Increasingly, people are drawn to the post-apocalyptic genre and it saw another spike in interest this year.
While there isn’t really a concrete answer as to why, there is one somewhat common theory that draws upon humanity’s past experiences.
It’s kind of a weird genre if we’re being honest because it’s saying “everything ended, except it didn’t.”
An apocalypse is “the complete final destruction of the world.” There shouldn’t be an after that.
Apocalyptic stories are as old as human civilization, with stories like Ragnarok from the Vikings and Revelation in the Bible.
The thing is, in those, life ends, at least in this world.
Meanwhile, we consider “The Last Man” by Mary Shelley written in 1826 to be the first post-apocalyptic story. In the realm of human history, just shy of 200 years is not that long.
Things picked up for both apocalypse and post-apocalypse stories in the ‘90s, and that’s continued.
“The Walking Dead,” “Contagion,” “The Last of Us,” “Fallout,” and “WALL-E” are all examples of post-apocalyptic stories in various mediums.
The Conversation reported in March that more people were turning to the genre during quarantine and in particular those stories about contagious diseases.
But why have we gravitated toward it?
Writer Leigh Finke laid out two rules on why these stories are so compelling; the end is neigh and it never happens.
Basically, we feel like the world is ending.
In 2020, we’ve dealt with:
A pandemic that’s killed over a million people globally and 213,000 in the U.S. alone;
Giant hornets that were barely a blip on everybody’s radar;
Protests, both peaceful and not, over systemic racism and accusations of police brutality;
Wildfires raging on the west coast that have burned over four million acres of land in California alone;
And a hurricane season with so much activity that the National Hurricane Center ran out of names for systems in the Atlantic.
This is the reality we live in and I don’t think I’m alone in saying that it’s pretty terrifying.
This isn’t a new feeling.
The people who worked on pieces like the 1979 film “Mad Max” grew up during the Cold War when people were worried about nuclear war.
Working on or watching pieces of fiction causes a catharsis in our brains and helps to grapple with the fear of reality.
The younger generation, my generation, are largely the ones engaging with and starting to produce these stories now. Why?
We didn’t grow up during the Cold War, which ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1991.
But, what happened less than a decade later? Sept. 11, 2001.
This was followed by wars in the Middle East, several economic recessions, multiple mass shootings, and Hurricane Katrina among other storms to name a few things.
We have some emotions to work through too.
Here’s the positive to all of this though, Finke’s second rule: the end never comes.
Sure, these events cost millions of lives and we have drastically changed ways of life, but post-apocalyptic stories are hope. They tell us that no matter what, some people will survive.
They show us humans surviving in the nuclear wasteland of the “Fallout” video games, escaping to space in the movie “WALL-E,” or fleeing a virus like in TV show or comics of “The Walking Dead.”
Is that reality? Who knows, we haven’t had an apocalypse, but the idea is relieving.
Apocalyptic stories are humans recognizing that there are forces that could destroy everything. Post-apocalyptic stories are the hope that at least some of us can overcome them and live on to create a life within the new normal.
Is that egotistical and self-centered of humans to think we could outsmart fate? Maybe. But, that’s a different discussion.
This is a new column to highlight arts and entertainment, including local artists, authors and craftspeople. To include someone on our list, send in suggestions to Michael Shine at email@example.com with their name, where they’re from the kind of art they do and contact information.