Why I love the Apocalypse


  • Letters
  • Thursday, 17 May 2007

davin@thestar.com.my 

The end of the world is a great equaliser – who gives a rat’s behind about race, religion and social status when your brain is about to be eaten? 

TIME for a pseudo-Zen story: A lawyer is sitting in a bank filling out a form. He pauses at the column marked Race. The bank officer grows impatient. “Melayu, Cina, India atau Lain-lain?” he asks in a somewhat irritated tone of voice. 

The lawyer looks out the window, where giant alien war machines have just emerged from their aeons-old slumber and are incinerating the people outside with their death-rays. A death-ray emitter is raised and pointed at the two of them.  

“Does it really matter what colour we are?” the doomed lawyer asks the just-as-doomed bank officer. “Our ashes are all grey.” 

End of story. 

Read the medical journals lately? Even the bacteria have given up on protecting us. 

I don't know about you, but I love the apocalypse. I love movies and TV shows about it. At bookshops, I'll scour the shelves looking for that elusive tome about some world-threatening event that either unites mankind against it, or depicts the struggles of the survivors after the fact. 

From venerable volumes like The War of the Worlds (and Jeff Wayne’s absolutely smashing Musical Version of it) to Charles Pellegrino’s gripping extinction event-depicting Dust (where’s the movie already?) to the tribulations of the, err, Tribulation Force in the Left Behind books, I’ve read ‘em whenever I could find ‘em. 

(Still holding out for a cheaper edition of Cormac McCarthy’s acclaimed post-apocalyptic tale The Road to arrive, though.)  

It's not that I hate the world that much. It's just that the best of these stories – and oftentimes, even the middling ones – succeed in capturing those vital slices of life that showcase the best and worst of humanity.  

And often, the stories gravitate towards one central, prevalent theme: that in the face of any impending extinction event, the little differences that set us apart cease to mean anything (given that their grip on us was, at best, tenuous to begin with), and those who persist in perpetuating them are doomed to ... well, die contently enshrouded in their petty bigotry. 

It's not surprising if these tales can be eye-openers. After all, Apocalypse with a capital “a” means “revelation.” 

Look at zombie movies by the likes of George Romero and all those he inspired, for example. For whatever reason, zombie plagues have brought the dead and newly dead back to life, and everyone they bite changes into one, increasing their numbers exponentially.  

On one side, you have the undead – former stockbrokers, doctors, labourers, housewives, teachers, cops, politicians, whatever – stripped of all awareness of status, gender, race and religion, driven by only one impulse: to eat. 

On the other, you have the outnumbered survivors – former stockbrokers, doctors, labourers, housewives, teachers, cops, politicians, whatever – whose status, gender, race and religion don’t matter any more, driven by only one impulse: to survive. 

The latter group, in acting on that impulse, commits acts of both primal brutality and supreme kindness, sometimes even finding the capacity for good humour under the circumstances.  

What do gender, colour and creed really matter then? The heroic astronauts of Sunshine and Deep Impact, and even the buffoonish heroes in Armageddon, didn’t bother about the kind of people they were saving through their sacrifice. 

And talking about “you people,” remember that a brash brother, a Jewish geek and a drunken redneck saved the world in Independence Day.  

In Alan Moore’s riveting comic-book saga Watchmen, a brilliant but megalomaniacal hero conspires to fake an alien invasion to rally humanity together.  

In an upcoming episode of Heroes, a possible grim future is postulated where ordinary people unite against the genetically anomalous super-beings and carry out acts of genocide to save themselves. 

Considering the proliferation of extinction events in fiction and the increasing number of non-fiction speculation on the world's end, what kind of doomsday scenario will we have to face in real life before we put aside our differences and unite for a common cause (whether it’s on a global, continental or national scale)? 

We don't have to wait until the nukes are airborne to consider our ways.  

Are we going to just continue harping on the differences instead of celebrating the beauty of our diversity? Which is easier, I ask you – to live a life of harmonious acceptance, or one of continued suspicion and aggression?  

I’ve had moments when, sick of injustice and unfairness, I’ve been pushed into the latter “zone” – and, trust me – it isn’t a very pleasant place to hang around. I wonder, then, how some people can spend seemingly all their waking moments there. 

Are the authorities going to continue to with their familiar refrain of “hey, don’t look at us” when some entity – be it a financial institution or a politician – that/who should have known better steps way, way out of line?  

Or will they finally take a deep breath and consider (or perhaps admit) that maybe they should be identifying the fundamental problems and leading society to correct them at the source, instead of constantly doing damage control? 

Is the endless throbbing of having a thorn in the flesh preferable to the short, sharp pain of removing it? 

As things stand, the one apocalyptic threat we can presume to be safe from is alien invasion.  

Any beings intelligent enough to traverse the vast gulf between habitable worlds would have arrived, observed how we treat one another and plunder the planet in the face of all that is sensible and decent ... and then would have decided to split this loser joint, fast. 

 

Davin Arul, vice-president of the I.Star Division, invites you to check out the Rules of Unreality Blog at http://blog.thestar.com.my/unreal/. There’s a list of his favourite reading and viewing on the Apocalypse (arranged by Doomsday Scenario), among other things. And he was just kidding about that bacteria thing; Lactobacillus acidophilus is still good for your gut. 

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