Sunday Night TV Apocalypse

Many Americans begin their Sundays with a visit to the church of their choice and end them with apocalyptic visions — watching TV characters struggle with catastrophic scenarios that have put the human race on the brink of extinction.

Sunday night is the prime TV viewing period in the Webner household and across America.  Lately, though, it seems like every show has an apocalyptic theme.  On Falling Skies, the Earth has been invaded by multiple alien species who are hoping to wipe us off the face of the planet.  On The Last Ship, a weaponized virus has swept across the globe, killing and infecting 80 percent of humans, toppling governments, and leaving only one American ship and one scientist as humanity’s last, best hope for a cure.  And on The Leftovers, two percent of the world’s population has mysteriously vanished, leaving the remaining population to wonder why, struggle with the aftermath, and witness a slow breakdown of the entire social order.  (I recognize there are other apocalyptic TV shows out there, but one couple can only endure so much televised disaster.)

Why are these shows so popular?  For one, Americans like to see people in peril, and have enjoyed it since The Perils of Pauline.  Apocalyptic shows just allow the peril to occur on a much grander scale.  Too, the broad plot lines give ample room for action and adventure, heroism and cowardice, charismatic leaders, people finding inner strength, romance amidst the carnage, and acts of sacrifice and betrayal, and therefore can appeal to just about everyone.  If you like battles, you can watch the freedom fighters on Falling Skies gun down “skitterers” or the Navy personnel on The Last Ship fight al-Qaeda terrorists and rogue Russians.  And occasionally bigger picture questions can be addressed, too.  What is the role of hope in life?  How would ordinary people react to Armageddon?  What role, if any, would religion play when people are dealing with the end of life as we know it?

It’s all very interesting, and it makes for a good night of TV viewing.  And, having immersed ourselves in catastrophe on Sunday night, we awaken on Monday morning refreshed and well positioned to face another week of work.

Two Weeks ‘Til Doomsday

A gentle reminder to all Webner House readers:  the Mayan “long count” calendar ends on December 21, 2012.  Get ready!

It’s entirely natural that people would be paying attention to the end of a calendar created by a long-dead ancient civilization that engaged in ritual human sacrifice.  The “long count” calendar began, quite logically, in 3114 B.C. and accounts for time in those familiar 394-year-long periods called bak’tuns.  December 21st marks the end of the 13th and final bak’tun.  Some people are preparing by engaging in panic buying of food and candles and other essentials.  The U.S. government, on the other hand, has reassured us that the world won’t end on December 21.  If Uncle Sam says it, it must be so.

The big problem with the Mayans is that they weren’t very clear about what would happen when this latest bak’tun cycles down to nothingness.  Will old Earth be smashed to bits by a comet or a hidden planet?  Will returning aliens land on the Gaza plateau and plains of Chichen Itza?  Will the 22nd mark the commencement of the Apocalypse, Ragnarok, and the return of vengeful Mayan gods, ready to give puny humans their comeuppance?  Or, as I prefer to think, will the end of the unlucky 13th bak’tun herald the beginning of a blissful new era of enlightenment where negotiations about “fiscal cliffs” are quickly consummated to the satisfaction of all and the Cleveland Browns win dozens of Super Bowls?

We’ll find out soon enough.  If I’m right, on the 22nd all of those panicky folks are going to feel pretty silly, wasting their money on candles and food instead of buying Cleveland Browns paraphernalia that you can get a bargain prices these days.

 

Apocalypse (Not Quite) Now

Weird things are happening in the French Pyrenees.  New Agers have descended on the village of Bugarach because they’re convinced that aliens will emerge from a nearby mountain on December 21, the date that marks the end of the Mayan “long count” calendar.  The helpful aliens will cart all humans in the vicinity off to, in the words of one believer, a new era celebrating the “energies of tomorrow.”

The aliens expect we humans to perform some bizarre stunts in order to get a seat on the spaceship to the coming age.  Groups of naked believers regularly hike to the top of the mountain, which they believe emits special magnetic waves.  Some have been seen carrying a ball and a golden ring connected by a single thread on their hikes.  Is it some kind of a communicator?  An exercise device?  One of those desktop time-wasters, like the five silver balls that clack together until they become annoying?  No one knows for sure.

It’s hard to believe that aliens who are capable of living undetected under the Pyrenees would need — or, for that matter, want — to see a bunch of naked humans trudging up a magnetic mountain with a ball and ring.  Mountaintops can be cold; aren’t the aliens even a bit concerned that the humans might suffer from (ahem) exposure?  But maybe that’s just part of the aliens’ careful plan.  Perhaps it’s not going to be easy in the new era filled with the “energies of tomorrow,” and they have to separate the hardy few from the rest of us luxury-loving softies.

It’s hard to call what’s happening over in Bugarach a cult, because there doesn’t seem to be the standard “charismatic leader” who makes everyone wear a new track suit and carry a roll of quarters before they drink the Kool-Aid.  Still, you can’t help but reflect on how apocalyptic scenarios have changed over history.  In the past, religions often emphasized doing good deeds (at least, as the religion defined them) during this lifetime, so that when Judgment Day came your efforts would be assessed and found not wanting.  Now, people don’t really need to do much of anything to qualify for the next life — they just have to be present when the benevolent super-beings decide it’s time to save a few of us.

In these New Age scenarios, humans are little more than science experiments, to be rescued from the grimy Petri dish of our world by those helpful aliens.  Let’s hope they don’t just wash out the Petri dish, take their ball, string, and ring, and decide it’s time to head back to Andromeda.