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Are We Doomed to a Post-apocalyptic Future?
I recently was reviewing my old VHS movie tapes and watched The Terminator 2 for the 100th time. Towards the middle of the movie, I found a brief disturbing and reflective moment. In one of the few breaks in the many action scenes, the young John Connor character speculates that, in the long run, the human race is doomed. He turns to the Terminator character and says, "We're not going to make it are we?" Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Terminator heartlessly replies in an Austrian accent, "It's in your nature to destroy yourselves." It got me thinking about the the myriad of post-apocalyptic books and movies. More importantly, it got me wondering if the Terminator is right. Are we doomed? Is it our nature to destroy ourselves? If so, it would certainly make a bummer of a final chapter in history books.
The post-apocalyptic future genre has become very popular in novels and movies. It feeds on our inner fears of an unknown future. It also places a civilized protagonist in a more primitive, non-civilized setting and has him dramatically fight for survival. There is lingering suspense in these books and movies as readers and viewers want to find out if the main characters in a worldwide catastrophe survive and if civilization itself survives.
Probably the first work of literature to exploit this theme was Mary Shelley's The last Man. This novel was published in 1826 and was sub sequentially slammed by the critics. However talented Shelley didn't write a clunker. Mary Shelly, who is remembered much more for her novel Frankenstein, was merely ahead of her time. Another classic SciFi author to use this idea was HG Wells in the unforgetable novel The Time Machine (1895)—where the time traveler fights for survival in a dark unknown future.
More recent notable post-apocalyptic literature includes: The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham (1951); Daybreak - 2250 AD by Andre Norton (1952); I am Legend by Richard Matheson (1954); On the Beach by Nevil Shute (1957); A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M Miller (1961); The Devil's Children by Peter Dickinson (1970); The Stand by Stephen King (1978); The Postman by David Brin (1985); World War Z by Max Brooks (2006)—I'm sorry I didn't mention a couple of your favorite novels—but hey, there are too many to mention them all.
The cause of worldwide destruction varies from novel to novel. The most popular way of destroying the world is a plague. Other popular ways are global nuclear war, biological weaponry, an alien invasion, and an asteroid collision. In recent years, zombie attacks and climate change have become popular ways of destroying the planet.
Of course Hollywood has produced a massive number of movies with this theme. Notable post-apocalyptic films include: The End of the World (1939); Day the World Ended (1951); Planet of the Apes (1968); Mad Max (1981); The Day After (1983); First Contact (1996); The Day After Tomorrow (2004); Zombieland (2009); 2012 (2009); The Book of Eli (2010)—I'm sorry I didn't mention a few of your favorite end of the world movies—but hey there are too many to mention them all. Even the Star Trek movie producers couldn't resist using this theme. Part of the popularity of the Star Trek movies and TV shows is showing a vision of a positive future. Yet in 1996, Paramont Pictures released Star Trek First Contact—a movie showing earth in 2063 after World War III has destroyed much of the planet.
Are all these negative books and movies right? Are we doomed? The positive news is that mankind appears to becoming more and more civilized. Evidence of this is the fact that all of the major players involved in World War II have not waged another all out war against each other. There has been no World War III. The bad news is we live in an era of dwindling resources and increasing climate change. Dwindling resources such as oil, water, food can easily lead to wars. For the past 35 years, the Middle East has been the main global source for oil. It comes as no surprise that for the past 35 years, the region has been plagued by wars. As for climate change, the U.S. Government has recognized climate change as a threat to peace. In 2012, the Pentagon has issued a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) which warns about the impacts of climate change as a threat to national security.
In the end, I believe that human beings have more sanity than insanity and more reason than non-reason and more positives than negatives. Even though world destruction is popular in novels and movies, only a fool is willing to see the world destroyed in reality. Therefore we are not necessarily doomed. It should be noted that the post-apocalyptic book club of London, England (yes there is really such a club) reports several post-apocalyptic books to be released this year. Also, there are more post-apocalyptic movies due to be released including a remake of Left Behind—which depicts the end of the world based on the book of Revelations. We may or not be not be doomed in reality. However, the world is destined to be destroyed over and over again in upcoming movies and novels.
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