“I love the smell of napalm in the morning.”
— Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore (Robert Duvall), Apocalypse Now
It seems that everything is apocalyptic these days. Certainly, politics are out of control, with our vast chasms of differences between political parties and even among liberals and conservatives. It’s easy to envision an immigrant apocalypse, a deficit apocalypse, a constitutional apocalypse, and others. Great Britain and Europe are facing a Brexit apocalypse.
However, the bigger threats seem to be the world-wide ones: the climate apocalypse, the insect apocalypse, ocean-plastic apocalypse, the nuclear war apocalypse, the Ebola apocalypse, the Yellowstone super-volcano apocalypse and a host of others. Lesser apocalypses include the school-shooting apocalypse, the retail apocalypse, the reading apocalypse, the newspaper apocalypse, the health-care apocalypse, the vaping apocalypse and the country music apocalypse.
Of course, if you are a movie fan you know that the scariest threats are from the zombie, the vampire, and the werewolf apocalypses — not to mention sharknadoes.
Imagining the worst provides a mental hedge against the bad things that actually inhabit our reality. After the real-world catastrophic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan turned to the fictional destruction of Tokyo by the massive fantasy nuclear-spawned monster (or kaiju), Godzilla (Gojira in Japanese).
Post-apocalyptic themes inhabit the entertainment world of the Boomer children of the nuclear age. Perhaps it was polio, or fluoridated water, or the Cold War, or Vietnam, or Chernobyl, but whatever it was, it seems to have caused us to search for fictional extreme threats to make our daily worries seem unimportant. ‘The Night of the Living Dead’ sparked the zombie apocalypse for me, followed by books and films of varying degrees of horror versus story. At school we practiced duck and cover drills due to the proximity of the nearby SAC base.
Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolfman and The Blob were frightening favorites of mine as a kid, but more sophisticated scary stuff was required as I grew older. Film-based post-apocalyptic scenarios captured my and others’ imaginations —‘The Omega Man’ (based on the short story ‘I Am Legend’, later made into a Will Smith movie) and the ‘Andromeda Strain’ (based on the Michael Crichton book) to name a couple.
Movies depicted disasters in ‘The Towering Inferno’, ‘Earthquake’ and ‘The Poseidon Adventure.’ ‘Fail Safe’ warned of the fallibility of man with nuclear weapons and ‘Dr. Strangelove’ delved into the likelihood of nuclear war as a semi-serious comedy while the Cold War turned hot. However, we were musically reminded of the fact that, “Some lovely day, someone will set the spark off, and we will all be blown away”, by the Kingston Trio.
Today, catastrophic and post-apocalyptic entertainment is rampant and, need I say, highly profitable. The 1957 book and 1959 movie ‘On the Beach’ provided a dark view of the post-nuclear war future. More recently, ‘Mad Max’ roams the desolation of post-war Australia in numerous sequels. Dinosaurs are recreated in labs and escape confinement to terrorize and gobble up humanity. Werewolves, vampires and zombies pervade the movie theaters, if not the real world.
Our bleak future is foreshadowed in fiction by space aliens and storm troopers, adding their chaos to the present real and anticipated catastrophes. Today, Russia invades our elections and nearby countries, North Korea tests its nuclear missiles, and anti-vaxxers threaten to spread new plagues.
But we wait patiently for our saviors to appear. Whether Jesus, Luke Skywalker, James Bond, Ellen Ripley, or others, they always seem to show up in time to save us, or at least keep us safe until the next sequel.
But for now, in the real world, things are looking up. It’s the holiday season, there’s more daylight every morning, and soon we can listen to something besides Christmas music. Best of all, no sign of real werewolves, vampires or zombies. Watch out for the sharknadoes, though.
Have a Happy Pre-apocalyptic New Year!
Steve Tarlton, Post Apocalypse, 12/12/19, Writes of Nature
Steve Tarlton, Dances With Climate, 11/28/19, Writes of Nature
Steve Tarlton, Plastic Panic, 11/07/19, Writes of Nature
Steve Tarlton, Is Climate Change Contagious?, 10/31/19, Writes of Nature
Steve Tarlton, Sign of the Times, 9/19/19, Writes of Nature
Steve Tarlton, Hard Work and Invasive Species, 8/29/19, Writes of Nature
The Kingston Trio, “The Merry Minuet”, 1959, “Live from the Hungry i”