September 11, 2010

post–apocalyptic fiction in a collapsing age

The most recent DBH post at First Things starts with a funny note about Mayan prophecies which include dates after 2012, and then asks an interesting question he leaves largely unanswered: Why the current vogue for post–apocalypticism?

The rise of the zombie genre in the last decade, for example, shows a really telling turning point. It began with some "re–imaginings" of the genre, most notably 28 Days Later in 2002. But there is an obvious change in tone with the Zombie Survival Guide in 2003, and its broader acceptance beyond communities of nerds and college guys (a pretty well overlapping demographic in the generation where sorority girls watch Battlestar: Galactica), once it was clear the economy was starting to sputter hard in 2007. (2009's Zombieland is kind of the cinematic summa of the new zombie genre, combining survivalist "tips" (not nearly as serious as Brooks's), the comedy tone of the "cross–overs" and nerd–romance/wish fulfillment.)

Simply put: People are fascinated by post–apocalyptic scenarios because of a general sense of "this can't go on", but need to have some sort of socially acceptable place to work out the thoughts, for those who aren't already into survivalist or pessimistic internet culture. Obviously this is part of the appeal in all generations, but the greater profile indicates greater resonance.


  1. Fallout. (Wasteland before it.) It has also grown in popularity / scope of influence.

    Personally I feel both nostalgic and a little gleeful imagining I'm running around in the ruins of D.C.

  2. I could not get into Fallout 3 in the same way, it was just the method of presentation. (I could not get into Morrowind, either.)

    Then again, my late–90s isometric RPG of choice was Planescape: Torment, which I still have a pretty enthusiastic affection for. I loved Fallout, though, and the hilariously punishing opening sequence of Fallout 2 (so you thought you'd make your character a talker, huh?!) still brings a smile of sorts to my face.

    But yes, Fallout in this generation of gaming definitely has a much bigger profile. Some of that could be due to the fact that it is on consoles now as well as the PC, but I also think the aesthetic mix and the post–apocalyptic tones are a better fit for the pop culture of now than they were over a decade ago.

  3. I also had not really thought about the possible added weight by using DC as a setting vs California. Even people who dislike the "Left Coast" get sad at the idea of the destruction of California, but there's some possibility for secret glee at the ruins of DC.

  4. I only played because a good friend told me I *had* to... and I ended up enjoying it. Some of the original charm is lost in the new presentation, but the dark humor is still present along with the hilarious, quirky characters.

    Methinks in some cases the glee is not secret, even among people who are patriotic. Such are the times :)