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Apocalypse Now

Written By: - Date published: 10:15 am, December 21st, 2012 - 56 comments
Categories: capitalism, climate change, disaster, film, sustainability - Tags:

Humans seem to have a paranoid fascination with our own demise.  Aside from the doomsday predictions like that for today, there’s numerous movies.  They show our fears and sometimes the realisation of the most destructive elements embodied by our species: social, environmental, behavioural, political.  Some of them are propaganda for some form of dictatorial political dominance.

Some of the causes come from out of space – though often these are a metaphor for the war within the planet: cold war (alien invasion movies for and against the cold war or McCarthyism), justifications for US imperialism (Independence Day).  Some are the result of human created viruses:  creating rampant rage, zombies, and other monstrous things.  Some are the results of human created machines or computers taking over (Terminator films).   And some are the result of climate change, with the world reaching a tipping point followed by a collapse of the natural world (The Day After Tomorrow).

Climate collapse as the result of climate change is more likely to be a long descent than sudden collapse of the eco-system.  But this is too political progressive for many, and involves preparing now by changing our lifestyles.  Too many apocalyptic moves put the blame on others: beyond individual, political or state control. In contrast, Bill’s post from yesterday gives some more realistic tips on how to adapt to and prepare for the impact of climate change.

One of my favourite apocalyptic movies is Children oi Men. There is a commentary by Zizek on the DVD, explaining the movie as portraying the collapse of capitalism.  In the movie human society collapses because women are no longer able to conceive children.  You need to adjust yourself to Zizek’s odd shlishing style of speech to watch the video where he explains the poltiical meanings in the background of the movie.

Naming today as the end of the world, is based on predictions related to the Mayan calender.   Some say it is going to be the end of the world, others that it is the beginning of a new era.  Apocalypse tourism is enabling tourists are flocking to Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula.  But in Guatemala, Mayans themselves are not panicking.  Al Jazeera has a video report providing a thumbnail sketch of the survivors of a once highly advanced civilisation: now living nearer to subsistence level, sensitive to their relationship with nature, and planning hopefully for the future.

Some peoples choices of best apocalypse movies: Stuff 25 best; shareranks top 20.

56 comments on “Apocalypse Now”

  1. just saying 1

    Thank you for this Karol (and for your post on poverty over there).
    I enjoyed the clip.
    Someone, a commenter on TS, said that it wasn’t until the great depression had been underway for some time, that most people gave up their denial about what was happening around them was actually happening. I think it is the same way now.

    My favourite tv show right now is the apocalyptic, ‘The Walking Dead’. Probably no coincidence.
    Anyone else watch?

    • karol 1.1

      Thanks, js.

      I have only watched an ep or 2 of Walking Dead. I’m not so great on horror, especially not schlock horror & zombie, though I can appreciate that such movies and are well done & significant. I did like the 28 Days/weeks later movies in spite of the grossness and one or two others.

      Walking Dead is probably better on many levels than Revolution. But, having been disappointed by the first 2 eps of Revolution, I picked up again on watching it when I found myfreeview had continued recording it. It’s gripping action, but politically very dodgy. I like the main premise of a world without electricity as the cause of the apocalypse. And I like that the women are as active and assertive as the male characters.

      Revolution is, however, too much of the glossy pretty people, and it is US imperialist propaganda: the resistance are people wanting the return of US governance, and their symbol is the US flag. Loss of electricity is caused by humans, by not because of resource depletion, and there is the hope that electricity use can be re–instated.

      Revolution is one of my guilty pleasures time-wasters.

      I did enjoy the UK programmeSurvivors, but it didn’t last long.

    • Descendant Of Sssmith 1.2

      The comment about the depression being underway for some time was also evident during the dust bowl as well and the holding out because next year will be better.

      If you can get hold of or stream Ken Burns dust bowl documentary well worth a watch. I believe it was shown on arts channel recently if anyone has this.

  2. end o times viper shorts 2

    Walking Dead rules… wish Revolution had not be so crap in terms of apocalyptic vision and viewing

    and like Just Saying I’d like to say cheers for your insightful and thought provoking posts Karol

    • aerobubble 2.1

      Why do they never use bicycles? no need for petrol. And what’s with the roaring motorcycle attracting all the zombies. And have they never worked out a ship/boat is a great place to have a garden. A yacht marina, if deep enough, and the wharf removed/removal, would allow each person to have their own area and not be a threat to the group, each with their own vegies growing on the boat roof. Its just seems so boring, car oriented, any adapting to the new reality is forbidden.
      Even when they do come up with the sound making device, to trap zombies, they use the zombies for arena fighting, when they could just keep setting up these devices and traps for zombies to remove them entirely. Its just the same, fight or flight, with a lot of personal infighting, limited social adaption going on.

