Has anyone else noticed that the world is over? Turn on the TV – or indeed, pick up a growing genre of books – and it seems that Armageddon is indeed upon us. And I’m not talking about the ice caps melting, the sky falling and the general economic woe that does indeed dog humanity at the moment. I’m talking about zombies. And aliens. And sometimes, even, angels.
Personally, I blame Battlestar Galactica. For four years, audiences sat glued to the screen as sweaty, morally compromised people crawled across a hostile galaxy, perpetually on the edge of destruction and despair, the last remnant of humanity clinging to the edge.
After that, the Walking Dead struck, and rag-tag sweaty, morally compromised survivors crawled across a hostile America, perpetually on the edge of destruction, hunted by blood-soaked growling groaning extras.
Then came Falling Skies, in which a rag-tag sweaty, morally compromised group of survivors….
… well, you get the gist.
And sure. None of these things are actually about spaceships, zombies or aliens. In fact, all of the above exist primarily as narrative intrusions to keep all the personal dramas jogging along. Are two characters about to resolve months of romantic and sexual tension? CYLON ATTACK!! Are a family united together happily, in a perfect place where they can rebuild their lives? Hark! I hear a low, decomposing groaning sound from behind the fence!
There’ve always been apocalypse movies, sure. For a while, you couldn’t go to the cinema without meteors wiping out humanity, the seas sweeping across the earth or boiling magma spilling up around the feet of our erstwhile heroes. But in those stories, the adventure was always about preventing the coming disaster. Meteors were blasted from the skies, beautiful people found sanctuary in pretty places, and the Earth’s core did not, in fact, implode owing to the sacrifice of the few for the many.
However, at the moment, there seems a shift away from prevention to survival. The apocalypse is here. Not only is it here, it’s inescapable. That zombie hoard will advance, the aliens will kill you on sight and no magic red button or clever man with a spaceship is going to save you from the bitter truth. Life is harsh, we are told. Stop hoping for a cure, start hoping for a re-heated meal of cat food and a tarpaulin to sleep under as you crawl across the ravaged landscape.
It doesn’t take much chin-scratching to make a few obvious, borderline banal statements about this trend. The world has been in recession for years now. Unemployment is up; suicide levels are up; crime is up. The ice caps are melting, and every day brings tales of new outrages in unexpected ways. And even if this didn’t put society as a whole in a grumpy mood, there’s the far more interesting implication that as a society a sense of powerlessness sneaks upon us. The recession came, and was there anything you or I personally could have done to prevent it? I doubt it. Prices rise and salaries do not; employers lay off employees and across the globe the poor riot as governments cut back on services that are vital to national wellbeing in the name of austerity. All this happens, and no plucky hero riding a rocket, or genius scientist in a single-piece bodysuit can save us from these vast, global forces. Culturally, it seems we are not living in the age of hearty heroes with good teeth, but rather humans trying to survive in a world where the individual can hope for not much more.