Apocalypse, sweet like sugar
I'm not being dramatic, but I've been thinking about the end of the world.
Hello, sorry, it’s been a while. Life has been….tumultuous? I guess that’s the right word. I’ve uprooted my life because my horoscopes told me change was coming and being the rational and level-headed person I am, I listened. So, changes are still abound and new prospects are coming my way in some sort of cosmically-influenced manner. But, I only know as much as you do, so I’m unsure what else to say about that. Just like, trust me, you know?
For a while now, I’ve been thinking about the apocalypse. I don’t know if the aforementioned life changes have been the catalyst for consuming pop culture surrounding the end of the world or if it’s the other way around or if it’s just the very nature of our current society and culture where news breaks every day that feels like a slow motion apocalypse.
Not every apocalypse is the same, I’ve learned. Some are divine interventions because humans on earth fucked things up and the gods are mad. Some gods just like, let it happen because they think it’s fun? Some of the apocalypses are man-made. Robots take over. Climate change wrecks havoc. Nuclear war destroys us all. Other apocalypses are more supernatural. Aliens, or other beings, come and wipe us all out. Those always seem the funniest to me - our projections of aliens are as colonizing beings who destroy us because that’s obviously what we’d do to them. Some apocalypses come across as something routine to restart everything, like a cleanse. If you think about it, Whole 30 is like an apocalypse. It’s not, I’m kidding.
Apocalypse is a Greek word because of course it is. The definition leans more towards the idea of revelations: things coming about that were previously not known. Apocalypses go by many names: armageddon, doomsday, end of times, the rapture, or whatever keeps you up at night. In most apocalypse myths, there’s some messenger, someone who texts the group chat and is like: hey! end of the world is coming. what’s the move? Sometimes, there’s just not. It happens and whoever’s left has to wonder: wtf just happened?
Sure, sometimes you can prevent the apocalypse. There’s some Messianic figure who is the only one to save the world. I find those types of apocalypse stories lame. Like, in The Matrix, Neo is foretold to save the world from destruction. But, if there’s only one person to save us all, does that mean we aren’t all culpable in the events that transpired that lead us to the apocalypse? What do we learn? If an apocalypse is a revelation, the revelation is that we aren’t in control of our destiny? That human nature will constantly lead us to the brink of destruction, but one person will come in and save the day?
Some apocalypses are averted when prophecies aren’t fulfilled - emphasizing individual decisions and individual actions. In Good Omens the angel Aziraphale and the demon Crowley accomplish the impossible: they stop the end of the world. The duo helps the Antichrist realize that he does not have to lead the life others have prescribed for him. He can make his own choices. In the end, he chooses not to follow through with the destruction of the world. Which, if I were a bystander whose future relied on a teenager making an informed long-term and rational decision, I’d be pissed. Why should my future be tied so intricately to some random kid?
Again, these types of apocalypse myths take all culpability out of the hands of the collective and put it into the hands an individual freeing us from any guilt from our decisions or our actions. If the apocalypse were to happen in those aforementioned ways, would the survivors even feel guilt or anything at all?
Damon Lindeloff tries to answer the question “What happens to the survivors?” in The Leftovers adapted from Tom Perrotta’s novel of the same name. The Leftovers follows survivors of an event called “the departure” where 2% of world’s population suddenly and mysteriously vanishes without a trace. There’s no prophecy. There’s no messenger. Just the event itself and the aftermath. In the world created by Lindeloff and Perrotta, the apocalyptic nature of the event brings about a slew of supposed prophets, messiahs, supernatural people who collect those who have felt lost or were otherwise heavily affected by the departure. Those who remained try to make sense of why people vanished and if their individual decisions were the cause. What if they didn’t appreciate their family members enough? What if they drank too much? What if their leaving was meant to teach them something, anything? The Leftovers never actually answers any of those questions. Instead, the emphasis is how people deal with the trauma of sudden loss and fundamental change in the world.
Watching the apocalypse in pop culture can be oddly comforting. Watching the worst thing possible — the end of the world — makes everything else I deal with seem less consequential. I may be currently unemployed, but at least I don’t have to defeat Thanos. I might have anxieties about how I might have massively fucked up my future (I didn’t) and will never get my life back on track (I will), but at least I don’t have to worry about like zombies, or an asteroid hitting the planet, or some merciless God who wants to unplug the world because he was losing in Mario Kart or some dumb shit.
But I’m left to wonder: how I will deal with the end of the world? Famously, I have proudly proclaimed that if there’s ever a zombie apocalypse, I’m not even gonna try. I’m going to live as luxuriously as possible for as long as I can and then it’s whatever. Living the rest of my life in fear that zombies will eventually attack me? No thanks. Too much running. Aliens, if they were discovered, I’d try to befriend. They might be cool, who knows? I’m sure they’d love memes. We can bond over that. Divine intervention? Well, honey, there’s nothing I can do about that. God knows my Google search history. I’m not being saved.
For now, I’ll deal with my own problems as best as I can. Every problem can be an apocalyptic moment if you think about it long enough. But, like, don’t do that. It’s not healthy.
Letters of Recommendation:
Okay, you know that Reese Witherspoon Book Club book everyone is reading? Have you read about the author’s fucked up past?
If you’re into language and internet culture like I am, you’ll enjoy this.
Truly an insane read. I mean, like, come on dude.
I mentioned The Leftovers in the newsletter, so if you’ve seen it, check out this behind-the-scenes. Also, if you’ve seen The Leftovers, please let me know your thoughts.
Absolutely obsessed with Cousin Greg