Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Feature: ''It's not the end of the world' for The Isthmus

Here's an apocalypse-themed fun piece I wrote for The Isthmus. What role do you play in end-times?
You can read it online here.

It's not the end of the world
By Anna Angel

I’m a big a Robert Frost fan as they come (at least, in any country where his poetry isn’t included in the national curriculum). I have his words tattooed on me, and I think he would have been a damn clever sort. But even I can admit his take on the apocalypse may have been a bit narrow.
Some say the world will end in fire;
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favour fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
Robert Frost – ‘Fire and Ice’
Sure, there’s those who point the finger at fire, and ice hasn’t gotten off scot-free. But what about alien invasion, nuclear annihilation, the Rapture, Mayan prediction or freak cosmic accident? Luckily for the pessimistic and end-day curious amongst us, pop culture has picked up where Frost left off. In fact, we’ve become a little obsessed.

With the threat of global warming playing on our conscience and an ancient calendar apparently predicting our doom at the end of 2012, it’s no wonder we’re getting a little panicked. It seems every other week brings forth another Armageddon according to one religious extremist or another. Truthfully, our planet has been plagued by a devastating number of natural disasters from earthquakes to floods, famine and war in the past year. Perhaps it’s morbid to turn to dystopian fiction for a bleak view of what else is in store, but we can rest assured we’re not the only ones who did it. While we may disagree on whether or not the bible is a work of fiction, The Apocalypse is nevertheless the final book of the New Testament. From there on in, it became a popular, albeit morbid guessing game: how and when will it happen?
It’s in our nature to wonder at the fate of humanity, to speculate and to fear. Any film or novel that can manipulate emotion is sure to draw an audience, so playing on our greatest anxieties must make for a sure-fire success. Watching the world as we know it collapse like a deflatable toy in CGI is a bit like watching a really large and all-consuming car crash. You can’t look away even though you know you won’t like what you’re about to see. You can’t even stop yourself from buying a ticket to see it. It’s in your nature. And because filmmakers realise there can’t be doom and gloom without release, you know some key characters will survive through sheer brains and valour. You’ll leave the cinema with a hint of hope for the new world order and a fresh appreciation of the partially-intact world you find yourself in. We know all this because we’ve made this film over and over again. For a comprehensive list, visit Apocalyptic Movies, or for a best-of shortlist head toListverse.
Amongst the plastic relics of our society – following our eventual demise – will surely be an apocalypse movie. I’d prefer we leave Dr Strangelove as a more abstract example, but 2012 or I am Legend will have to do. What these films succeed in – and there’s an awful lot they don’t, for example, the originality factor – is boiling down human nature into concise reinforcements of what we have always been told. It almost doesn’t matter what the premise is, though there have been some shockers. It’s more important how watching everything you never realised you cared about slipping away makes you feel. It’s about how grand it is that a mere human, someone so unlikely, so much like you (yes, you!) could hold the key to humankind’s survival. It’s about never makingtechnology that can think for itself, obeying the bible, not starting nuclear warfare and making peace with our intergalactic neighbours. The important life lessons.
As much as tracking the history of apocalyptic themes can give an insight into the fears and media panics of a society (living under the threat of nuclear war or global warming, for example), they also provide a perfect platform for introspection. When society is stripped away, man must rely on his primal instincts – he must fight, protect and adapt. And it would seem your moral character and good looks just as crucial to survival in a post-apocalyptic world. After all, decades of disaster movies have utilised a set of character archetypes everyone must conform to when confronting the demise of humanity. Whether you’re facing zombies, aliens, vampires, man-made destruction or an asteroid, you’d better fall in line.
Here is your ultimate end-of-the-world social profile. You can tell the bad guys just by looking at them, what your role in this great big mess is, and who to turn to for help.
A cop, agent or other authority figure pre-Apocalypse. Troopers will attempt to maintain order and carry out their duties to humanity, all while wishing they could spend their last moments with their family. These are good people who don’t understand what they’re dealing with, and ultimately aren’t able to do a whole lot of good. You’ve got to love them for trying.
How to spot: In uniform, herding innocents to safety or grappling with evil.
Unlike The Trooper, The Unlikely Hero has no formal training. He is a regular Joe with classic good looks and a heart of gold. He fights because it’s the right thing to do. He might possess some special ability ensuring his survival – immunity to the virus wiping out every other living being or clues to stopping the great evil – or he might get by with his moral compass and sense of justice alone.
How to spot: Male, attractive, generally looks worried or preoccupied but has a winning smile.
Is very likable and trustworthy but is in the wrong place at the wrong time. Will be injured, bitten and in danger of turning evil, or otherwise incapacitated. Knowing they’re just going to slow everyone down or put them in danger they ask to be left behind. Reluctantly, they are. Perhaps attained these injuries when trying to save someone else.
How to spot: Bite marks, broken or dismembered limbs. Has little to no chance of survival.
The Rat
Looking after himself above all else, The Rat always squirms his way out of trouble. He will betray his loved ones in their time of need and run away from a fight.
How to spot:  Has shifty eyes and will usually be the first one to suggest leaving The Martyr behind.
The Breakdown
This one is just not strong enough to hack it. Whether insanity turns them evil or just leaves them cowering in a corner, rocking back and forth, they’re not much help to anyone.
How to spot: shaking, screaming, crying. Trusts no one.
The Survivalist
Has stored food and water in an underground bunker in preparation and seems perfectly unsurprised at current doomsday events. Possibly a religious extremist wielding signs and quoting scripture.
How to spot: May tell you we all had it coming. Will be last seen ducking underground or calling on sinners to repent.
Doesn’t offer much besides motivation for The Unlikely Hero. He has a crush on her and isn’t about to let her die before he can make a sweeping declaration. Who would help him repopulate the Earth, then?
How to spot: Pretty girl in sensible clothing, seen travelling with our hero.
Someone has to loot, rob and make a profit from all this suffering.  May sell survival kits or run black market trades in weapons or food.
How to spot: The one stealing TV sets even though there’s no electricity.
As hard as it is to hear, an awful lot of people have to die without getting so much as a naming role. If you’re a normal guy without outstanding looks who doesn’t meet any of the above criteria, this is probably you.
How to spot: looks perfectly average.

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