From ‘Walking Dead’ to ‘Doomsday Preppers,’ What’s Behind TV’s Post-Apocalypse Fantasies?
Long before the Mayan apocalypse loomed, people have been obsessed with doomsday prophecies. Look back to the Book of Revelation and count the times the world ends, then pops back into shape like a cartoon character flattened by a steam roller, only to be clobbered again in some new way. But this particular cultural moment seems obsessed in new and particular ways with the end of the world. Apocalypse is everywhere on television these days, from the zombie-infested horrorscape of “Walking Dead” to the post-technological wasteland of “Revolution.” (We might even add “Treme” in its portrayal of post-Katrina New Orleans.)
These shows are fantasies, but they highlight anxieties about societal dissolution that are all too real. In fact, this survivalist panic now has its own reality show, National Geographic Channel’s “Doomsday Preppers,” following right-wing survivalists preparing for the end of civilization. One might see apocalyptic portents everywhere in the political and environmental landscape: the melting glaciers and northeast hurricanes; the collapse and zombie-like reanimation of the financial system; the decade-long wars, and the eternal war on terror; the gluttonous rearing-up of corpocracy. Notably, none of the current apocalyptic productions approach the major real civilization-threatening danger: climate change. But for the contemporary apocalyptic imagination, it doesn’t matter how civilization as we know it ends; the apocalyptic event is just a pretext for the social breakdown—and justified violence—that follows.