Henry: It’s the end of the world, and we love it

Posted on April 02, 2012 in Perspectives
By Andrew Henry

Andrew Henry

The explosion in popularity of The Hunger Games over the weekend has led me to notice a distinct trend of late: our obsession with dystopian futures. Not that the setting of an apocalyptic future is a new concept in cultural mythology, but the past few years has seen attempts to re-envision it more times and on more mediums than I can count. It’s not that The Hunger Games is a bad incarnation, far from it in fact. Rather, it is a problem of over-repetition.

What’s behind this fascination?

For one, it involves America’s long-standing interest in violence.  Depicting the end of humanity opens up many exciting avenues for violence in a single film, and is thus an irresistible opportunity to fulfill audiences’ requirements for premium 21st-century entertainment. But with great opportunity comes a whole lot of choice; the end of the world can come in a variety of flavors. You’ve got your zombies, aliens, natural disasters and chemical pandemics, to name a few. As The Barenaked Ladies originally observed, it’s all been done.

If you’re 12 years old and just discovering R-rated movies while your parents aren’t home, then you probably think that the end of the world would be awesome. The idea of shooting zombies and navigating a ravaged wasteland may just seem like the highest resolution video game ever.

This couldn’t be further from the truth. The end of the world would be terrible beyond all imagination. There would be mass hysteria, constant death, and difficulties with survival. There really aren’t words to describe just how cataclysmic an Armageddon would be. That doesn’t sound very cool to me. In order to fully comprehend with Armageddon we would have to take it seriously — a proposition that seems to cancel itself out. It’s hard to believe in something so colossally destructive as a likelihood rather than legend, which is why the people on “Doomsday Preppers” are satirized instead of lauded.

Shows like The Walking Dead have helped elevate the popularity of the apocalyptic landscape, but it also subsequently fuels less-talented production teams in thinking that they can do better.

These knock-off productions leave much to be desired and turn the movie theater into a duplicate of the barren landscapes they attempt to portray. Don’t get me wrong, I love The Walking Dead in both comic and television format, and I’m always an advocate for comic-book publicity. But the sub-par portrayal of a dystopian future in these poor-quality movies can turn someone off entirely from the genre. There are multiple versions of said future, though, and they range from a scorched-earth wasteland to the world we know now, but with an eighth of the population. Variety is great in depictions of a post-apocalyptic world, but shoddy production and bad writing make any movie an awful one.

Far too many movies have given the dystopian landscape a bad name in terms of a setting or source material, movies such as Doomsday, 2012, and almost any recent zombie movie. But for every few awful examples, there are genuinely great ones. The setting has been used in spectacular ways by works like Mad Max, Children of Men, The Road (the novel moreso than the film) and Shaun of the Dead.

Unfortunately, these successes are exceptions in a landscape of losers.

I don’t see the trend of the dystopian setting fading anytime soon. “The end of the world” and its various incarnations provide endless opportunities for storytelling, but the copycats put a damper on the good ones. Our fascination with the apocalypse is rooted deep in mythology. Even the Bible possesses hints of the apocalypse, with the angry, Old Testament God wiping out the entire race. If you’re interested in pursuing this popular trend, make sure you do your research when you pick a movie to watch of a book to read. In any case, at least the rapture has passed.

Andrew Henry is an English major in his junior year.