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JulyDiaz

Episode 55 — Why Hollywood Always Gets the Apocalypse Wrong

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Lately, you can't swing an undead cat without hitting the end of the world. Whether it's the pure escapism of 'The Walking Dead' or high art like 'The Road', every story hits the same beats: it's every man for himself against the hoard of zombies or cannibals or nuclear Nazi mutants, and the only ones who survive are the badasses with shotguns willing to shoot their best friends for a Pop Tart. Even your general post-apocalyptic dystopia movies fall in the same lazy traps -- every city looks like a warehouse or a desert, not because it's an accurate depiction of such a society, but because they're cheaper to film in.

 

But whether it's a case of art reflecting society or storytellers accidentally tapping into a human desire -- and running with it until it's as bloated and decayed as their crew of extras -- it says something about us that's pretty uncomfortable to think about. The apocalypse is just the new Old West, but instead of conquering the "savages," we just revel in being way better at savagery. We like the idea of the fall of civilization because it allows us to elevate basic human decency to heroic decency, and escape the complications of the modern world -- even if most of us would die without it. But that’s why every disaster in the history of ever has shown that it doesn’t play out that way at all.

 

This week, Cracked editors Jack O'Brien, Soren Bowie, and Jason Pargin (aka David Wong) discuss the rote ways in which apocalypse movies and TV shows always get the demise of civilization wrong.

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Idk if you will all see this or not, but I don't listen to your podcast on Itunes (I refuse to support that evil empire). I listen to it either from the site directly, Earwolf, or Soundcloud. If you want, post a link to your itunes page and I'll give you guys a vote. You have outstanding content and your podcast is a pretty big highlight of my week. I'd hate to see it go.

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They mentioned environmental issues a few times, but I hoped they would get into the possibility that climate change might be a subconscious driver to the postapocalyptic trend. With climate change, you have sober scientists sounding some grim warnings about a future in which crops fail and coastal cities are washed away. David mentioned that as population has shot up, so has the standard of living -- but we also know how much of that progress is based on consuming incredible amounts of finite resources, like oil. Modern civilization often seems so fragile, like you could take away one thing and the whole house of cards could collapse. Maybe this has roots in the OPEC oil embargo of the 1970s, when just removing some of the oil supply threw the country into a tizzy. Couple that with the conviction that civilization makes us soft and pampered, with incredible knowledge of TV trivia but zero of the basic survival skills that humanity has depended on for millenia, and it's no wonder we have some nagging dread. Things are too good, we feel. This is too easy. The other shoe has to drop eventually.

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The oldest human stories have apocalyptic scenarios, I don't think it is a desire for anarchy or simplicity, but more everyone is a part of some subculture with a set of morals, traditions, etc that are different from the majority, sometimes in subtle ways sometimes not so much. We know the world has had access to the knowledge we have but still 'they' don't fully accept 'our' views so really the only true hope for fixing the world to our view is to end this one.

 

We aren't so optimistic to accept that only the true believers will be left so we still have us and them. They aren't necessarily serial killers and what not, but since they lack our values and moral fortitude then they can be corrupted without the restraints from classic society. I think we get the archetypes like tyrant rebuilder, raider, mutant, etc from why that type of person is one of them and not us.

 

So it is us vs them attempting to rebuild society with the our true values. This is why the protaganists are always trying to reestablish, even if it is sort of on the back-burner to survival. I don't think most people have this impulse in spades, but I think we can all identify a little with the desire to see a what if.

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I wanted to post about this book after listening to the episode that discussed True Detective, but I'm glad I get to talk about it on a more recent podcast. A lot of the source material for TD has a high leaning toward Nihilism and thusly, apocalyptic subject matter. One book in particular, Zachary Thacker's In the Dust of This Planet, is based solely on the discussion of possible dystopias and how society uses the apocalyptic allegories to understand life. I don’t want to gas on about it too much, but it is very good at dissecting what it is about the world and darkness that we fear. Trying to see how the ideas presented to us through film, television, and even folktales have cemented themselves in our subconscious. We react and predict without any thought because the narrative for possible societal destruction has already been spoon fed to us for years. It’s just a real neato book and y’all should look into it.

 

Edit:

Also, there's a film called Contracted (2013) that follows a girl who is slowly turning into a zombie. I'm pretty sure it's supposed to be a parable about how drug addiction and reckless behavior can ruin your life, but it's basically a girl rotting away into zombiehood. Another couple good "from a zombie perspective" movies might be My Boyfriend's Back (1993) and The Revnant (2009).

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I'd like to second the request for a link to your itunes page - I'd be happy to give you an upvote or whatever they do, but find it unpleasant to navigate that mess.

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