It’s been almost half a year since Harold Camping’s doomsday came and went with little indication of coming true. And now, after suffering a bout of bad health, Camping has returned once again to tell his listeners that the end of the world is nigh. And this time, he says, he’s really sure. But while some are calling foul play on Camping, it may be worthwhile to reexamine why we see the apocalypse the way we do, and why Camping’s story while novel in our own time, may itself be as old as history itself.
Five months after the alleged doomsday May 21st, 2011 Camping suggests the events that started on that day will manifest fully for all the world to see and leave the world reeling in the aftershocks of rapture made manifest. But while only a handful are still considering Camping’s predictions the truth, those still following Camping are just as steadfast in their interpretation that on October 21st, 2011 everything everywhere will change in a way so profound that its effects will ripple throughout the known universe.
In the wake of Camping’s last prediction, and exploring the possibility that this coming prophecy may be wrong, what can we learn about the human experience based on predictions such as these? Why do we as a culture find the end of the world fascinating? The truth is, it may not be cultural but connected directly to the human experience everywhere globally.
While some have fears over the apocalyptic disasters that happen during an end-of-the-world scenario, there is often another group who are certain they will be spared the hardships of the event and go on in their lives, which may very much be transformed – most often for the better. While this type of transformation is likely to happen eventually, there are also reasons why a group may want these changes to occur earlier in their lives. This form of “comfortable apocalypse” is a phenomenon that has been noted often in literature on the subject.
And if we can learn about our own cultural identity by studying the literature we produce, it seems logical to examine the most popular works of post-apocalyptic literature to learn how we feel about the end of everything. An interesting term for the phenomenon was originally penned by Brian Aldiss – the notion of a “cosy catasrophe” whereby the survivors are displaced significantly in a way that ultimately allows them to live their lives in relative comfort while the rest of society and humanity is destroyed. Books like, “Day of the Triffids,” “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” and films such as George Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead” often see characters in situations where they often don’t succumb to the full brunt of the apocalypse but rather find themselves in a whole new world of adventure and intrigue. The plot of the story is driven largely by the interesting things that happen to these protagonists.
Is it possible Camping’s success is as simple as talking about the apocalypse and offering the device that will ultimately be the listener’s salvation? But then again he could be right.