gaia who had all kinds of celebrity visitors who explained, at length and in small words, why saving her--the Earth itself--was so important. And then, at the end, she died. SHE DIED. THE EARTH DIED. You know, let's not even get into all the Cold War "everyone dies horribly in nuclear fallout, sadface" things they showed us in school before that. Or the fact that the (very admirable) AIDS Awareness push (you might or might not know what sex was, but it was definitely going to kill you) was happening simultaneously. What I'm trying to tell you here is that television during my childhood was fucking terrifying. Really? Minimizing the chlorofluorowhatsits from our refrigerator doors is going to do anything? WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE. 

I'm glad that eight, ten, twelve-year-old me doesn't know that, twenty years later, it's going to be even worse because no one listened to Captain Planet or Vice President Gore, and no one in our government who could have done anything about saving the earth did anything about it, and we're pretty much to an irreversible point of environmental damage. But, like I said. The end of the world might be a lot of things, but it won't be a one-day affair, and I'm pretty sure we'll see it coming.

(And yet, I find myself putting off the oddest things. Who wants to spend their last day on Earth tweezing their eyebrows? Does it matter if the kitchen counters are clean? Can the Christmas cards wait till Epiphany? Who wants to do laundry? Well, no--my favorite shirt is in there; I'd like to have it clean.)

To be honest with you, I'm really anxious about December 21. Not because I believe that some kind of Mayan hellfire will actually rain down on us, but because other people might believe it will, and there are a lot of people in this country who have guns. I had a really depressing paragraph here about the scary stories we tell ourselves around the electronic campfire, the conspiracy theories and the politcal antagonism and the apocalypse specials on TV, but I think I'll spare you the details. We all know that things--in this country, certainly--are real-world adult-scary right now, and I don't really need to belabor that point. Suffice it to say, I'm more concerned about the stories we tell ourselves, the way we kept squeezing this apocalyptic boil until it's gone septic. We're trying to drain the infection with zombie-invasion stories, we're trying to cancel the apocalypse, but we are all so afraid of each other, and so afraid of what we've done, what we've neglected to do, and what it's too late to fix.

I've always hoped that the world would end not with a bang, or even a whimper, but that it would just end. Like a television turned off; like closing, as a world, our eyes. It would end so quickly that we wouldn't even know it; we would simply cease to know anything. It wouldn't be days of screaming and suffering and outrunning lava like in all the disaster movies; it wouldn't be nuclear sores or hiding from zombies or fighting over fallout shelters. It wouldn't even be a Judgment Day full of beasts and angels. The world would just end. If we have to lose this world, a world of beautiful and marvelous and wonderful things, and of ugly things, mistakes that we'll never have the chance to try and make right, of riddles we'll never solve and secrets we'll never uncover, let that be punishment enough. Let the world just

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Yeah, I try to put that kind of thing out of my head as much as possible. So of course my mother loves disaster movies and doesn't want to see them alone, and I end up having to go. Like, I'm the kind of person who finds the movie 2012 kind of upsetting.

As one of my Facebook friends was just pointing out, "But about that day or hour no one knows" is an oddly comforting portion of the Bible. Because really, outside of a few apocalypse junkies, who WANTS to know?

Shit, I forgot to mention that--that is my mother's slam-dunk response to any end-of-the-world predictions. Kind of makes you want to predict every single day as the end, just to be safe.

First off, that last paragraph is brilliantly done.

I can recall waking up the morning of January 1, 2000, and being relieved - and feeling a little silly about that relief.

In middle school, I think it was, a couple of my friends had come across some doomsday prophecies. I do recall being particularly worried about one that began "In nineteen hundred and ninety-six, build your house of wooden sticks". I can't remember the rest, but I do know it had something to do with global annihilation.

I don't remember when I first realized that WWN was making shit up. My suspicion is that I read one of the headlines aloud and my mother scoffed and told me it wasn't real. Come to think of it, I haven't seen WWN at the grocery store in years. That's kind of a shame - as an adult I find it amusing.

Too bad your mom drags you to disaster movies. Can't your sister fulfill that duty from time to time?

Well, I often get some Fifteen Minutes stuff out of it, so: silver lining. And she and I enjoy Alien movies, whereas my sister is terrified of anything having to do with outer space. Movies We Are Willing to See With Each Other is kind of a complicated Venn diagram, I'm afraid.

I think it still has a website, quoth Wikipedia when I glanced there? But I don't think it's printed for a few years now.

