Armageddon. The Apocalypse. End Times. The Rapture. Walmart. One idea – many names. Whether you believe The Book of Revelation, The Stand, or simple science, the world is going to end sometime. And let’s face it the human race has always been a little bit goofy for doomsday. But really, what’s the hurry? Is it not bad enough that a nuclear reactor is situated within a few hundred miles of, well, just about everyone now? And that the safety of said reactor is about as subject to human error as your special double caramel latte whipped-up by the new barista? And that, at the aforementioned proximity, in the event of a catastrophe, we’d all be dead in less time than it takes to finish this sentence? Still mulling it over? Ok, then. Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, Fukushima, and the recent Nebraska reactor flood are just some famous nuclear fuck-ups that could’ve been a lot worse, but were horrifying enough as is, so let’s talk fiction. Join me, boys and girls, for a simple game of connect the dots, mass destruction-style.
The Book of Revelation, for all intents and purposes, is history’s first written account detailing the projected end of human civilisation on earth. For the biblically unfamiliar, the gist of Revelation is simple. A guy named John’s been having these fucked-up visions and wants to share his trip with us. Scholars, don’t flay me if I omit any key points, this is just a brief overview for context. Key word being brief. This soapbox is best enjoyed with tongue planted firmly in cheek. Now back to that wacky John. Long story short, a cuddly lamb reveals to our narrator some terrible prophecies. Four riders on horses signal an apocalypse, followed by a myriad of natural disasters. But wait, it gets worse. Angels sound their trumpets and retaliate by destroying the rivers and oceans, raining hail and fire, blacking-out the sun, unleashing great insect plagues, and slaughtering a third of the earth’s population. At this point, John mentions eating a tiny book that tastes bitter. Sounds like somebody’s having a baaad trip. Hey, those things had to be discovered sometime, right? And off we go.
Satan gets himself 86’d from heaven for grab-assing and rabble-rousing, a sea beast and a dragon join forces to layeth the smacketh down on God’s followers, and those crazy angels return to battle the stampeding forces of evil, only to make things worse, as usual. Don’t you just hate misguided good intentions? Just play your harps and look pretty, goddamn it! Pun intended. Anyway, these angels have seven golden bowls (John’s big on the number 7) that unleash a variety of nastiness. Hmm. Golden bowls, eh? Maybe John was going for a golden shower kinda vibe and wasn’t sure what that was all about just yet, so his ideas were thus. The sun burns the land, the waters turn to blood, and the mother-of-all-earthquakes finishes off what’s left. Bam. Payback’s a bitch, motherfuckers. It’s a frazzling breakdown, isn’t it? Well, hold your horses, horsemen. John’s Revelation has more swerves than Inception, for Christ’s sake. Look, another pun.
After all the brouhaha and shenanigans, you may be asking yourselves what’s missing. Easy women, of course! What’s good pulp fiction without a slut or several? Enter the Whore of Babylon (no pun intended and the namesake of this very column). Well, the evil Babylon gets its comeuppance and is destroyed, the godly rejoice, the great beast is cast into a lake of fire, and big baddie Satan gets drop-kicked into a bottomless pit for a thousand years. Fini! …almost. As with any successful story, John sets us up for a sequel. I’m not lying. Ask any Christian, they’ll tell you. This is exactly how it goes down.
FADE IN: ONE THOUSAND YEARS LATER
In short, Satan emerges from that so-called bottomless pit to raise hell yet again (wink, wink). The righteous prevail and throw him back in, along with his minions. With the freeloaders vanquished, God returns to earth in a pimped-out ’64 Impala, ending all suffering and granting eternal life and bomb weed to all. Okay, I embellished that last bit, but you get the idea. Heady stuff. And if you wanted a happy ending, well, you should’ve chatted-up that busty broad back in Babylon, because John’s still not done. No, we’re left with the reassuring tip that, despite one helluva hard fought victory, Christ is calling the game and we’d better not leave any peanuts or programs in the cheap seats, lest we be hip-tossed into the Great Pit of Carkoon with the other ne’er-do-wells. I don’t know about you, but it kinda sounds like we’re damned if we do, damned if we don’t. And it begs the question: did this ancient tale of good vs. evil instil in us the alternate fear of and attraction to our own destruction? Or did humanity’s ingrained self-awareness and inclinations birth not only deity-based religion, but centuries of extinction-themed works of art?
Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend is arguably the most influential modern fiction comment on the subject, inspiring later heavyweights like Stephen King, Anne Rice, Cormac McCarthy and George Romero, just to name a few. But Mary Shelley may have been the first to put an iron in that fire since the Apostle John, with her 1826 book, The Last Man. The messengers all different, but the message more-or-less the same: someday the shit will hit the fan and the earth will shake its pesky human species off like a bad case of fleas. Whoosh, gone. Save for maybe a few lucky – or unlucky – survivors, who undoubtedly will realise how insignificant they were/are in the big scheme of things. Just one of many tiny life-forms crawling around on a big spinning rock, until one day the rock decided not to accommodate them anymore. Will they learn anything from their forebear’s mistakes, or will they undertake the arduous task of rebuilding the world in the image of the one that failed? I think history answers that one for us. It tends to repeat itself. Maybe we’re not that bright or special after all. Maybe we don’t deserve this big beautiful world we’re stuck with. Maybe some just have talents and imaginations that make our time here more fun and less of a chore. Maybe that’s good enough.
Man, it sounds like that Apostle John had one fucking epic bad mushroom trip. Bet he never touched those again.