Everyone likes a good end-of-the-world scenario. Ever notice how many SF stories have this as a component – either as the main crux of the story, or as a historical backdrop? Disease comes along, destroys the world, except for our main characters. War comes along, destroys the world, except for our main characters. Zombies come along … vampires come along … superintelligent lizards … you get the idea.
Part of the appeal of such stories is people’s tendency, when imagining such scenarios, to imagine that they themselves will be the main character. In other words, we all seem to assume that when a disaster wipes out 99.9% of the world, we will somehow survive. Because we’re special.
Of course, the stipulation that there would be survivors at all is kind of dubious, albeit admittedly necessary for narrative purposes unless you’re going to Watership Down your apocalyptic story. I mean, vampires come and devour the earth until nothing’s left, how in the world would a few spunky folks escape doom? Part of it is that we all like to imagine we’re smart/lucky/special enough to be survivors, so it just makes sense to us. This is the same appeal that Doomsday Cults have, the belief that you are special enough to witness the end of the world. Forget it, bub: You will witness everything get incrementally worse, just like your ancestors and just like your descendants. No one is special enough to preside over the end of everything.
To be fair, of course, many of these sorts of films could be showing us the final moment of the most resilient survivors – in short, the end of the end. In other words, not a story about some Very Special People who are somehow spared by the universe, but rather the final moments of people who are just as unlucky as the rest of us.
Usually, though, it’s pretty clear the characters in these stories are meant to be Special, and it appeals to us, because we all think that just because The Rapture has failed to happen to for thousands of years, it’s no reason to think WE aren’t important and special enough to be alive when it actually happens. When, in fact, the chances are pretty frickin’ slim. But that’s the appeal: Imagining yourself in that scenario, comparing your theories on how to survive with what the author serves up. I’ve actually imagined myself in Zombie Apocalypses, and wondered what the best strategy would be. In real life, of course, I’d probably be discovered crouching in my crawlspace, slathered in barbecue sauce via a series of events so improbable you wouldn’t believe them even if I explained them in detail, and there would be much Zombie feasting and rejoicing. But it’s fun to imagine what if I was a Type-A personality who reacted well to crisis and apocalypse. I so would not make the mistakes people make in movies. I’d make different, equally disastrous mistakes, yes, but … still.
This is one reason I have an unreasoning affection for the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead: There is a pretty strong implication that the characters in the film are, in fact, the last people alive in the world, or at least their hemisphere. The doom that the credits sequence spells out for them elevates the movie from mediocre horror movie to something I still watch when it pops up on cable – the idea that after all their struggles, these characters are doomed, and none of their efforts will count for anything is a powerful ending, and one that feels a lot more real. Real for a Zombie Apocalypse, that is.
I myself am convinced of my own fleeting meaninglessness in life, and know that if the world ended tomorrow it would more than likely happen so fast and completely I wouldn’t even be aware of it. one second I’d be eating french fries and humming to myself, the next I’d be dissolved into my component molecules, no survival skilz needed.
Sometimes it’s restful to acknowledge your insignificance.