This post is strangely beautiful and off-putting all at once. Thinking about the end of times makes me itchy, and while there's a certain calmness about the world ending in the way you described...that sort of scenario scares the shit out of me because it takes any control over the situation I have away, you know? Like at least with natural disasters or zombies or nuclear warfare, I have an opportunity to fight to survive. The world just blinking out is terrifying for me.

I was born about ten years after you but I vaguely remember the environmentalist agenda growing up in the 90s. The biggest apocalyptic world-destroying scenario for me, though, was New Years in 2000. To this day I still don't fully understand the fuck all that hoopla over Y2K and computer viruses was about, but I do remember being scared as we entered the year 2000.

But I think that has something to do with growing up Catholic in the church that I did. My Sunday School teachers were never very...gentle with the idea of the Rapture. I remember one teacher saying that it would be agents of the devil holding a gun to my head and demanding to know whether or not I believed in Jesus Christ and if I said yes, I got to live but was eternally damned whenever I did die.

Eight-year-old me didn't really know how to process that, but for a long time *that* was my apocalypse scenario. Some demon pressing the barrel of a gun to my temple and asking me if I believed in god. Even now, at damn near twenty-five, it's still one of the first images my mind conjures up when someone mentions the apocalypse.

Even though I'm certain nothing is going to happen tomorrow--and that if I do experience the end of the world, it's probably going to be a confluence of events that humanity brought upon itself--I think there's still a tiny part of me that worries about fire and brimstone and being shot in the head.

So yeah, since we're sharing psychological apocalypse mind-fucks of our childhood, there you go. lol

Yeah, I find the entire concept of genuinely contemplating the end of the world to be off-putting and unsettling, but it ought to be, I guess, if you're going to think about it in any honest, realistic way. As opposed to framing it as a survivalist fantasy (which is fine in itself). The idea of the world just blinking out is comforting to me, I guess, because I'm presuming the end of the world over all is something that can't be survived. Rather than struggle in misery and terror, you know--just let it end.

Now, if it turns into a non-literal world-ending that's just "terrifying event(s) that end civilization as we know it, but not life," that would be something different. I'm not really looking forward to that, either, but that's more of the survivalist fantasy scenario.

Right now the weather is hurricane force winds, snowing, and sunny. ALL AT THE SAME TIME.

Its pretty apocalyptic.

Well played weather. Well played.

Hard wind and rain this morning, bright sun this afternoon, dropping from 68 degrees yesterday to 27 tomorrow morning. Way to provide the atmosphere, yeah.

I'm glad I wasn't alive during most of the Cold War (born in 1988) because I know I would've been that child who'd worry about the Russians sending over a nuclear rocket. As a young child, I remember being terrified that someone would break into the house while we were all asleep and kill us. So...yeah, I'm glad I don't recall being privy to a lot of "end of the world scenarios" growing up.

Also, I remember when Armageddon and Deep Impact came out in the same year. I could watch Armageddon just fine because, you know, they defeated the asteroid. Deep Impact was "the scary Armageddon" in my mind and I could not watch a second of it.

All that said, I don't believe the world is ending tomorrow; but, as you said, it's everyone else who believes the world is ending that terrifies me. I'm staying inside for that reason alone. (Incidentally, my big plans are to get some laundry done. In the slight chance the world ends, I'm going to need some clean clothes.)

I have never seen either movie, and now you know why. (Well, my mother adores Deep Impact, so I've seen snippets of it in passing whether I liked it or not.)

>>>To be honest with you, I'm really anxious about December 21. Not because I believe that some kind of Mayan hellfire will actually rain down on us, but because other people might believe it will, and there are a lot of people in this country who have guns.

Same here. I'm afraid of fanatics more than I'm afraid of this apocalypthic stuff being true. I lived through at least two totally-real-this-time "ends of the world", so my brain can try to scare me time after time with "but what if this really for real this time?", but deep inside I don't *actually* believe it. I understand that's just my mental issues talking. I'm more scared of scared people. (And people who scared those scared people are scarier still.)

I think I'm the opposite--I don't believe it at all, except for a tiny bit inside that gets worried. It's almost like Pascal's wager--you're a little afraid not to believe it could happen.

*hugs hugs* I hear ya. I was born in 1957; I remember learning to duck-and-cover under my very first wee little school-desk, and the war in Vietnam in graphic detail on the 6:00 News every night; burning children on the covers of the magazines on the coffee table.

