Herald of the Apocalyptic Age
The abstract idea of the apocalypse is very hard to pinpoint an exact and concise meaning. This article is going to look at different interpretations of the apocalypse as presented in popular culture, and try to unravel why people seem to have this innate fascination with it. Popular culture shows there are numerous examples of the apocalypse and different interpretations in the forms of Films, Television shows, literature, Video Games, etc.. First I will explore the breadth of interpretations of the apocalypse by showing examples from several artistic mediums. I will then discuss some of the connotations and themes found in apocalyptic texts in attempt to look into why people are fascinated with the apocalypse. Some of the connotative themes that will be discussed include the radical shift in society and the causes of these shifts, freedom, and a sense of duty to survive for the sake of humanity.
Before we begin looking at the extensive reiterations of the apocalypse in popular culture, lets look at a definition of the apocalypse to give ourselves some framework to build off of. The apocalypse can be described as a predicted end of the world. It’s a point in time marked by a starkly contrasted change in the landscape of humanity’s presence on the planet.
There is a wide swath of different interpretations of how the apocalypse may occur. Each method of human destruction has distinctly different ways in which human life is changed. Some iterations of the apocalypse are man-made in origin. A common example in popular culture would include nuclear war, as shown in the ever popular video game series Fallout. Another includes technological failures, such as how man made artificial intelligence takes over the human race. A different dystopian world is depicted in Waterworld, where after drastic climate change the Earth is covered in water.
There are also predictions about the apocalypse that include non-human contingent forces that attempt to wipe out the human race. Disease or Pandemic is a very common prophecy of human demise. In the novel Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood, a genetically mutated disease selectively kills all humans. Images of the apocalypse can be looked at as “what if” scenarios of the worst possible nature.
The idea of the apocalypse occurring in anyone’s lifetime is a terrifying idea. All of these “prophecies” that depict a bleak dystopian view of the future are caused by some radical event. The dystopian future is completely different than what we encounter on a day to day basis. Today humans are seven billion strong and we dot the earth with megalopolises, our economies, our nations, our ways of life, our safety nets, but what if these things weren’t. What if everything we know and are familiar with is radically changed for the worse? Questions like these may be in part of why we are so fascinated with the apocalypse.
Another component of our interest in the apocalypse may be related to the consequences of not having any social boundaries to worry about. After the event horizon of the apocalypse, the survivors typically have no societal rules to follow. This is like having no super ego, or no moral law, or cultural context to be restricted by. A game series that embodies this complete release from society is Fallout. (My favorite game series ever.) The Fallout series did the “sandbox” thing before it was cool. The Fallout Universe is predicated on a great nuclear war that reshaped the face of the planet causing citizens to seek refuge in underground vaults, until a later time when it would be safe to reinhabit the Earth. In each game of the series you are a character that must navigate the reshaped earth to achieve your own goals.
What game designers give players in Fallout universe is well beyond the scope of the main story in each game. An example of this would be to notice the expanse of the land players can explore. The Fallout series provide a rich and detailed environment that includes many hidden locations and sub storylines not directly related to the main story (see attached map for reference) Players have the opportunity to interact with the inhabitants in any way they please (even if that entails maiming and beheading them because of a snide response that they gave you) and to explore the “wastes” of Fallout.
Another common theme of the apocalypse that is closely tied to the freedom from societal bonds, is the struggle for survival. Players in Fallout can take many routes to survive, one can choose to take a diplomatic route and attempt to reestablish society, live off the land only going to town when necessary, or be the herald of destruction with a narrow mind of malicious intent and personal interest.
An immense sense of intrigue washes over people in regard to the prophecies of the apocalypse. The apocalypse can be thought of as a radical shift from the status quo today, reshaping the social and geographic landscapes. Popular culture has made countless variants under the apocalyptic genre that include movies, television shows, and video games. Fallout, a popular video game series, has created a rich interpretation of the apocalypse over its many year lifespan. It shares many of the themes of the apocalypse including a rapid restructuring of the world, a new sense of freedom, and a struggle for survival.