  3. Ennui in Requiem Mass for CV 3

    Down here in Purgatory we don’t much care for the concept of a mass influx of souls due to a Mayan prophesy. There is a spelling mistake in the translation, you earthlings have been sold a pup and you are staying aloft.

    As for the paranoid fascination with your demise, it all ends with a whimper and an inaudible death rattle. There is a bard up there in Heaven who put total perspective on it…Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

    • Anne 3.1

      Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day….

      Yes, my favourite quote from the bard.

      it wasn’t until the great depression had been underway for some time, that most people gave up their denial about what was happening around them was actually happening. I think it is the same way now.

      Sadly very true. The other day I met an old acquaintance in the hairdressers and the conversation turned to talk-back radio. It turned out she is an avid follower of Leighton Smith on ZB Radio and it wasn’t long before she was passionately decrying the Climate Change believers. I dared to suggest Leighton Smith was a fake and that he quoted ideologically driven pseudo-scientists and he was a dangerous man. Probably not very diplomatic in the circumstances. Anyway the hairdresser prevented blood on the floor by swiftly changing the subject to something more benign.

      This is the third time in 12 months I’ve come across someone who has fallen for Smith’s maniacal crap about Climate Change. He appeals to the middle-class voter who has done reasonably well in life but is neither well informed or overly burdened with grey cells.

      • Napkins 3.1.1

        People always believe convenient lies. Find those who have the courage to accept the inconvenient truths ;)

  4. fisiani 4

    Sadly the world will not end today so David Cunliffe can still conspire to mount a coup in February

    • Craig Glen Eden 4.1

      He may as well he was publically flogged for having a coup at conference which those of us who were present and support him didn’t know anything about. Though I have heard David sheare is actually the one who is bring about this democratic change in labour so maybe it was shearer who mounted a coup against himself.

    • Foreign waka 4.2

      He never had in the first place – this was just a chess move worthy of the roman senate.

    • Dr Terry 4.3

      fisiani – suggest you try to avoid emotive (prejudicial) language. How about “David Cunliffe can still plan to offer a challenge in February”?

      • RedLogix 4.3.1

        @ Dr Terry,

        fisiani is one of our regular trolls. He drops these creepy sycophantic little turds and then runs.

        I’ve considered banning him as a waste of pixels many times. But then most of the regulars here have learnt not to take his obvious bait and for the most part he’s pretty harmless.

  5. ad 5

    Curious this post revels in narrating the end of the world, and on others today it’s all about the end of the world through climate change.

    Too often the Left broadly reaches for crisis as an end-times scenario. Because then only extreme measures will save us.

    Which makes the state necessary both as the instrument of force and to exproporiate the private into the public and common good.

    I don’t believe in the necessity of crisis, to enable the Left to force its way in.

    And we need to be better than catastrophist. because we will only have hope in anything if we know it can be made real.

    To be made real we need a measure of control, even if that is merely leverage.

    I think that is the essence of agency within a Labour politics.

    • aerobubble 5.1

      Capitalism unchecked exploits. Now the argument for capitalism is that the cumulative effects of exploitation produce better outcomes than any other system. This however ignores the negative long term outcomes of capitalism, resource deplete, pollution, decline in quality of ecology, etc, etc.
      Is capitalism unchecked always to take us to the brink of some calamity? Or will the hero naysayers force checks upon capitalism, welfare to stop exploit of citizens, health cover to stop exploitation of disease people desperate for relief, taxation to stop exploitation of the weak by the economically strong. Will every ‘lefty’ have the correct right answer right off the bat? No. No, what we have is
      a pivot point, an inflection, where the denialists are desperate to cling on to their illusional reality and so invent the idea, that left progressives are always wrong, because they always want more stat control, and its always turned out bad. Sorry, but the insufferable left are here for a while, as people wake up the present over reach of crony capitalism.

      Oh, and no I’m not a lefty, I’m fed up with really stupid people who thing the right defends anything at all, rights, liberties, freedoms, economic efficiency. The right wing filled with zombies. Didn’t you get the metaphor of zombie movies, the billionarie grabbing his sacks of cash, getting in his limo as the last refuge of commercialism collapses in a zombie plague around him. Whose the zombie? The rich twit deluded about the nature of money without a soveign backer, or the zombies who destroy everything they despise?

