It’s 2012, and after a dozen years of collected evidence, I hereby dub this the Century of Choose Your Own Apocalypse. Apparently, most of us are going to die (possibly in December), and the survivors will be forced to deal with the fallout, whether it be zombified, covered in volcanic ash, or claimed by hostile alien forces. (Incurable plagues and intelligent apes, as well as the implosion of technology and/or evil robots also seem to be contenders for our doom.)
So when exactly did humanity give up on the future? Continuing my meditations on the lack of space-exploring scifi television, it occurred to me that media these days is obsessed with life after the apparently inevitable end of the world. 2012, The Walking Dead, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Hunger Games, Falling Skies… and it’s not a new phenomenon. We’ve been coming up with stories about cataclysmic meteors and global destruction for ages. But something’s different. Instead of a tale about the underdog humans uniting and rising up against whatever intends to wipe them out, these stories are about life in the wasteland. ‘The world will be what it will be, and we have to find a way to cope’ narratives. Be it at the hands of the extra-terrestrial or undead, we are fascinated by people looking to survive on Earth.
Which is and always will be a gripping topic, but the scale of it these days might be a cause for concern. It seems like we don’t tell stories about hope anymore. Any future is going to have its problems, just like the present, but what happened to our dreams of space colonization, or travel by jetpack, or learning everything through holographic interface? The idea that we think we’ve peaked as a society, and things can only go downhill from here is way scarier than the living dead.
It’s not a conscious decision. We didn’t collectively decide to give up on the future. At some point, we all got just a little too cynical. A little too certain of our mortality. And a lot less confident in our ability to come out on top, no matter what the rhetoric in government. There’s a piece of us that thinks, well, we could survive the end of the world, but I don’t know if we could beat it.
But what if this isn’t a defeatist attitude about the role of humanity in the future? It occurs to me that post-apocalyptic stories are about wiping the slate, and starting over. Maybe what we’re really afraid of is the here and now. There’s a lot to worry about; an apocalypse – while horrible, devastating, and catastrophic – does tend to simplify things. When survival is your top priority, it takes the pressure off having to pay bills. (And all credit card debt is forgiven!)
Life has become as complicated as it is convenient, true, but let’s aspire for more complications instead of one giant problem we live with, but never get to solve. We don’t have to go backward to get better, and if we’re going to be at war a hundred years from now, let’s at least make it an intergalactic one.