Lately, for one reason or another, I've been thinking about the Apocalypse.
OK, Maybe I've just been thinking about Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but it amounts to the same thing. BTW - Season 6 totally holds up in retrospect. I'll fight any man says different.
But I digress.
As cute as the running joke about needing to know the plural for apocalypse was, it remains undeniably true that the thing about Apocalypses is very similar to the thing about Nemeses. You only get one.
Throughout the show's seven season run we never got an actual Apocalypse. What we got were many, many Attempted Apocalypses. Which is just a misdemeanor. If this had been an actual Apocalypse, you would know by the none of us being here anymore.
So at this stage it might be helpful to discuss what we actual mean when we say 'Apocalypse'. Generally speaking, religious connotations aside for the moment*, when we say 'Apocalypse' we mean The End. Of Everything. Game, categorically, Over.
*Although it's fun to point out that the word comes from Greek and is closely tied to the concept of 'revelation', which puts a charming patina of 'Finally we'll get to know what the freakin' Hell THAT was all about.' Which is probably just wishful thinking, but it's still a nice thought. If nothing else it's worth noting that we as a species have always had a tendency to associate 'The End' with 'Finally getting some damn answers'.
But what do we mean when we say The End of Everything?
Well, let's start by clarifying what we don't mean when we say that. What we don't actually mean is 'The End of Everything'. What we actually mean is 'The End of Us.' Everything else... not at the top of our priority list. Much like when we talk about global warming or radioactivity killing the planet, it's not really the planet that we're worrying about so much. We could explode a billion nuke's right this moment and the planet would be just fine, thanks very much.* WE'D be screwed. But the planet would continue to happily spin on while it waited for some other species to step up and start bitching at one another.
*Unless we exploded them in the Mariana Trench and cracked open the core I suppose...
The point I'm getting at - The ACTUAL end of everything (i.e. the Entire Universe) very rarely crops up in this discussion. For the sake of sharing I'll just mention here that it's broadly believed that the universe will end in one of two ways, depending on which side of the theoretical physics coin you choose to believe.
Either A: The Universe - which has been slowly (relatively speaking) expanding since its inception will eventually reach a point where it will begin contracting until eventually we reach the 'Big Crunch' (that is to say the opposite of the Big Bang where everything that exists is ultimately compacted into a singularity - possibly to begin the whole miserable process again, or possibly to be the thing that started this universe in the first place which if nothing else has a pleasing sense of symmetry )
or B: The Universe will continue to expand exactly as it is doing until eventually all matter has reached a state of equal distribution across effectively infinite space which means that there won't be anywhere with enough energy for light, energy or life to exist, but at least things will be nice and quiet.
Basically, Hot Universe Death or Cold Universe Death. Pick your horse and wait to find out, although it's probably going to be awhile.
But when we talk about the Apocalypse, we're not really concerned with the Universe. We're really more worried about 'Us'.
So, here's a quick rundown of the various types of 'Apocalypse' that we've considered.
END OF PLANET APOCALYPSE:
This is your basic - the Planet explodes or crumbles or something for one reason or another. the film 2012 embraces this concept, although there's plenty of evidence that that's not exactly what the Mayans had in mind - but we'll come back to that later.
You have two basic varieties - the version where we've gotten our shit together enough to leave the planet before it happens and the version where we don't and we're just screwed.
Most of your global warming apocalypse scenarios fall into this pattern. It's the end of the world because the world literally ends. Death through loss of anywhere to remain alive in.
END OF PEOPLE APOCALYPSE:
Then you have your scenarios where the planet is just fine, thanks (see above) but the human beings have come to an end. In bygone times this would have been due to either nuclear accident or alien invasion, and mostly would have served as an excise to discuss the important of interpersonal relationships.
This has given way somewhat in the last decade or two to a tendency to have viral or chemical infections as the reason why yo - for example - woke up in an abandoned Hospital and are now running from Zombies
And this might be a good time to mention some interesting thing about Zombie-Specific apocalypses. Almost exclusively an 'End of People' type of apocalypse (if only so that you had somewhere for the zombies to chase you around in) the zombies themselves have had a fascinating evolution as an icon themselves.
It's fairly film theory 101 to point out, but- the quickest way to find out what a culture is afraid of is to learn it's stories. In Western culture this means that the TV and movies of a period will tell you a lot about what that period's fears and beliefs were.
In the 50s what really scared the crap out of people in Western culture was the idea that someone might steal your soul. That is - that someone might be able to take that part of your personality that's essentially 'you' and control you somehow. You'd no longer be a human being with free will, you'd just be a tool of some other power. (this is what all those pod people/Stepford wives films were about.) The zombies in films at this point were people whose souls had been stolen by a Houngan (no, google it) and weren't human any longer.
By the 70's the fear wasn't that you'd lose your soul so much as that maybe we'd never even had souls in the first place. Maybe at the end of the day we're just meat, like the cows we slaughter (the cool vocab word here is 'Anthropophogy' and you should totally google that one.) This is where The Texas Chainsaw Massacre came from, and it's why the predominate imagery in George Romero's 'of the Dead' films is of zombie's eating chunks of flesh off of living human beings.
Zombie's these days tend to be the sort that have been created by a virus that we created in a lab which got loose, which means we've reached a sort of hybrid of the previous two. We HAD a soul - but our own hubris and ignorance caused us to destroy it. Which is as neat a summation of early 21st century attitudes toward technology as you could imagine. Anyone looking for a topic for their Anthropology could do a lot worse than start there.
THE RELIGIOUS APOCALYPSE:
This one has fallen out of fashion a bit (which is why I was so pleased that the recent film 'This is the End' chose to go there.)
What this really is, is a manifestation of the belief that at some point someone has to show up and explain what the Hell all this has been about because it's made f*ck-all sense while we were living it. Mixed with a hearty dose of 'See, one day Dad will show up and you'll see how I was right all along!'
This is also sort of the one the Mayans were getting at with the whole 2012 prophecy although we should be clear that they didn't see it as an End, so much as an end- if you get what I'm saying.