      Take the walking dead, the governor gets two survivors to fight while four zombies try to bite them, in a ludicrous attempt to create the veneer of control over the plague, for the on lookers, while a sword wielding survivor meets up with a man gone mad with the reality of baby born into that hell, his anger at it for not being his, etc, etc.

      Nothing good comes from the Zombie plague, that’s you and your right wing delusions about the left.

      • ad 5.1.1

        It’s getting a bit late in the day for me today as i still have some shopping to do…

        But otherwise i would have a good old fashioned film argument with you.

        To me zombie films are generally only there to be enjoyed. The same attraction as popping pimples as a teenager.

        The only catastrophist film that has really stuck with me over the last year is Melancholia.
        The main lead actually has to rail firstly against a massive patriarchal order; weddings. And she does it in a wholesale trashing of every trope and liminal threshold she can get her hands on. barelay makes it through the vows. Shits on the golf course. Shags the houseboy. Smashes the plates. Stays asleep upstairs rather than do the speeches.

        Anyway without going through the entire list of every order sustaining humankind, she goes through all of them.

        It’s like Julia Kristeva, and Hardt and Negri, and Adorno and Horkheimer, all decided to write a script together.

        I don’t care whether it’s left or Right or anything else.

        If it takes the world apart and forcesyou to look at it afresh, and thrills you in the process wilfully and with skill, they’ve got me.

        And then it’s the end of the world. My kind of movie.

  6. Rogue Trooper 6

    just an idea… :)
    http://www.amazon.com/Living-Word-Resisting-World-Paternoster/dp/1842270532

    Thanks ad, I hope you have a” bon mot” Christmas yourself.

    -John

    • ad 6.1

      You could also turn to the original Apocalypse by Ellul, which sifted through Revelation.

      But for Christmas reading I’m reaching for Vargas-Llosa, salman, and as much magic realism as I can find in Wanaka.

  7. karol 7

    I don’t believe in the necessity of crisis, to enable the Left to force its way in.

    The motivation for this post was seeing the item on Al Jazeera, as in the vid linked to. It’s a topical issue, and led me to ponder on the cultural fascination with End Times. It seems to be something embedded strongly in contemporary culture.

    However, I think such scenarios have different meanings for people at either side of the left-right spectrum. Right-wingers are as fascinated by it as left-wingers.

    On the right such scenarios usually represent the threats to their conservative (especially US imperialist) ideal of their “civilisation” (see Independence Day and various cold war movies). Usually they face the threats and survive, reassuring themselves that all is right in the world.

    Some on the left, like Zizek in the vid in the post, see Children of Men as graphically depicting the collapse of capitalism – a kind of wish-fulfillment fantasy. I guess it serves as a dramatic way to focus our minds on the issues.

    However, I agree, we don’t need End Time scenarios, to realise our political world needs to change direction, and to develop a plan for it.

    • ad 7.1

      Probably I’m just theorising my desires; I want to be bourgeoise-comfortable, so I don’t want scary and messy things I don’t have control of. I’m a bit less Zizek or Ellul, and a bit more Adorno and Habermas.

      • karol 7.1.1

        I think Adorno was right to point out the ways “popular” (ie films etc using new technologies of the early 20th century) culture can reinforce capitalism and divert the attention away from class-based inequalities. However, he also had some old European snobbery about popular culture forms, and saw classic forms as being more able to critique society and the economy, as well as motivating to action.

        I think that some films, TV, non-classical music, etc, can critique the world, and be a motivation to activism. I am a bit more Walter Benjamin than Adorno.

        • ad 7.1.1.1

          I can see that. Adorno’s old European snobbery was something like that of Clive James; he liked it complex and serious and high-minded. And of course part fo a mythical canon that he made up.

          • Populuxe1 7.1.1.1.1

            If Clive James is such a snob, why does he also like Tony Curtis and Screwball Comedies?

            • Ad 7.1.1.1.1.1

              Can’t understand it myself.
              Have you had a look at his Amnesia? It’s got the elegant showiness of good ice skating. Definitely not petty in his summaries of his canon, but so clear that there is one.

              • Populuxe1

                I regard Cultural Amnesia as his masterpiece – but doesn’t everyone have a canon of personal taste? His is probably better than many – he got me reading in a lot of directions I might not previously have taken.

                • Ad

                  Yes, every home should have one. At least where one holidays. Clive – still hanging on – would be proud of his snobbery. A word to roll around the mouth not for braying ‘class’, but certainly for pronouncing ‘discernment’, ‘breadth’, likely for ‘entitled to a canon’, and probably for ‘deference to mastery of form’.

