Apocalypse... whenever

Daniel Wojcik. The End of the World as We Know It: Faith, Fatalism and Apocalypse in America. New York University Press, 1997.

After tracing the history of apocalyptic thought in America, Wojcik studies its current manifestations, using examples Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth, Veronica Lueken and the Bayside Marian apparitions, secular apocalypses from fear of nuclear war to environmental breakdown; the post cold war conspiracy genres, and the apocalyptic potential of the UFO contactee and abductee beliefs. Wojic sees as a central theme within these apocalyptic traditions a fatalistic world view, which regards human beings has having little control over their lives and destinies, being instead playthings of superhuman forces, whether of god, extraterrestrials or our own out of control technology. The apocalyptic often becomes a nativist or restorationist ideology; the corrupt modern world, and the terrible others who have brought it about will be swept away, and the good old ways will be restored.

Wojcik shows that the apocalyptic beliefs of the not so fringe have their counterparts in the cultural mainstream, and the chapter on secular apocalypse shows their manifestation deep within mainstream culture. Wojic takes as one example the apocalyptic imagery of punk music, but some of us look back to Dylan, whose songs are full of both explicit and implicit apocalyptic imagery.

One manifestation that Wojic has overlooked is the replacement of nuclear war by the doomsday asteroid as the agent of terminus. In popular culture this is being played as the ultimate disaster movie, a genre which in itself presented petty apocalypses, in which the wicked were often down fallen while the good and heroic were triumphant. The abduction narratives link themes of helplessness, initiation, transformation and fears of the imminent end of the world, and the creation of a new transhuman species.

A point which Wojcik could have made is that they constitute a bridge between religious and secular apocalypses, Mack’s apocalypse is religious in that it sees the encounter with the other as a transformation from which a saving remnant will built the new Jerusalem; whereas those of Jacobs and Hopkins are of the fall of humankind and loss of individuality before an impersonal technological future.- Reviewed by Peter Rogerson.

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