I mentioned in my last post that Apocalypse/Post-Apocalypse stories are so prevalent these days they’re becoming the Starbucks of literature and cinema. I’m not knocking this trend (crap, I didn’t even mean to knock Starbucks), I’m as into this genre as the next nerd. So tonight, as I sit at my keyboard, it’s with no illusions of originality that I decide it’s time I throw out my two cents on what causes this obsession.
I’ve read a few articles on the topic. They were all interesting, and in the end, as probable as anything I am about to say. It’s almost as fun to try and point at the driving force behind the social phenomenon as it is to read/watch stories about it. Frankly, I think I unintentionally borrowed the image above from an article talking about the same thing. Guess I better read that later.
Anyhow, let’s get to it.
Apocalypses are a lot like ice cream; there are a lot of flavors.
- Disease wipes out majority of population
- Global EMP
- Alien Invasion
- Nuclear | Environmental Catastrophe | Earth as a wasteland
Just like ice cream, despite the fact you might prefer vanilla to chocolate, there is no argument that we all like ‘ice cream.’
I’d say that it’s not necessarily that apocalypse stories equal ice cream in this analogy. If we wanted to strip away all the flavors and say these stories are about one thing, plain ice cream, it would be survival. Why are we so fascinated by survival then?
On some level, despite all our technology and social order, we are all aware that it wouldn’t take much to have it all come crashing down. Crap, it’s not that hard to think of a scenario that would kick the crap out of the human race if it was unfortunate enough to actually happen. If tomorrow, say, there was an outbreak of some new virus that killed off large percentages of crops (Outbreak with plants), things would get ugly quick.
You’ve probably heard the expression “grid down.” Where the grid is our entire infrastructure: electricity, plumbing, sewage, police force, communications, roads etc. The ‘grid’ requires tremendous amounts of cooperation and energy to sustain. In a way, everyone is contributing to its maintenance every day. Any large blow to the population and the grid’s fail safes start to tumble one by one. An obvious example, if 90% of the human race is killed off by a virus, we rapidly lose all the manpower, knowledge, and supporting organizations to keep the grid running. Even if you’re lucky enough to still have the guy who knows how to run the power plant, you’re S.O.L. if you can’t get the gasoline for the vehicle required to get him there. I’ll stop rambling about this; you’ve all seen the same movies I have, you all know the story.
So what is it about grid down survival?
I notice, personally, that I was more drawn to these films when I was younger. More accurately, when I was only imagining myself surviving; no wife and kid along for the ride. Even in my youth, 99% of me was wise enough to see that this was a bad thing that I would never want to live through. One image of myself with a broken leg and no hospital to run to be taken to and I’m thinking, yeah, definitely not an experience I want to have.
What is that stupid 1% so stubbornly lingering in my subconscious for then? What is this strange desire to actually see a Zombie attack happen? I mean, even this 1% of me must know it wouldn’t be happy if it happened. I don’t want to have to see my zombie wife or zombie teenager comes after me trying to eat my brain.
So what is it?
My theory tonight, as it will likely change or evolve, is that it’s the grid itself that causes this 1% desire. The thing that keeps us safe from real dangers is the very thing that makes us kind of want to meet those dangers. Since you’re all scratching your heads right now and thinking I went off the deep end, let me say it another way.
Ever find yourself incredibly stressed out over a decision, like you didn’t finish an email before leaving work? Didn’t get back to a client? I don’t imagine that evolution ever meant for stress to be involved with a task so loosely connected to our survival. Yes, you could get fired. Yes, you could lose your home. Yes, this could lead to a tumbling house of cards that ends with you living out of your car or worse.
Still, it’s a moon landing away from starving to death in a cave, or being eaten by a bear. You know, the things our ancestors might of felt stressed about. I think a small part of us wants decisions to matter more, to be life and death important. A part of each of us wants to see who we become when we aren’t part of the system that supports the grid.
In an instant, in an apocalypse, every plan you had for the future could be erased, and replaced with the single goal of survival. Everything you were could cease to matter, and we would all have a whole new world to see who was more adaptable (In a ‘Darwinian fitness’ sense).
We are all bright enough to know it’s a stupid thing to wish for, but that’s what makes the story so damn enticing. It lets that little piece, that 1%, follow some characters through a grid down world, and we can experience it without having to endure the reality of it.