I think a lot of the reason the world is such a mess now, is because none of us Baby Boomers expected to live to grow up, let alone to get old: that the world would end in nuclear holocaust was such a foregone conclusion that saving the environment seemed hardly worth while. It's exactly that doomed mode of thinking you describe - the notion that it's too late, nothing can be done, so enjoy as much as possible now, and hope the end is quick and painless - that has brought us to this pass.

I want to personally go out with my +5 Clue Trout of STFU and beat the crap out of every person who enables this stupid apocalyptic bullshit. All the so-called 'Christians' praying for the Rapture so they can get a good seat in the sky to watch the rest of us suffer. All the Survivalists praying for the day when the Rule of Law is no more, and they'll be free to take whatever they want by force. All the wanna-be zombie hunters praying for the day when it's okay to shoot every person they see because they're already dead anyway. All the bastards making money by the fistful by pandering to that sort of thinking. They're all a pack of emotional vampires, plumping up their egos by draining the hope and energy out of others.

It was not too late to save the environment in 1961 when I was crouching under my wee school-desk. It was not too late to save it in 1987 when you read that WWN. If people would have only believed that, things would be drastically different now. So, yes, it's 2012-going-on-13, and a lot of people think the world is going to end, not with a bang but a whimper, or more likely a long agonized wailing. Well, y'know what? The End of the World has been predicted at least a thousand times in the past thousand-and-thirteen years, and yet the world is still here.

Yes, of course we're all scared. I'm a single female Aspie Boomer with chronic health problems and a beautiful Aspie daughter with chronic health problems living in a major city on a highly earthquake-prone coast; the dread of what could become of us never really leaves me. But I will not despair. I refuse to believe in the End of the World. One way or another, I will die eventually, and it is possible that before I die I will lose everything I have loved, suffer worse agonies than I can even imagine... but I am Not Dead Yet, and what I love - my child, my planet, life itself - I will fight for while I live.

*hugs hugs* Come, pluck your spirits up, hon. The world is not ending tomorrow. Very likely there will indeed be a spate of human stupidity from the Mayan Apocalypse idiots and their exploiters, but it's also possible that when Saturday comes and the world is still here, a lot of people will wise up, just like you did when the world failed to end in 1989.

I think a lot of the reason the world is such a mess now, is because none of us Baby Boomers expected to live to grow up, let alone to get old: that the world would end in nuclear holocaust was such a foregone conclusion that saving the environment seemed hardly worth while. It's exactly that doomed mode of thinking you describe - the notion that it's too late, nothing can be done, so enjoy as much as possible now, and hope the end is quick and painless - that has brought us to this pass.

That's a really interesting idea, and very likely true.

I'm actually a very optimistic person--I tend to define "idealist" as "someone who does know what the world is really like, but believes it's worth fixing anyway." Someone who doesn't think the world currently exists in the shape of their ideals, but that their ideals are worth fighting for anyway, in other words. Which is what I believe. I think what I'm anxious about is all the people drowning in these stories about how doomed we are, the country's going to hell, there's totes a race war coming and Obama is going to take their guns omg, women might actually get some equality and we can't have that, gay marriages cause all the hurricanes, all these artificial divisions people persist in creating. And if someone does something terrible tomorrow, I'm going to be more pissed off than ever at the people who peddled these Mayan apocalypse stories to sell books and commercials and internet ads.

Honestly, if we all get through this--I'm hoping this is the last major apocalypse prophecy anyone will give a shit about. We can all let that anxiety go and look forward again.

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Well, I would love to work for it NOW. I really regret that I did not perceive the WWN for the very affordable crackfic it was at the time.

Honestly? I'd love to see the end of the world, in all its explosive, apocalyptic glory. It would be a great story to be a part of.

And I really hope something not-caused-by-humans happens on the 22 (since it's the Mayan calendar, so it would be on the sunrise of the 21st, Mexico time, thus the 22nd on most of the world) but I don't think the world is really ending. After all, it didn't the last time.

But yeah, I hope no one flips their shit :/ Here in Argentina they had to close the Uritorco (a small mountain known for its UFO sightings) because they were already suicide pacts going on...

Edited at 2012-12-20 08:00 pm (UTC)

The way I always think about that is--if the end of the world is a great story, who's left to read it, you know? But then, that may be me thinking more as a writer than someone wanting to experience the story.

Apparently, kids are still being scared! There was an article in local news recently in which a scientist spoke out about all the terrified kids coming to his blog, asking if they and all of their friends and loved ones are really about to die.