                  • Populuxe1

                    It’s hardly snobbery – he’s certainly not uncritical of the authors he likes. There’s nothing particularly elitist is his background, raised by a solo mother etc, and unlike John Key, he worked on his intellectual wealth over his physical wealth. I don’t have the faintest interest in sport, but only a total wanker would accuse those who do of snobbery.

  8. Rogue Trooper 8

    also, I enjoy cucumber (and cheese ) sandwiches just as much as they do at Downton Abbey;
    sandwich bread $1.48 and cucumbers, 98c ea. at Pak N Save.
    I tell you all what though…there sure are some cold-hearted, self-centred you know whose of what faith, about this Christmas. Ahhh, the paddock is broad yet the gate is narrow.

    -Shrek (where’s Flockie?)

  9. Ennui in Requiem Mass for CV 9

    To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day, and then its Christmas, yeah!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  10. Napkins 10

    Look at other screen hits e.g. Hunger Games, Battlestar Galactica. The tattered remnants of humanity trying to conduct society and civilisation after the apocalypse.
    Some people are waiting for collapse to be forced upon them by some external calamity eg. asteroid hit, zombie virus, killer cyborgs etc, so that they do not have to make hard, conscious, pro-active decisions themselves.
    The best advice I’ve read so far on the blogosphere for getting one’s own house in order: Collapse now and avoid the rush!

    • Descendant Of Sssmith 10.1

      With the obsession this government has with women and reproduction I’d be thinking Handmaid’s Tale.

      • Populuxe1 10.1.1

        ???? Please explain that one – cite some examples. Perchance you are confusing the Nats with the American Republicans, who genuinely do have some scary attitudes to women and their bits.

        • Descendant Of Sssmith 10.1.1.1

          The changes to sole parent benefits, subsequent children policy, contraception push and the entire subtext around breeding for a business.

          You could achieve more sole parents into work without any of those changes simply by actually helping them find work and helping them through support and encouragement.

          The funding of parenting programs to religious fringe groups.

          None of those changes have a positive approach to women and reproduction.

          Next they’ll be looking to allow men to move all their assets into trusts – oops done that
          or making men pay less towards the cost of raising their children – yep they are thinking about that.

          • Populuxe1 10.1.1.1.1

            All relatively minor except for the revamp of the sole parent benefit – certainly not positive, but mostly not excessively scary stuff. The contraception was only ever optional, hardly enforced steralisation. And the assumption that only men can be deadbeat parents is a sexist one – women and whole families can just as equally take advantage of trust laws – some peopel abuse it, but then some people abuse welfare as well.

  11. Tim 11

    As a recent and intermittent interloper to TS….I figured this was a far less frustrating visit (online) than was listening to the very very very “agreeable” Jim Mora on RNZ. The guy agrees with everything and everyone whilst holding the right wing nice-man prejudice.

    Thanks all so far…..Karol for the post, and all others for the comments.
    You’ve saved me from an afternoon vomit.

    Where did people get the idea that RNZ National were a bunch of bleeding heart lefties? Nine-to-Noon with the delightful Rinni Roin and all her isssssssssyoos, a brief interlude of sanity, then everyman’s best friend, sage, rent-a-comment guests (all of whom Jim can agree with despite their diversity – unless of course they’re Bomber Bradley) on “Afternoons”.
    Thanks again people. It would have been more of a dry wretch than a vomit too.
    Such a nice man aye!
    Does anyone know if there are still some sort of media awards I could nominate Jim for? (Perhaps something like an OBE for services to broadcasting?)

    • Curran's Viper 11.1

      That’s OK, there’s always ‘Christmas with Noelle’ on RNZ .. which for a long long time seemed to me to be a play on ‘Xmas’. Save your eyes, enjoy ..

  12. TheContrarian 12

    “…Some say it is going to be the ned of the world”

    ned? Not the ned!

    Anyways, capitalism is not the problem. We are the problem. Every economic or societal problem we have transcends any system of governance we put in place. It is extremely naive to consider if we ditched capitalism everything would be fine.

    • karol 12.1

      ned? Not the ned!

      Heh! Thanks, TC. Fixed the typo. :)

    • Napkins 12.2

      “It is extremely naive to consider if we ditched capitalism everything would be fine.”

      Of course. What we do is ditch neoliberal forms of capitalism, and return to more localised, co-operative economies.

    • OneTrackViper 12.3

      But it worked for Russia, North Korea and Cuba. People are just desparate to move there.

      • Napkins 12.3.1

        Russia is capitalist. What is your problem with Russia.

        Cuba is socialist. With better employment, housing, education and healthcare stats than the USA. What is your problem with Cuba.

        North Korea. Well, its a great place if you are a rocket scientist, they like rocket scientists.

