Like countless other walking slabs of flesh and sentience, I ponder about some rather macabre subject matter. Among those topics is the “end of the world” or “the apocalypse.” This speculative pondering even has a genre dedicated to end-times shenanigans. Countless theories and ideas provide the backdrop for countless stories that take place after the end. So, my question is this; why do we love the post-apocalyptic genre so much?
For the more gloomy minded like yours truly, one theory stands out! We live in a society that likes to stick its head in the ground whenever various issues arise. These can be social, economic, political, or what have you. Either way, folks like to chuckle nervously while tugging their collars and casually walking away. And ya know what? I understand! However, there’s always folks who deny things could get worse, let alone exist at all. And that’s where the post-apocalyptic genre delivers sweet satisfaction in the form of a smack to the face of those people! This genre acts as a massive “I told you so” or at least “IT’S HAPPENING!” After long periods of frustration from an intentionally ignorant public, the reader can smugly grin as their hypothetical doomsday washes the stupid away. But, one can’t blame said reader. We as a species enjoy being right and triumphing over things we declare “wrong”, and what better way than a little self indulgence on a cataclysmic scale. It’s a mix of our greatest anxieties and self-assuring escapism rolled into one. But, if all of our lives hang by a thread due to the many lunatics that run the world, it relieves stress to call those maniacs before they ACTUALLY blow us up.
One the flip side, we as a species aren’t too distant from our primal cousins in the wild. This is evident with themes of survivalism. In a sense, this is no different in post-apocalyptic fiction. In our hectic lifestyle in the information age, one would think stripping all of that way would make things easier. However, this is far from correct. With civilization taken away from us, primitive instinct sometimes supersedes logic and rationality. Survival mode becomes more of a necessity as nothing is accessible anymore and the person you’re next to could snap at any moment. As survival comes more and more about ensuring you make it, morality begins to deteriorate and any social meanings we’ve had begin to vanish as well. Now, among the more nihilistic and egoistic among us, this sounds like paradise! No longer will the needs of the many restrain the might of the few! Your ridiculous collection of supplies and weaponry will come in handy as a king of the wasteland, after all! Readers can envision that petty ethics and collective thought will vanish in favor of the individual triumphant! For the more sane, this embodies a fantastic dystopian analysis of ourselves. We are all capable of great evil, as well as losing every characteristic that defines us. When we’re pushed to the brink, we’ll sacrifice everything just to get by. This is one of the things that made the Walking Dead comic books and first couple of seasons of the television show genuinely great; the character’s original characteristic deteriorating as they tried to cling on to their humanity any way possible. It’s some pretty heavy stuff that makes for some deep personal introspection, especially for someone falling on hard times.
Maybe you’re on the more anarchist side of things. You’re tired of hierarchies of all times; governments, corporations, power groups and even money itself! So, why not blow it all up, eh? With this viewpoint, humanity starts anew without power structures to weigh itself down. In settings that aren’t completely hopeless civilization (or at least a society) can reform without the need for some authority figure barking orders under the semblance of “law.” Perhaps order is handled by the community rather than a central figure or law enforcement group. Sure, most of humanity is dead and the better parts of the world you knew are gone, but on the bright side, folks aren’t likely to be interested in totalitarian power hungry psychos anymore. (Contains Fallout New Vegas spoilers) On top of that, old world values (which likely had some degree of prejudice; whether racist, sexist, or whatever) don’t mean anything anymore, as survival as a species trumps old timey bigotry. So in a sense, the collapse of the past world doesn’t have to be all bad news for the anarchist fan. And hey, if we can escape into a (slightly charred) world where we’re no longer oppressed by a super-observant government, attacked by corrupt law enforcers, restrained by a monetary system, or what have you; it’s all good by me.
All of the above is all well and good, but what about on the more science-fantasy view of things? In a more over-the-top apocalypse, the world isn’t just ruined… IT’S AWESOME! Now the latest entry in the awesome-pocalypse, “Jet Set Fallout”, may have been really stupid; but it captured a more whacky and light-hearted take on a doomed world. Doomsday can leave the world scarred and looking pretty nasty. But, sometimes it suffered less property damage than your average superhero story. To be fair, who says the post-apocalyptic genre has to be gritty GRIMDARK brutality all the time? Surreal escapism is part of what the genre is about, so why not kick it up a couple hundred notches? Sometimes the old world has been rebuilt into something downright bizarre. To me, that’s a big part of the appeal behind Adventure Time! The world of Ooo is littered with the ruins of its dark past, which just enhances its sheer weirdness for me. Whenever the old world is brought up, it only helps to enhance the current world in usually pretty cool ways. Either that or provide some really fascinating imagery akin to many high fantasy tales (where fallen kingdoms have given way to newer realms, even though ruins of old regimes still stand.) A Boy and His Dog meets Sword & Sorcery and some drugs… what’s not to like? Now, for the traditional gamer out there, nothing speaking apocalyptic awesomeness more than a spin-off from the granddaddy of all RPGs! I’m talking about Gamma World/Metamorphosis Alpha! In many ways, it’s D&D! You have weird monsters/races, endless dungeons to explore, dark secrets to unearth, and incredible powers to be harnessed. Truly, it embodies that really weird “New Wave Science Fiction” movement that was popular at the time; it was trippy, fun, and full of imaginative imagery… and super lethal!
I won’t deny that most of the examples are extensions of my own tastes and viewpoints (Not so much nihilistic survivalism though), but I’ve love to hear your opinions! So, enough from me, what are your reasons for being so interested in the post-apocalyptic genre?