George Saunders has a great piece in the New Yorker in which suddenly people everywhere start developing superpowers. Except, they don't, they just think they do, causing an "apocalypse of ineptitude". This reminded me of the plot in M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening in which people start behaving suicidally because of airborne something-or-other (I haven't seen the film).
Which reminded me: I was thinking today about how the Apocalypse, or just a sudden failing of society in the face of catastrophic change, has become a huge theme in US film, post 9-11. Movies like Cloverfield, Signs, The Day After Tomorrow, The Road, I Am Legend, 28 Days/Weeks Later (UK film, but still), War of the Worlds, Children of Men, or most recently The Happening . These are just the ones I could think of off the top of my head. I'm sure there are loads more (feel free to leave your least favourite in the comments).
Saunder's piece seems to perfectly capture the sense I sometimes get, watching these films. Apocalyptic fiction gives us great metaphors for little disasters in our own lives (as JJ Abrams, who, by the way, made Cloverfield, says in this clip, "Die Hard" isn't a film about terrorism, it's a film about divorce). Actually, most apocalypse films are about divorce. So is The Happening, from what I can tell (the main character uses the death of millions of people as an opportunity to reconnect with his estranged wife, as do almost anyone in any apocalypse movie evah).
But it always seems to me, now, that after 9-11, people are not seeing the metaphors anymore. After the spectacular, Technicolour, Indepence Day¨-turned-into-reality mayhem of 9-11, people have lost the ability to not see the disaster flick as a rehearsal for an actual threat, or a way of dealing with the psychological strain of actual threats.
That's one of the things that lead to the apocalypse of ineptitude of, say, the current security policy in the west. We've mistaken our stories about small, personal disasters for actual, looming apocalypses. It happened once, right? And then there was the tsunami and Katrina, and oh, look, Cedar Rapids is underwater and anthrax and, and, and... All it took was a few nightmare scenarios to become real. Now suddenly you can't carry hair conditioner onto airplanes, even though this does not make you any safer.
I wonder if this wasn't something that would have happened anyway. I can't help thinking that if it wasn't 9-11, it would have been something else. After the global, mediated interconnectedness was a fact, after our entertainment industry had gone into hyperdrive. It had to happen. Sooner or later, the proliferation of narratives in fiction would meet up with the proliferation of reporting, of connection with other people. Maybe it had to happen eventually that some unlikely apocalyptic scenario became real in some hugely mediated way. Maybe another Tunguska event. Maybe a nuclear bomb in LA out of 24. (I'm thinking up scenarios like this constantly.) 9-11 wasn't a killer that was anything close to, say, world hunger or the war in Iraq. And we seem already to have forgotten that we still live in a world that has enough nuclear weapons to kill everyone. As it turns out, we're the apocalypse.