They’re coming around pretty often these days. The latest one is not the Mayan’s fault; it’s the fault of the people who misinterpreted it. The world should have ended in 1975, but we survived that one too. And last year we survived two raptures. You do remember the rapture, don’t you?
Apocalypse fatigue has set in and I’ve become a total cynic. Because in real life, people predicting the end of the world (through unnatural disasters, raptures or rogue meteors) end up looking very un-sage-like and almightily silly.
In real life, threats/prophecies/predictions of the world ending are either a total joke or a horrible way to scare people. Of course, when truly horrible things happen, Nostradamus is credited with predicting it all. After the event, of course.
The first global media ‘End of the World’, wasn't so much a prediction as a catastrophe. The Cuban Missile Crisis came after so many other terrible events, but this one became television fodder and went viral. (Viral for the 1960s at any rate). The western world collectively cacked its pants and thought we’d all blow ourselves up by tea-time.
This was one of those events (before my time, obviously!!!) that captured the world’s attention and scared us all witless. It could have gone so very badly, but we’re still here because common sense ruled the day. And I guess, with hindsight, nobody wanted to press that red button.
The most recent ‘Mayan prophecy’, which, by the way, has seriously insulted the Mayans who were horridly misinterpreted, brought out the jokers on twitter and facebook. “Another end of the world? What am I going to wear?” and “The world can’t end in 2012, Marty McFly has been to 2015 and rode on a hoverboard” along with the usual, “The world didn’t end? Now I have to buy everyone Christmas presents after all”.
Who can forget Harold Camping’s Rapture from May (and then revised to October) 2011? Was it only a year ago? How time flies!
Even though Harold said ‘The bible guarantees it’, the rapture didn’t come – twice – which led to #rapturefail hilarity on social media. As each time zone around the world ticked over to 6pm, when the rapture was due to start, the sky was meant to go dark. Owing to daylight savings in the southern hemisphere, not even that happened.
People reported they were ‘still here’ or lamented they’d been left behind. The first to be left behind was New Zealand. Poor lambs.
After the jokes came the do-gooders, who castigated the jokers for making fun of an old man’s beliefs. A confused old man wondering why he and the rest of the planet were still here.
Want a trip down annihilation memory lane? Here’s a whole page of predicted events that, um... well, didn’t happen.
Apart from the Year 2000 problem. That was real.
On the other hand, end of the world prophecies work brilliantly in fiction. It’s fabulous foreshadowing: the metaphorical ticking clock as everyone races towards the end of the book. Will they make it or won’t they? It’s classic storytelling to have the characters hurtling towards a momentous event that will change their world forever.
Prophecies work because they show us where the story is heading . It gives us a direction. Fantasy novels are famous for their prophecies of a chosen one who will unite the tribes. The legends of King Arthur are interwoven with prophecy – the one who can take the sword from the stone will unite the tribes of Britain and become their king. The Belgariad series was all about prophecy. Even the Christmas story is steeped in prophecy.
But these are prophecies about uniting people and bringing people together, leading them towards a better world. Not wiping everyone out. Which again, works brilliantly in fiction (I had a go at this myself when I wrote one of those magnificent space operas, currently hibernating in the bottom drawer.)
Raptures, apocalypses and predictions are a fascinating study into human behaviour and how a person’s deep-seated beliefs shape their actions. It can make the foundation of great fiction. Which is where all these predictions belong. The real world is crazy enough without people predicting it’s all going to end.
On that note, I hope everyone has a safe and happy New Year and a wonderful 2013.