Don’t wake me for the end of the world unless it has very good special effects.
― Roger Zelazny
In case you didn’t know, Fallout 4 is popular. I know this first hand as I have invested huge amounts of time and effort, shirked responsibilities, and lost sleep over this game with no end in the foreseeable future.
Shows like The Walking Dead are wildly popular as well are movies about the apocalypse, which have been a main staple since the 1950’s. But it doesn’t stop there, Orsen Well’s War of the worlds, Revelations from the Bible, The Epic of Gilgamesh, Jean-Baptiste Cousin de Grainville’s Le Dernier Homme, and a slew of others (since recorded history began) show us the idea is just… slightly popular.
The reasons, however, maybe a bit illusive. If you really think about it, everyone fantasizes about being in the ragtag band of survivors who fights off the horde of zombies. But, statistically…
On top of it being statistically improbable that you will be one of the few survivors, your life would be hard to say the least. Scarcity of resources such as: Food, water, fundamental hygienic amenities, and medication would pose real challenges in the real post-apocalypse. A romp in a flooded food basement with zombies would be more likely to give you a deadly bacteria infection than any real food source. Exposure to a highly irradiated environment is more likely to kill you in three weeks than allow from an epic adventure in overgrown buildings.
Knowing the cold and non-glamorous truths, why do people hold such a great affinity for these notions? I mean if people REALLY wanted to live like this they would quit their cushy lives and move to the abandoned French village of Oradour-sur-Glane or Afghanistan’s Sistan Basin to really get their kicks. There are a wealth of harsh places to die… er… “Survive” if your are so inclined. However, it typically ruins most people’s days if a coffee shop gets their order wrong or Youtube won’t run in the background while they work so, just a logical hunch, most people aren’t going to survive raiding parties, robot killing machines, or jungle rot.
No, I think people suspend their disbelief of the logistical absurdities because of several reasons. Of course, everyone is different so one can only postulate as to your specific reasons for wanting to be eaten by a radioactive iguana mutant. So here are 5 possibilities as to why you think you want to live in a post-apocalyptic world.
People’s lives are busy. Very busy. No one seems to have time to stop and smell the roses let alone the charred bodies of the fallen. We all have complex family stresses, financial burdens, social expectations, deadlines, and a multitude of other things weighing on our lives that we long to cut free. A Post-Apocalyptic world frees us from all the complex rigamarole of our world so that we can focus on the basics of living such as: eating, surviving, and not being something’s dinner. On top of that, with no societal pressures, people can be who they want to be. You want to find and collect old garden gnomes but just can’t find the time? Boom! Now you can. You want to travel and explore? Considered it done! Of course you may want to watch out for the face eating aliens who want to turn you into their host. Which brings us to the next point.
2.) A Clear Enemy
As I said, we live in a very complex world. There is a lot of moral ambiguity. Wars rage on over ideologies, the news creates virtual Goldsteins left and right as the veritable “boogeymen” you should hate, and everyday what we should avoid and what is proper changes. There is no real stability. “Sticking to ones guns” is, of course, a idiom for sticking to your moral convictions but a lot of people would like to make it a literal interpretation of how to live. With an alien conquering, machine uprising, or the dead coming back to life there is a clear threat and a precise action. Under great adversity, people tend to put aside their petty differences and band together to address the threat. The ambiguity either goes away or doesn’t matter as much anymore because you have to kill the fungus-infected humans before they wipe out human life as we know it. There is a sense of inner peace in human beings when we know what side we are on and there are clear actions that will enable the goals of that side. Maybe make a difference… Oh hey that’s important too.
3.) Making A Difference
In a world where radioactive turkeys have become our supreme overlords, the world will need saving. Everyone wants to be the one to bring humankind back from the poultrylypse .
In a world where many struggle for a reason to go to work and push buttons everyday, a scenario where they are forced into a position of making a difference is a search for purpose.
People like ruins. There is something that draws people to past grandeur now fallen into disrepair. Perhaps it is a romanticizing of the past. Stripped of it’s inhabitants and activities, it’s easy to transpose oneself into the sterilized beautiful world of the ruins without seeing the actually pain and grief that took place there.
Perhaps it is the stories the ruins tell. There is an air of mystery surrounding cultures we aren’t completely familiar with. The ruins give us a surface hint at the culture and people they represent. So we, as humans, are compelled to find out what happened to the culture. To look for clues to it’s downfall.
But, perhaps my favorite reason, it could shows how fragile and small our place in the world truly is. The ruins show that time is the great human equalizer. Fantastical wonders, megalomaniacal kings, and powerful nations all eventually bow to the unending grind of time.
5.) Blowing Stuff Up
My final example is some people want to watch the world burn without… you know… actually doing it. There is something cathartic about blowing up monsters, buildings, and even people in the safe environments of movies, games, and stories. It’s a way to vent our frustration and anger without actually “pulling the trigger” and causing real wonton destruction and violence. Sometimes our the real persona and fantasy persona are flipped. A post-apocalyptic world is already ruined so why not ruin what’s left? Those who take this approach are not psychopaths (well, not exclusively anyway) but rather it’s a way to live out the more taboo aspects of humanity in a safe environmental allowing ones “Jungian shadow” to express itself. By exploring and confronting ones darkness, we can come to terms with it and control it.
So What You’re Saying Is I’m Selfish?
Well not in as many words but yes.
Whatever reason you align with (perhaps none of these), post-apocalyptic worlds are fantasy scenarios that people use as a means of escapism. The world is a scary place, post-apocalyptic worlds allow for us to deal with the scary aspects we see in our own world, come to terms with them, and be entertained all at the same time. Of course the flip side of the coin is that it is entirely selfish and probably the biggest attraction of all.
The whole point of the genre is that YOU basically get to inherent anything that still exists, kill anyone or anything you want, and abandon who and what you want. You are the main focal point of the narrative and in complete control; Be it actively through a character in a game or passively through a movie or a book. Your death can even be part of the fantasy as some altruistic god-complex sacrifice for the greater good.
Probably the scariest thing to anyone is a world that moves on and exists without them. In a post-apocalypse, any survivor is witness to the end of our way of life, a tragic waste by human standards but at least you are there to see it.
Now I’m off to build a giant sculpture of my lone survivor using nothing but human bone… ciao
Feature art by bdbros