Why We’re Fascinated with the End of the World
By Ryan Rosado
The rock band R.E.M. had a pretty good week during May 21, 2011 – the first proclaimed Rapture date of 2011. According to Billboard.com, their song, “It’s the End of the World as We Know It,” saw a 634% increase in digital song sales tallying 10,000 downloads – proving once again that, paradoxically, humans enjoy contemplating the end of the world.
This fascination with the end of the world is a subject that has permeated pop culture ever since the early days of the cinema with classics like The War of the Worlds and The Day the Earth Stood Still. Today, this genre of film is more popular than ever, with recent titles like The Day After Tomorrow, Signs, and 2012.
In recent decades, we’ve seen an evolution of the genre to include science and its effects on our lives. From Terminator to The Matrix, technology is now perceived by many to be a key factor in deciding humanity’s fate. In the dramatic series Raptured, for instance, 30-something Sarah Bailey is tricked into being in charge of the Rapture after a “routine upgrade” of humanity goes awry and half of the population is left behind. It’s now Sarah’s job to make sure they make it over.
Raptured – Teaser
One of the latest displays of the end of the world fascination in pop culture is the season 6 theme of the popular suspense drama, Dexter. This fascination, however, takes an interesting twist here. In many works of pop culture, the end of the world is something real and looming. In Dexter, the villain, who is a serial killer that hand picks people thought to be impure and uses them as props to create various scenes from the Book of Revelations, is perpetuating the concept of the end of the world to send a message. They call him the “Doomsday Killer.”
Dexter knows these events are symbolic, not actual end of the world scenarios. Instead, the theme of the end of the world highlights the belief systems for Dexter and the rest of the cast. Dexter, for instance, becomes fearfully reflective – reviewing his life decisions and his legacy.
The genre of the end of the world provides an opportunity to examine a protagonist’s character within a work. Facing this real concern, characters are forced to evaluate their life choices, correct mistakes, and assess their contribution to humanity. Although as humans, we seldom take stock of a lifetime’s list of choices, we have an innate desire to be heard and leave an imprint. This scenario allows us, the viewer, to consider, if only for a brief moment, the sum total of our life – a number we fear to calculate but yearn to transcend.
This genre speaks to audiences at a basic level. It showcases this scenario from a variety of viewpoints – providing people with any belief system an opportunity to evaluate themselves. The possibilities are plentiful.
Book of Revelations: Legion (2009), End of Days (1999), Knowing (2009), The Book of Eli (2009)
Natural Disasters and Global Warming: Dante’s Peak (1997), Armageddon (1998), The Core (2003)
Alien Invasion: Battle Los Angeles (2011), Skyline (2011), Independence Day (1996)
Horror/Supernatural: Resident Evil (2002), The Walking Dead (2010- ), I Am Legend (2007)
Disease: 28 Days Later (2002), Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), Contagion (2011)
Additionally, the end of the world genre, within Hollywood, has stood the test of time because of the development of CGI and new special effects, which allow end of the world classics to look even more realistic and believable than ever before. Classic films like War of the Worlds and The Day the Earth Stood Still have received facelifts that truly illuminate the gravity of such an event. Due to this development in technology, the end of the world genre has extended its shelf life with realistic images of tidal waves, falling buildings, and asteroid crashes that feed our morbid imagination.
What the end will be like will always be up for debate. Nevertheless, the eternal questions of faith and purpose will continue to drive audiences back, again and again, to experience works like these. Even if you don’t fear the judgment of a higher power or the violent acts of a powerful alien race, at the very least, walking away from a doomsday story lets you appreciate how hum-drum life can be.
What are your favorite end of the world movies? Do you think December 21, 2012 will be your last day? Share your thoughts below. Hurry before the end is here.
Raptured – Episode 1
Raptured – Episode 2
Passionately into marketing communications and writing, Ryan Rosado is an entrepreneur who splits his time performing marketing communications work for the U.S. Army and developing his side business, Lion’s ROAR Marketing. Ryan graduated from George Mason University in 2009 with a B.S. in Marketing and resides the DC metropolitan area. To find out more about Ryan Rosado and read other works by him, check out his blog at roarmkting.com for the latest on social media, marketing, and entrepreneurship. Let your ROAR be heard!