Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Apocalypse Soon

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Apocalypse Soon

Article excerpt

Over the Christmas holidays I indulged in the festive pursuit of watching civilisation come to an end, courtesy of the film 2012. In it, a bombardment of neutrinos from the sun--or something like that--causes the earth's crust to heat up and shift around wildly. The science is vague, covered by stock Hollywood scenes of grim-faced people looking at computer simulations, but the consequences are clear enough. Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis ravage the earth, and destruction breaks out on an unimaginable scale, wiping out pretty much all of humanity except John Cusack and his handsome family. Needless to say, all this casts a huge cloud over our Olympic year.

But this type of apocalyptic meltdown isn't really "unimaginable" at all: it's been repeatedly imagined in a stream of box-office successes -Deep Impact, Armageddon, The Day After Tomorrow and the forthcoming This Time, We Really, Truly Are Screwed. Why is it so much fun to imagine all that we know and cherish being violently destroyed? It makes sense in the context of religious fanaticism or revolutionary zeal, maybe, but why do millions of people with cosy, prosperous, broadly enjoyable lives flock to see CGI visions often million people dying?

Maybe our cushy lifestyles make global disaster so titillating. It's hard to imagine film fans in Darfur or Zimbabwe thinking, "What I really need now is a glimpse of the abyss." But, for somebody like me, the closest everyday life comes to catastrophe is the chip-and-pin machine unexpectedly declining my card. …

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