yesterday I was humming along to the Talking Heads and thinking about my (weird?) passion for post-apocalyptic stories. when I was a little kid I loved wandering around in the woods near our house and finding old old piles of garbage, decades-old beer cans and rusted things covered by leaves and sprouting saplings, and old bricks and foundations showing where houses or factories once stood. If I walked far enough through the woods I’d come out into the backside of the town dump. There was a great swath of dishwashers and washing machines people had thrown out over the past fifty years. Looking out across a field of discarded “white goods” makes you think a lot about the fragility of modern life as we know it. One day this fridge was sitting in that maytag dealership out by the traffic circle, smelling new, waiting for someone to take it home and fill it with food and then another day it was nestled sideways against a pile of washers, peaceful and sprouting vines. Like any kid, I loved sneaking into abandoned buildings, tiptoeing through the dust, touching things and imagining who used to use this place and why they left it. what if I woke up one morning and the whole world was like this? what if I was the only one left? i could just go into peoples’ houses and eat the food in their cupboards or try on their clothes. what if there were only three people left in the world? who would they be? i’m not sure if this is a natural and universal obsession or if it seems morbid. i never imagine what could happen to everyone to make them disappear, i only savor the imaginary quiet, spooky, empty world, grass sprouting through sidewalks and vines twining around refrigerator doors.
so, over the years I’ve come across lots of stories that cover this kind of territory. Here’s a list of some good post-apocalyptic stories. They’re mostly scary, because really apocalypse is scary. But it’s still perversely fascinating. One of my favorite elements of post-apocalyptic stories is the seeds of hope. Ultimately I think what’s compelling about these stories is the idea of a clean slate and the possibility for something new to grow, something better, purer, smaller or less complicated than what came before. I think a lot of us secretly wish that the world would suddenly be different, that we would suddenly all have a reason to stop overconsuming and survive on what we have.
(Nothing But) Flowers, song, Talking Heads, 1988
Wump World, childrens’ book, Bill Peet, 1970.
28 Days Later, zombie movie, directed by Danny Boyle, 2006.
The Road, novel, Cormac McCarthy, 2006.
The World Without Us, nonfiction, Alan Weisman, 2007
The Rapture Index, crazy christian shit.
Oryx and Crake, novel, Margaret Atwood
Children of Men, movie, directed by Alfonso Cuarón, 2006
well, I think this is only a partial list, but it’s a start. a few weeks ago, Mike and I were sitting in Lo De Roberto, an old tango bar, on a quiet night and the electricty went out and we were drinking our beers in silence, in the pitch dark. I was thinking about connections between the political atmosphere of our particular moment in history, and the current appeal of these post-apocalyptic stories. I feel like there’s some kind of apocalyptic currents bubbling around us, ever nearer to the surface of popular culture. or is it just me? everyone’s suddenly obsessed with global warming and what, exactly, will happen to us if we don’t shape up. we’re losing a never-ending war in Iraq. the news is all recession, downward economic spiral, home foreclosures, serious stuff. and meanwhile, are there more and more post-apocalypse books and movies popping up all the time? I remember reading that at the change of a century, there is always an increased popular obsession with doomsday for a few years before and afterwards. Maybe this is all a millennial thing.