It’s the end of the world as we know it…

or, Ten Things I Love Regarding the Apocalypse and/or Alternative Civilization Societies.

The Victorians in Britain were known for their sensational fiction and ghost stories. Why were these tales so popular during the writers’ lifetimes? The writing reflected an anxiety about the culture: one could be haunted by some secret sin, and a ghost could seek revenge for that well-hidden transgression. Additionally, Victorians greatly valued domesticity, and women were idealized as angels of the home. A haunted house was the embodiment of insecrurities plaguing those places where one should feel safest.

In the same way, I think a lot of texts in current popular culture regarding the apocalypse or some futuristic post-civilization society reflect the fear in America (or maybe even the West) today. Since the Cold War, we’ve feared nuclear attack and the end of the world. Technology is changing so quickly that it’s impossible to know where our culture’s dependency on  technology and innovation will be even a year from now. Rapid change brings out anxieties and fears: will we get to a point where technology utterly destroys? Where we devolve into a society where survivial is our only concern?

This seems to be a trend, and one that I’m particularly interested in, although I didn’t really understand my own fascination with it until I sat down to write this list (with actual pen and paper on an old-fashioned wooden desk–shocker!). In the past few years, a lot of the books/movies/TV shows that I’ve really enjoyed have depicted this theme, and I decided it would be fun to make a list of my favorite texts involving the apocalypse. 🙂 [Note: the order of this list is only the order in which I thought of them.]

Muse-Absolution20031. Absolution, Muse. Their best album (out of an incredible catalog).  [Side note: I haven’t bought or even heard their newest album, which came out last week. That album may nullify this point.] I would even argue that this is one of the greatest albums in the history of music. Yeah, it’s that good. This album from a trio of conspiracy theorists/musicians is all about the apocalypse. Examples:

  • from “Apocalypse Please”: “It’s time we saw a miracle / Come on, it’s time for something biblical/ [ . . . ] This is the end of the world”
  • from “Thoughts of a Dying Atheist,” one of the last tracks on the album: “And I know the moment’s near / There’s nothing you can do / Look through a faithless eye / Are you afraid to die?”

2. The Road, Cormac McCarthy. An incredible, haunting, sparse novel about a man and his son fighting for survival in post-apocalpytic America. Beautiful in its darkness and tragedy.

jericho3. Jericho. A TV show cancelled after a cliffhanger first season, brought back after outraged fans protested, and cancelled again for good after a disappointing, short second season. The setting is a small Kansas town filled with tenacious, ingenius residents who manage to hold onto the remnants of civilization and humanity after most of the major cities in the United States are annihilated by hydrogen bombs. I spent part of last weekend rewatching some of season one when I wasn’t writing papers or grading or planning or anything responsible.

4. I Am Legend, a book by Richard Matheson, and several movies. The book and the most recent film starring Will Smith are the ones I am acquainted with, and the stories are so vastly different that they should be considered separate texts. Essentially, each is the store of the last man left alive (in the movie, it’s NYC, and I don’t remember the location of the book). He has a strange resistance to the vampiric disease that has infected every other human and most animals. He devotes his life to searching for the cause and the cure. The book and the movie each end in a vastly different way. And each is stark and disturbing in its own way.

giver5. The Giver, Lois Lowry. A classic children’s book about a society of people whose lives are utterly conformed to the set laws of society. A boy named Jonas is chosen to be the Receiver of Memories, and he alone knows the pain, triumph, and love of society, a terrifying and weighty existence. Be sure to read the sequels Gathering Blue and The Messenger. The trio is a great commentary on the importance of both love and pain.

specials6. The Uglies series, Scott Westerfeld. With its own vocabulary and awesome technology like hoverboards, these books about a futuristic, post-Rusties (a.k.a – us) society are sometimes fun and often thought-provoking. The series deals with some of the same issues as The Giver–what happens when society seeks to conform an entire race? What happens when a select group refuses to conform? (Also–check out the cover to Specials to the left–they have these awesome tattoos called “flash tattoos” that sound painful and super awesome at the same time.)

7. Independence Day. I like films with Will Smith and the apocalypse, apparently. An alien race trying to destroy America + Will Smith + super-nerdy Jeff Goldblum? What’s not to love, really?

8. “It’s the End of the World as We Know It,” R.E.M. “…and I feel fine.” Really…why worry? 🙂

9. The Host, Stephenie Meyer. Really, how could I not include my favorite Meyer book? The whole world (and many other planets in far-off galaxies) has been taken over by a mild, peaceful race of souls who end all wars and violence and set up a calm and gentle society. With two problems: some humans have escape capture and are carefully hidden, while other humans refuse to succumb to the sould placed within their bodies. In my opinion, this is Meyer’s best work, even if it is slow-moving at first.

10. Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury. What happens when we begin to fear knowledge rather than revere it? This happens. Firefighters set fires to destroy books rather than putting fires out. Men hide, secretly memorizing the words of great philosophers and writers, so their words will not be lost forever. And one man realizes the value of knowledge and thinking for oneself and attempts to break away from the society that is so binding and restrictive.

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