July 2nd, 2022, Tottenham
This is an excellent short read from 404 Ink, part of their “Inklings” series of short non-fiction pocket books.
Katie Goh is a widely published writer/critic, and this extended essay is a super engaging exploration of the apocalypse in popular culture.
Heading right back to the ancient roots of the word “apocalypse” and the ways in which millenarianism has appeared repeatedly throughout human history, Goh locks in on four distinct types of “end of the world” scenarios and traces the rise (and very slight falls) of their effects on global consciousness.
Goh offers the following possible apocalypses, all of which are possible and none of which are appealing:
- destruction by pandemic;
- destruction from the natural world (almost always as a result of human-made climate change but also volcanoes and earthquakes);
- destruction from space (both aliens and giant rocks that kill us all);
- socio-political destruction as a result of wars, nuclear attacks, massive terrorism, repressive state actions, genocides etc.
(& even tho The End is barely a year old, there are ways in which its exploration of these possibilities feels dated, which is one of the most resoundingly bleak things about the book and absolutely society’s fault rather than Goh’s!)
Goh posits that engaging with apocalyptic stories allows us to think through “worst case scenarios” in order to be better prepared to deal with them when they happen, & cites as an example the huge popularity of the 2011 film Contagion at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic (remember that?), with that film offering viewers a way to experience the entire narrative of a viral catastrophe, a tragedy, without any of the pains of living through the event in its totality.
Of course, as one of the many many many people who watched Contagion in 2020, it did forecast the development of the pandemic scarily accurately, other than the bit where people decided to behave like the virus was completely gone before drifting back into pre-pandemic behaviours…
& since that time, we’ve had the war in Ukraine and the first real threat of nuclear weapon use for decades, we have had the recent manoeuvres by the American Supreme Court to erode human rights, environmental protections and – expected to happen any time before the next general election – democracy itself in that country…
the “real world” examples Goh wrote about a year ago have gotten definitively worse in the interim, which is scandalous given how bad they were a year ago…
this leads me to ask: how much darker do our apocalyptic fictions need to become in order to offer the hardening and conclusive (yet familiar) narratives we need in an ever-more unpleasant reality?
Goh’s writing about Armageddon (dir. Michael Bay, 1998) as an example of a working class, blue collar American fantasy made me think of the excellent Blood Quantum (dir. Jeff Barnaby 2019), a Canadian zombie film in which indigenous peoples are immune to the zombie-changing disease, adding an explicitly anti-colonial layer to a – historically (e.g. George A Romero) explicitly anti-capitalist – genre that has recently (see The Walking Dead) been appropriated by far right “prepper” communities.
Goh concludes that apocalyptic art can serve multiple purposes: cathartic safe walkthroughs of a scenario most of us would be killed by; fantastical ways to right perceived wrongs (i.e. revenge); but also ways to engage with and focus on purely fictional dangers (e.g. The Southern Reach trilogy, movies with aliens in) in lieu of having to deal with the climate emergency we continue to edge ever-closer to and the very real authoritarian, fascistic, right-wing political threats rising all over the world.
The End is a book that could be – and I’m sure will be(!) – added to and expanded year after year, as more apocalyptic events happen and more cultural products are produced exploring these ideas. Goh’s book is well worth a read for anyone interested in the potential end of the world, and is a great jumping off point for finding more dystopian texts to watch, read & so on!
Order direct from 404 Ink via this link.
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