        • Populuxe1 12.3.1.1

          My problem with Cuba can be readily read on the website of Amnesty International among others. That’s what I fucking think of your Cuba.

          • RedLogix 12.3.1.1.1

            As can a whole bunch of other countries. A quick scan of their news page doesn’t seem to have Cuba as a stand-out country all on it’s own:

            http://www.amnesty.org.nz/category/story-type/international-news

            • Populuxe1 12.3.1.1.1.1

              Here, let me help you with that.

              http://www.amnesty.org/en/region/cuba

              I’m ok with sausagefests about how great the Scandinavian countries are, because for th emost part they generally are. Cuba is still a dictatorship with a disgusting human rights record, so let’s not pretend otherwise.

            • RedLogix 12.3.1.1.1.2

              Snap:

              http://www.amnesty.org/en/region/usa

              Or a whole list of other countries; but none of which is especially relevant to point that Napkins was making.

              Indeed it’s pointed out somewhere in one of the later chapters of The Spirit Level that Cuba is the ONLY country of earth which has a GINI and development indexes which can be considered over the threshold for social stability … and at the same time has a carbon footprint considered below the threshold for environmental stability.

              That’s an interesting fact which can be quite reasonably considered alongside their human rights records. Indeed if we were to pre-qualify any observation about every nation on earth with the criterion you are applying here to Cuba, there would not be much we could say about a lot of other places either.

              • Populuxe1

                So? Who mentioned the USA? I certainly didn’t and few people would hold it up as a benchmark to aspire to. Aw it’s precious how some of the hard left can’t give up the precious sacred cow of Cuba. What is a little freedom of speech, assembly, and the right to elect one’s government when one can have sustainable GINI and development indexes (although what makes these two things exclusive eludes me). It’s also curious that in a book like The Spirit Level that argues that the more equal society is the more sustainable it is, would use Cuba as an example when the only people in Cuba with any real power are the Castros. And the figures throughout The Spirit Level are rubbery at best – so don’t hold your breath.

                • RedLogix

                  What is a little freedom of speech, assembly, and the right to elect one’s government when one can have sustainable GINI and development indexes (although what makes these two things exclusive eludes me).

                  Read what I said…. it’s not what you think I said. Nor have I for an instant defended Cuba’s human rights record; it’s certainly as bad as a whole lot of other countries.

                  It’s also curious that in a book like The Spirit Level that argues that the more equal society is the more sustainable it is,

                  Yes while it’s certainly true that in terms of political power Cuba is a very unequal society. But the case they made were in terms of income inequality and how the correlation was remarkably consistent across numerous countries independently of their political system.

                  And no I’m not overly precious about Cuba. In all the years I’ve been commenting here I think this is the first or maybe second time I’ve ever mentioned it.

      • Foreign waka 12.3.2

        Russia is an oligarchy, similar concept that is practiced in the West. Difference between the two: Experience that really nothing changes – just the players. The West beliefs Hollywood stories.

  13. Colonial Weka 13

    I happened to see a copy of the ODT today, and the front page had a headline with the acronym teotwawki. The article itself was idiotic (they seem to have missed that the world really is ending, just not today). Still, nice to see the acronym pasted into mainstream consciousness.

    The ODT also had an article and picture on the the proposed 18 storey waterfront hotel. I’m not sure how many stories the highest Dunedin building has, but this is much bigger and is in an incredibly obvious place. Eyesore is the word that comes to mind, but it was also hard not to see it as the welcoming beacon for teotwawki tsunami that will eventually charge up the Otago harbour. Would make a nice movie.

    http://www.odt.co.nz/news/dunedin/240079/waterfront-hotel-how-big-would-it-be

  14. Viper73 14

    Walking dead and Y the Last man, The Road, Mad Max, Doomsday preppers, World War Z…its all good

  15. RedLogix 15

    Only one contender for me: Dark City

    I still haven’t a clue what it meant, but the cast is a collection of my favourites and the aesthetics unique.

  16. lenore 16

    I found Torchwood interesting whereby when the British Govt was deciding what children (became known as units) they would sacrifice to the aliens, someone said “it’s easy, what are league tables for?” – so got the low socio economic schools. Lots of uses for league tables obviously!

  17. Populuxe1 17

    The assumption that most people are ignorant of some of the subtexts is incredibly patronising and naive. A smattering for critical discourse entered the popular discourse thirty years ago and the last two or three generations of viewers are incredibly savvy to it. The trope that anything populist or entertaining has to be bad is just out and out snobbery, and Zizek is a hypocritical arseclown.

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