The end of the world as we know it

Having slept through Black Friday, the next big event on my calendar is the Mayan apocalypse, scheduled for December 21.

I had no intention of blogging about this until I received the Winter 2012 issue of the University of Oregon Quarterly, where an article by Alice Tallmadge, “Doomsday or Deliverance?” discusses this prophecy in the context of end-of-the-world folklore.

Associate professor Dan Wojcik, director of the UO folklore program, plans to travel to Chichen Itza, one of a huge number of visitors expected for the event, which for some heralds the shift to a higher world age, in the same spirit as the Harmonic Convergence of 1987.  The main organizer of that event, as well as the biggest publicist of 12/21/12, was Jose Arguelles (1939-2011).  In his obituary, the New York Times described his philosophy as “an eclectic amalgm of Mayan and Aztec cosmology, the I Ching, the Book of Revelation, ancient-astronaut narratives, and more.”

On the other end of the spectrum, Alice Tallmadge reports that sales of survivalist goods have spiked in recent months.  A recent Reuters poll found that 15% of people worldwide, and 22% of Americans believe the world will end during their lifetime.  The apocalypse has been a feature of Christian theology from the start, but professor Wojcik notes a recent uptick in secular end-time beliefs:  pandemics, overpopulation, and climate change are seen as threats to the planet without any hope of spiritual redemption.

Things that have a beginning have an end, from gnats, to humans, to stars, and all of creation in the western view of time as linear.  When the world survives a predicted ending date, the error is put down to miscalculation; the expectation persists.  What is it about end-time predictions that continue to fascinate most of us and motivate many believers?  The old saying, “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me” doesn’t hold in this realm.

I wonder if it parallels our continuing love for disaster film?  Stories of terrible struggle and danger where we get to imagine ourselves among the survivors or among the happily raptured, coming through the ordeal to enjoy “a new heaven and earth.”  The ultimate do-over.

They don’t get any better than one of my all time favorite “disaster films,” made decades before the phrase was coined:  San Francisco (1936), with Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, and Jeanette MacDonald surviving the 1906 earthquake.

Here’s hoping all our December disasters turn out as well!

And finally, for extra credit, here’s a different kind of celebration, with REM performing “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (and I Feel Fine).  Enjoy!