SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
September 30, 2012

The Apocalypse Racket

 

A few years back an awful lot of people were talking about the imminent End of the World. On December 21, 2012, see, the Mayan calendar—which had accurately counted the days for over five thousand years—was coming to an abrupt stop. The Christians thought this represented the Apocalypse and the Second Coming of Christ. The more secular paranoid types thought it meant some grand cataclysm that would wipe out all mankind (they couldn’t agree on what though—a solar flare, a new ice age, or if we’re lucky maybe even a comet!). The New Age crowd guessed it wasn’t a disaster at all, but a great shift and elevation of human consciousness or something. And still others (I don’t know who the hell these people are or what to call them) thought the earth was going to pass through some energy field in space and all the rules of physics would be turned on their heads. Myself, I didn’t care much what happened so long as it really did mean the End of the World and wasn’t simply the result of some bored and tired Mayan calendar makers calling it a day and going home (as I suspected).

            Well, the speculations spawned dozens of books, even more wild-eyed homemade explanatory You Tube videos, and at least one major Hollywood flop.

            But now that we’re just a few months away from Doom of one kind or another, I’ve noticed, no one seems to be talking much about the Mayans anymore. This strikes me as curious. Yes, there have been a number of high-profile naysayers and a mountain of evidence to the contrary, but when has that ever stopped the dummies when they decide to believe in something dumb? I mean, right up to the stroke of midnight on December 31, 1999, people were holding their breath. People hoarded water and food and batteries in preparation for the end of the technological age. The news media whipped the masses into a paranoid frenzy about the coming collapse of civilization, and the masses bought it.

            Maybe the difference was the Y2K business was based on a man-made glitch, a fault in the machines and therefore something we could understand. There was nothing mystical about it, just “Yeah, someone fucked up. Figures.”

            Maybe that’s why we’ve stopped talking about 2012. I mean, Mayans, c’mon, who’s listened to them for the past thousand years, right? Given all the other prophets of doom we’ve had to choose from over the years, why pay attention to some silly-assed dead civilization, even if Mel Gibson did make that movie about them?

            I find the whole thing pretty disappointing. Sure I thought the idea was silly, that people were going a little funny in the head with these over-interpretations. A damn calendar stopped, is all, right? But all of a sudden it means the planet is going to be passing through the hoodoo barrier and the turtles will be our masters. Or something. As silly as I thought it all was, I still love a good dose of apocalyptic hysteria. And if it turns out the fucking Mayans were right after all, well, all the better. Let the good times blow.

            Being an apocalyptic child, I’ve had a long fascination with prophets of doom, whatever their affiliation. Growing up in an age when global thermonuclear war was a tangible and daily possibility only helped. I guess I looked at it a bit differently than most. I had no interest in survival. I’d seen a whole bunch of post-nuke movies and it didn’t look like much fun at all. Once I heard the news that the missiles were flying (hallelujah, hallelujah), I wanted to go up to my roof and watch the show. Greatest fireworks display in history, for that millisecond before my skin melted. If nothing else, it would confirm what I’d always thought about people.

            In the mid-seventies, a, um, “biblical scholar” named Hal Lindsey wrote a series of books interpreting Bible prophecy and predicting that the End Days were nigh. The most popular of these—and it was mighty popular—was The Late Great Planet Earth. In a strange way, it fit right in with a public consciousness at the time fascinated with Bigfoot, the Bermuda Triangle, UFOs and ancient astronauts. And in 1977, as with those other subjects, it was turned into a quickie sort-of documentary which also became very popular.

            I was a little fixated with Lindsey’s message of doom, but again for different reasons. I didn’t much care about the Second Coming or the Kingdom of Heaven. I was fascinated by the character of the Antichrist and the promise of worldwide destruction. Weird thing was, Lindsey didn’t seem much concerned with Jesus and all that either—he took the story to the End of the World in Biblical terms, but then just left it at that. Not a peep about salvation or the thousand-year reign or standing before the throne of God, none of that. A lotta warheads, though. Pretty weird, now that I think about it.

            I went back and watched the film again last night, and seeing it now it’s pretty funny. Minutes after dismissing all the other “misguided, ignorant false prophets” who have predicted the End of the World in the past, Lindsey goes on to present a very specific timeline of some very specific events that, well, didn’t exactly come to pass. All the volcanoes in the world didn’t erupt in 1982. Anwar Sadat didn’t rise from the dead after his assassination (which would have proved he was the Antichrist). We haven’t run out of oil and food yet. A mighty plague hasn’t wiped out one third of the world’s population. And most important, the world didn’t come to an end in the mid-eighties. Well, I mean I suspect it did, but just not in the way he was guessing. Damn, he had my hopes up.

            Thirty-five years later he’s still around. He still goes on lecture tours telling people we’re in those dark Final Days, and he runs a fancy website in which he interprets news stories in terms of Biblical prophecy. Those Islamic riots across the Middle East and North Africa really made his week. He also sells lots of products—books, DVDs, and recorded lectures on CD (including a 35-CD set in which he interprets the Book of Revelation).

            And that’s why I’m so confused by the disappearance of the Mayan calendar hysteria. The End of the World is big business. You con people into believing the world is coming to an end two weeks from Wednesday, you can sucker them into buying anything that might somehow save them: fallout shelters, supplies, pills, magic protective amulets. A couple of years ago some whiz-bang on Staten Island skipped the feck and just sold off everything he owned and gave the money to some storefront preacher who told him the Rapture was coming in a couple of weeks. Don’t know what he thought that would accomplish, but now we may never know. This Mayan thing, though, that seems like wide open territory for some sharpie with a nose for rubes. T-shirts, jewelry, video games, Mayan calendars for the kitchen, who knows? It could rake in a bundle. And then when the archaeologists announce whoops, they actually had the date wrong—that the world is really ending in 2016—you can keep on rolling.

            Every generation is convinced that theirs will be the last, that a second ice age will begin, that we’ll all be drowned by a giant tidal wave, that the bombs will start falling, that Jesus will come back, that lord knows what will happen. All we seem to know is that we’re it. We’re the last humans ever to walk the planet. And we’re always wrong. That’s okay, though—it’s just a cue to the next generation that they’ll be the chosen ones, that theirs is the real last generation.

            Morgan has pointed out that all this is nothing more than arrogance—a sense that we’re the pinnacle, that nothing coming after us could possibly matter—for godsakes look at what the kids are listening to these days—so why not end it now? It’s only just and right. But you know, we’re simply not worth it.

            A guy can still hope, though. And if I can make a few bucks off the dummies while we’re waiting, all the better.

 

You can contact Jim Knipfel at this address:

With occasional exceptions Slackjaw generally appears weekly. For email notification of other Jim Knipfel publications (books, etc.) and events please join the Slackjaw email list here.