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Pop Culture Explores the Apocalypse

The January 28, 2008 issue of TIME magazine includes an interesting article in its Arts section title “Apocalypse New” by Lev Grossman. The article can also be found online here. The article is worthy of reflection in that it notes the continued exploration of the end of human life and dominance on this planet through various aspects of popular culture, including video games (Half-Life 2), comics (Y: The Last Man), television shows (Jericho, Battlestar Galactica), films (I Am Legend, Cloverfield, and Disney and Pixar’s forthcoming Wall*E), and even music (Nine Inch Nails’ album Year Zero).

As the article sketches the influence on the West in its development of apocalyptic thought it notes the influence of the biblical books of Daniel and Revelation, and then suggests that writers like Mary Shelley and T. S. Eliot helped give the concept shape in secular literary fashion.

The article spends a good amount of space looking at the recent apocalyptic film that is doing very well at the box office, Cloverfield, despite the initial protest of film critics who decried the visual connections to the 9/11 attacks and the negative memories this might invoke in viewers. This protest seemed curious to me since one of the functions of horror films has always been the provision of a safe forum for the expression of social and cultural fears. The producer of Cloverfield is quoted in the article in this regard where he states, “We wanted to let people live through their wildest fears but be in a safe place, where the enemy is the size of a skyscraper instead of some stateless, unseen cowardly terrorist.”

The article closes on an interesting and curious note as it discusses the strange paradox of the apocalyptic which includes elements of both fear and yet also seduction as we contemplate the possibility of our personal and corporate end. It seems as if our ongoing explorations of apocalyptic visions also include elements of our growing dissatisfaction with humanity in general, but in particular certain cultures, no less that of America, as well as our impact on the environment. As a journalism professor states in the article, “There is on some level a secret longing that people have, saying ‘Let’s just give it up. What a mess we’ve made just by being alive.’ We all have this footprint now. We’ve redefined original sin.”

Move over Evangelical Christians. Your explorations of one religious expression of apocalypticism through the Left Behind phenomenon must continue to rub shoulders with secular explorations in the “doom boom.”

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