There is a disturbing proliferation of ‘armageddon porn’ coming out of Hollywood which may reach a grim, apocalyptic climax with 2012.
Hollywood has dealt with human extinction for some time. The angle most commonly explored has been the Icarian possibility of humankinds’ technological evolution going out of control leading to death by angry computer or machine (2001, Terminator, The Matrix). This doomsday scenario seems preferable to the new breed of fables in which humanity dies out, by the billions, at their own hands (Watchmen, The Day After Tomorrow, 2012).
The stories we tell ourselves reveal the dominant themes of our cultural psyche. It is clear that our perception of human extinction is no longer science fiction, but what effect does seeing this on the big screen have on us?
Psychologists who have explored whether or not fear leads to behaviour change tell us that typically, people feel debilitated and disempowered by fear when they feel that they lack agency to change their circumstances i.e. there is a perceived disconnect between their actions and the outcome. This is suspected to be the reason that the danger posed by global warming has failed to elicit an appropriate response. It is like the fear of the sky falling on our heads, overwhelming yet intangible.
The problem with these films is that aside from a leading male character leaping from a helicopter there isn’t much anyone can do to avoid obliteration. This is, of course, in stark contrast to reality in which the population of Earth is fully empowered to save itself… should we so desire.
Unfortunately, in America the apocalypse isn’t considered a bad thing by everyone. Indeed for many fundamentalist Christians the 4 horsemen will lay waste the earth just before the second coming. They have even developed the rapture indexto measure how close to midnight we are getting on the doomsday clock. For them increasing nuclear weapons, climate change and anti religious misunderstandings are all healthy signs that Jesus is on his way back. As we saw from the huge, unexpected success of the Passion of the Christ, in which churches in the US blocked booked cinemas for their congregations… Christians love a bit of torment on the big screen. No doubt the producers of 2012 are getting ready to rake in the doomsday dollar.
Aside from the wonga there seem to be 2 explanations for why we are making films like this now:
- The films are projections of profound fears gripping society. This fear and its artistic manifestation will spur concerted global action leading to the avoidance of calamity.
- These films are echoes of a future calamitous event. We are going to go extinct. We know this in our collective unconscious and these are the bedtime stories our species tells itself before it finally signs out.
Those of us who hope to see humanity get out of the diaper stage of social evolution and begin to work on more exciting collective projects then war and mass consumption are rooting for the former. We should know fairly soon which option it is. Current scientific projections are clear that human society needs to completely change course in a very short space of time to avoid annihilation by dangerous, runaway climate change. In other words, the only generation that can save humanity is ours and we can only do it in a window of a few years. Our film hasn’t finished being written yet and we are the authors; a low throughput, ecological society or oblivion… the choice is ours.