Where was I? Oh, that’s right…

I’d like to be able to say that I’ve been in deep cover, embedded with a doomsday cult so that I can fathom their motives, ideas and motivations.  I’d like to be able to say that I’ve been taking time to ‘harden’ my defenses and prepare my own personal “secure, undisclosed location” for potential fire, flood, plague and general mayhem.  Heck, I’d like to say that I was just sitting back in a hammock sipping mojitos and reading the Left Behind series of books.  Alas, the truth is far less glamorous.

I’ve got a lot to catch up on, as we’re more obsessed than ever before, and the (perpetually) impending end of the world as we know it has been in the news quite a bit lately.  We’ve narrowly missed having yet another asteroid smack into us, and somehow we’ve endured despite the terror of blood moons, and strange cloud formations, eerie lights in the sky, and the onslaught of a dizzying array of “weird tricks” to cure everything from bad breath to some folks dissatisfaction with fiat currency.

Meanwhile, there have been more mundane and prosaic apocalyptic obsessions lately, including a resurgence of the Sovereign Citizen/Posse Comitatus movement, and a doubling down on the “all against all” tactics of the culture war we had good reason to think was long over.  Alas, Tumblr sits in for Babylon these days and proliferates so many ways of seeing and theorizing about the world that we might as well be speaking different languages.  Only the most obtuse could think that we would find it easy to come to some kind of consensus over the question of race relations or economic inequality, but lately it seems we can’t even manage to have a civil conversation over the question of fiction, with everything from movies, to video games, to my own beloved science fiction being shredded by partisans in a bitter, endless, and nihilistic attempt to destroy everything held dear by those who view the world in a different way.

It’s definitely time for me to stop musing on this by myself, so I’m making a resolution, a May Day resolution, to freshen up the bunker a bit by getting all of this out of my head.  In the coming days and weeks, I want to think a bit about the return of widespread social unrest to the streets of American cities (as opposed to merely simmering and festering in the shadows) and I’d like to take note of what I think is a corresponding return of the figure of the apocalypse ‘prepper’ (such individuals always become an object of curiosity when unrest moves from the fringe to the center of discourse).   I have in fact been consuming as much popular apocalypse culture as I can make time for, from the sublime to the execrable, and taking copious notes for discussion at a later date.

(A May Day resolution that’s coming over a week late.  There’s always something, it seems!)

All apologies

From time to time,  no matter our intentions, we all get a bit bogged down with the weight of the universe.  I’ve been doing a lot of reading and writing on the subject of our cultural obsession with apocalypse, I’ve just not been able to do much of that here lately.  I’ve got a lot to catch up on, as we’re more obsessed than ever before, but in the meantime I’ve been reading Peter Heller’s The Dog Stars (review to come, I promise, but in the meantime all I can so is go!  get!  read!) and I came across this:

The guys in the white coats.  The fighter pilot in his flight suit.  With the wife in the beehive.  Humming, tapping his fingers on the yoke of the Cessna to Rock Around the Clock.  In 1955.  All of it about to break open: the manic music, Hula Hoop, surf girls, Elvis, all now from this distance like some crazed compensation–for what?  The Great Fear.  Lurking.  First time in human history maybe since the Ark that they contemplated the Very End.  That some gross misunderstanding could buzz across the red phones, some shaking finger come down on the red button and it would all be over.  All of it.  That fast.  In a ballooning of mushrooming dust and fire, the most horrible deaths.  What that must have done to the psyche.  The vibrations suddenly set in motion deeper than any tones before.  Like a wind strong enough for the first time to move the heaviest chimes, the plates of rusted bronze hanging in the mountain passes.  Listen: the deep terrifying slow tones.  Moving into the entrails, the spaces between neurons, groaning of absolute death.  What would you do?  Move your hips, invent rock n roll.

With that, I need to get back to my work.

On a related note, my advice for all of you: if someone ever suggests to you that getting a Ph.D. would be a great idea for you, kick them in the shins and run, as far and as fast as you can.

I have a confession to make

Even though I am a confirmed apocalyptoholic (I even watched The Divide all the way through to the end), I admit that I had only caught snippets of Doomsday Preppers until very recently, when I finally decided I had to sit down and watch all the episodes I could get my hands on.  I only made it part way through the first season of the series: even taking into consideration the ominous implications of the name (let’s face it, if you are planning a thorough and non-sensationalized look at ways for people to be better prepared for negative eventualities, you aren’t going to be using the term “doomsday”) and the sad fall of the National Geographic Channel into near-reality television status (though it’s still not quite so bad as The “History” Channel…  yet), I wasn’t quite prepared for how bad it would turn out to be.  I’m not talking bad in the “gee, that’s not such good advice” kind of way, or even in the sense of inadequate production values.  I’m referring to the soul-killing, civilization destroying tendency to exploit the confusion and neurosis of terminally (and illogically) frightened people for fun and profit that contemporary television has seemingly fallen into.

I remember the writer’s strike.  Honestly, if I thought that this is what we would come to when the networks realized that they could get all kinds of cheap programming by moving to “reality” based shows, I would have gone to each and every picket line and begged the writers to take whatever deal they could get so long as they just went back to work.

But I digress…

I’ll have to devote more time and attention to the show in the future.  I think it’s worth talking about why the show is so abysmally, crushingly awful, and what consequences that might have for the rest of us, especially in this dawning age of more frequent and more extreme storms.  I think a real focus on what can make individuals and communities more prepared for disaster and more resilient in general is long overdue.  Unfortunately, the kind of spectacle presented by Doomsday Preppers is not only not going to help with that focus, it will actually make it much more difficult (if not impossible) for us to have the kind of conversation about preparedness and resiliency that we desperately need to have.  The parade of wingnuttery and frequent misanthropy on parade in any given episode of DP, along with the not-so-subtle mockery embedded in the framing of the individual stories makes it more likely that the average person to dismiss the whole idea of ‘preparedness’ as unnecessary and unproductive at best (not to mention complicated, expensive and extreme) and perhaps even a little unhinged.

The average person who watches Doomsday Preppers is not going to come away thinking, “you know, I should make sure I have a few cases of bottled water in the pantry and extra batteries for all my flashlights” and take some reasonable steps to make sure they are better prepared for the kind of likely emergency we all might face in the near future (fires, blizzards, hurricanes, earthquakes, mudslides, tornados, etc…).  That person is going to look at the people featured on the show and think, “wow, those people are completely crazy!  I’m never going to do anything like that!”  It’s Hoarders for the paranoid, conspiracy theory set.

And this comes from someone who does maintain a bug-out bag (because I’ve been evacuated to emergency shelters for both hurricanes and wildfires) as well as a deep pantry of emergency supplies (because more often than that, I’ve needed to hunker down in place to wait out a big snowstorm).

So, I’m disheartened, and a bit disgusted.  Imagine my delight when The Simpsons decided to take on the subject and nail it in perfectly.

Day One

Today is, so happy 13th baktun, everybody!  I hope all of you had a great time last night ringing in the new Mayan era.

Now that we’ve reached the other side of the big scary conglomeration of 12s, I am hoping that things settle down, though I don’t hold out much hope.  Just from a preliminary click through the interwebs, I have noticed that the Nibiru folks are still frothing at the mouth insisting that the super-secret (and super invisible, apparently) planet is still out there and still poses a grave and existential threat to us here on planet Earth.  Either it has “changed direction” at the last minute and will “swing around” to hit us just after the new year.

And in other apocalypse news, Ronald Weinland has the next scheduled end of the world event date: 19 May 2013.  Only 148 days to go!