“By 2009, the kids were basically terrified,” Hudson says. They were watching doomsday theorists on YouTube and reading them on web forums. After two tearful 9-year-old girls asked him whether everyone they loved was going to die a terrible death, Hudson decided to act.

I read that! So, yeah. I get increasingly pissed off at the scare-stories we decide to sit around and tell ourselves. Stick to the escaped killer with the hook for a hand, Jesus.

I first heard about all this 2012 business five years ago, when I was 16. A friend of mine told me about it, and she really believed it at the time. She was telling me, "This is going to happen." Since I worry too much about everything, it's been a source of anxiety for me ever since. I'd get shaken up every time someone brought it up. I actually changed the channel every time ads for the movie 2012 came on. It's kind of funny, since now she has a Christmas/We Survived the End of the World party scheduled for Saturday, and she's told me recently that she no longer believes in it since she's read about how it's been scientifically disproven. But I kind of resent the fact that she made me anxious about it for five years.

Yeah... I saw 2012 for my mother's sake, but MAN, that was not a movie I wanted to see. Entire hour-long shows about the apocalypse piss me off so bad.

Minimizing the chlorofluorowhatsits from our refrigerator doors is going to do anything?

Heh. The ironic thing is that the fight for the ozone layer was won, and is one of the great triumphs of the environmental movement. The CFC concentrations have been going down for years, and the hole will probably close in our lifetime (by 2060s).

Something I'm surprised you didn't mention: acid rain! Remember how it was going to devastate us? Every year someone uncreative would do an science fair project on acid rain.

The sort of graph we like to see, but so rarely do, in armageddon-scenarios:

You and I are almost the exact same age, and yeah, from the fatalistic end of the Cold War (the day I realized that we were closer to nuclear war with the USSR during my lifetime than we were during the heyday of Duck and Cover, but they never once told us what to do in the event of a nuclear attack because there was literally no point? Not a good day.) to "WE ARE KILLING THE EARTH" to AIDS to drugs to Zoobas, it was fucking scary to be a kid in the 80s and 90s. It's exausting being that scared all the time.

Yeah--and while I'm sure it was terrifying in the '50s and '60s as well, and God knows how many other eras in history, I can only speak for the one I was around for. For a long time, I could not imagine what my life would be like after college because I didn't think I would live to be thirty. It was like, let's just get to 22 and see what's left at that point.

Why the hell did they show us movies about people dying slowly of nuclear fallout cancer? They needed to be showing those to the people with the power to press the big red buttons, not the ten-year-olds who couldn't do shit about it! JESUS.

The last paragraph is gorgeous.

As a sort-of-side note, regarding your "the world just stops" idea and movies, there's a lovely little Canadian film called Last Night which goes with that concept, except that everyone knows it's coming. It's not a disaster film, but relationships and behavior; I remember finding it melancholy, but not sad, and not particularly upsetting. I don't know if you'd find it worthwhile, but it's been on my mind today, and the coincidence of your idea made me want to mention it. (It also has an interesting cast.)

I totally understand your wariness about the people who DO believe tomorrow is the end, but weirdly, I'm not particularly rattled. I'm a full-on Cold War kid (I've got about a decade and a half on you), and having lived through that kind of fear, The Day After and all, I've discovered that anything below that just doesn't upset me as much. I might be overly optimistic, but since we've gotten through a few previous uproars of this kind, I'm inclined to think that nothing wide-scale will happen tomorrow (or today, since it's already started on the other side of the world). A few people, proportionally speaking, will do something stupid or hilarious, but hopefully no one else will be harmed.

The slow death of the planet at the hands of our selfishness and carelessness, well, that's another matter. I'm doing my little bit working in conservation education and activism, figuring it's better to do something than nothing, but I know it's not much short of futile. All I can do is hold onto those shreds of optimism and hope to delay it a tiny bit longer.

Yeah--I honestly feel like urging and voting for legislative-level change is the most effective at this point. Like, it's got to be something that happens in the fabric of the nation, not just people recycling bottles and cans and hoping for the best. (Although that is also good in its own way.) Because "recycling and hoping" was pretty much the extent of kid activism in the early '90s--what else could we do?--which only made it feel more pointless and hollow when you grow up a little and realize that it's waste and pollution on an industrial level that's the problem. You know, there's nothing a kid can actually do about Gulf oil spills and all.

I've heard of that movie, actually--I think the end of the world is also a plot point in Melancholia? There's a number of movies that have that as part of the concept (don't even get me started on The Rapture, oh my God). Maybe I'll get to the point where I can watch that kind of thing--after this year is over, maybe.