At the start of April, I released the second DARK MATTERS book, Absences – Two Tales of Impending Apocalypse. At the start of May, the third volume comes out: Aftermaths – Two Post-Apocalyptic Tales. You might intuit from this that something was preying on my mind…
A few months ago, entirely by coincidence, I came across a fun but interesting article on the subject of how people go about wrapping up the planet — starting with the rather pointed observation that every single time they do, in fairly short order they find it needs unwrapping again (unless they drink the juice, in which case someone else has to clean up the farewell party mess).
The article was Three Apocalypses, by Ethan Mitchell, and in it he distils some modern approaches to apocalyptic thinking, and also notes how there is a degree of fuzziness at the edges of each that allows the mindsets to mingle. His categories are:
THE ESCAPIST APOCALYPSE
“Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we will die.”
The primary function of the escapist apocalypse is to remove people’s responsibilities and social inhibitions. Most often this is a nebulous doomsday, used to justify one’s own delinquency, because when the shit hits the fan, none of it will matter anyway. In this role, the apocalypse can be a sort of aggrandized version of personal self-destruction. “It doesn’t matter if I smoke cigarettes because the heroin will kill me first” becomes “it doesn’t matter if I use a condom because the whole world will end in 2012, anyway”…
THE COZY APOCALYPSE
“Capitalism isn’t going to be sustainable when the oil runs out.”
“When the UN invades Texas, you’ll be sorry you didn’t buy more guns.”
Brian Aldiss coined the term “cosy catastrophe” (British ‘s’ there) to refer to sci-fi scenarios like The Day of the Triffids, in which a small band of survivors ride out the end of the world and live quite happily amid the ruins. The usage has been expanded slightly over time, and I think it’s worth restating in more political terms. By a cozy apocalypse, I mean an apocalyptic scenario that provides a justification for the projects and values that its adherents were already interested in…
THE SWEATY APOCALYPSE
“We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hill; we shall never surrender…”
When the US government initiated the Manhattan project, it was at the instigation of scientists who believed (with some degree of validity) that if we failed to do so, we would all eventually be killed by nuclear-powered Nazis. The Manhattan project was at the time, and remains to this day, a superlative example of state-sponsored R&D; much more productive in many ways than the Apollo program. It was, in other words, an incredibly huge amount of work. … their narratives are used to generate a massive amount of work that the people involved would not be doing otherwise…
Three Apocalypses, Ethan Mitchell
It’s well worth reading, and you can find all three amusing, thought-provoking pages of it here.
Of these types, I think the Escapist Apocalypse was the most readily obvious to me. People have been periodically shouting “it’s all over so fuck it” (and occasionally liquidating their assets and buying portentous ad space) for quite a long time now, and this perspective formed the basis for one of my favourite odd films of recent times, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.
Believe me, the film is better than the trailer, but the cop at the end there passingly illustrates a Cozy dedication to doing his duty, the failed attempt by NASA to save us all (briefly mentioned) was surely Sweatily laborious, and there are other instances of both mentalities on show amidst the majority decadence. Anyway, the article got me thinking:
Did my attempts to write apocalyptic stories fall into these three categories, or not?
In the meantime, there’s only one song to go out on: