The Camping Rapture, Social Media Apocalypse & Doomsday Entertainment

Even Doomsday sayers need editors
In case you hadn't heard, the end is nigh. As in, like really, really nigh - if Harold Camping and his Family Radio Network is to be believed.

According to the Christian evangelical, who has previously predicted the end - obviously unsuccessfully - the Rapture will occur on Saturday, May 21, at 6 p.m. (apparently in each time zone so there is less of a rush of the chosen few for the pearly gates). After that, the world has about six months to go to hell, literally, before Jesus shows up for his Second Coming.

The upside to Camping's prediction is that he has been wrong before.  The downside: Dec. 21, 2012 is just around the corner, when the Mayan calendar ends and possibly signals yet another end-of-world situation.

But there is still more good news. Pretty much since the beginning, humanity has been thinking about the end. The only thing that makes Camping's prediction unique is that it's really the first Social Media Apocalypse.

His movement gained attention because the message was spread across the Internet. Even when the theory is being mocked, it is still being propagated. Not unlike a "winning" Charlie Sheen clip, auto-tuned "Bed Intruder Song" or hated Rebecca Black "Friday" video, the Camping Rapture has gone viral. It is maligned but widely known and is the topic of many conversations. So while the revolution will not be televised, the end of the world will be YouTubed, Facebooked and Twittered (in 140 characters or less).

Plus, let's face it, both the Camping Rapture and the 2012 Mayan Calendar theories keep us enthralled because the end of the world is damn fine entertainment. Whether the end really is here or nowhere near, the end to apocalypse porn - like the Camping Rapture - is nowhere in sight.

Apocalypse porn isn’t a new thing in the media, either. In a thesis project studying genre fiction from the last 200 years, Chandra Phelan writes the main thing that’s changed is a spike in unexplained end-of-world scenarios in the mid-1990s.

Mad Max Beyond ThunderdomeAs is the case with Cormac McCarthy’s book (and the 2009 film adaptation) The Road, Phelan wrote at sci-fi blog that, in current pop-culture, “It doesn't matter how the world ends, just that it does … Stories of the End have never been about ending – they're about the beginning that comes after.”

The “beginning that comes after” has been the appeal for me following Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome in 1985. Before then, my estimation of the future was that it would be pretty relaxed. There were rockets ships, cool-looking aliens and robots prone to repeating “biddi-biddi-biddi-biddi.” Aside from the unfortunate tendency to wear tight, stretchy clothing and occasional Klingon run-ins, the future was set in a good neighborhood - and even Klingons eventually became our friends.

The world Mad Max inhabited was different. The burnt-out, oil-depraved and nuclear-ravaged land was bleak and hopeless. As if marauders roaming an unforgiving, yellow desert wasn’t bad enough, the one city to be found was run by Tina Turner in a fright wig.

Even with a “happy” ending (hey kids, we get to live in scenic, decimated Sydney, Australia!), the message was clear: The future sucks. But survive in it, and you earn a Samuel L. Jackson B.A. degree (Denzel in The Book of Eli was only auditing).

Living through the bitter end is the greatest challenge. Entertainment depicting a sunny tomorrow is fun. Yet the greater adventure is when, if the future’s so bright you gotta wear shades, it’s because the Earth is hurtling towards the Sun and we’re all melting.

A Tomorrowland where the final frontier is so ... final is more intriguing. There’s a primal connection to surviving “out there,” and trying to find something to eat without getting eaten.

When it comes to the last gasp of humanity, I’m a zombie-head. I prefer scenarios where a ragtag group of survivors fight off hordes of the walking (or shuffling or running) dead craving a little filet o’ flesh. Hence the reason I've spent more than a few nights staying up playing Left 4 Dead 2, the awesome zombie-killing video game sequel, and why go-to Halloween costume is Simon Pegg’s character from Shaun of the Dead(complete with regulation-size cricket bat).

But if re-animated corpses aren’t your thing, maybe you’d prefer apocalypse porn to be in the form of the cataclysmic planetary pole realignment, as in 2012. Or perhaps divine intervention at the hands of a ticked-off deity and an angelic war, like Legion, strikes your fancy. Whichever it is, there’s plenty to choose from when it comes to dehumanizing the planet.

Whether it’s the aforementioned zombie attacks (George A. Romero’s oeuvre, Zombieland), genetically-altered vampires (Will Smith's I Am Legend, Justin Cronin's book The Passage), robot uprisings (the Terminator and Matrix trilogies), biological disasters (12 Monkeys, Children of Men), nuclear warfare (too many to count), alien invasions (Mars Attacks, Battle: Los Angeles) or the rapture (all those Left Behind books), it’s easier for us to relate to those scenarios than to Captain Picard’s continuing voyage of exploration while wearing a Spandex onesie.

Plus, apocalypse porn  can be viewed in a practical way.

It is great training watching the ugly stuff where mankind is crawling towards extinction; where the survivors are few, the good guys even fewer and Charlton Heston is the apparent king of Dystopia (well, based on Planet of the Apes, Soylent Green and The Omega Man). Left 4 Dead 2 alone has prepared me to survive decomposing cannibals using teamwork and a sparingly-used flashlight, shotgun and frying pan. Consider it pre-apocalypse preparation so I can fare better when the dead actually walk the Earth.

Be it the fascination with the Mayans, or the Camping Rapture or armageddon movies, our affinity for end-of-days entertainment definitely says something about us - but I don't believe it's that we're a culture of joyless wretches who have lost all hope in a better world.

In fact, It's open to interpretation, but McCarthy's post-apocalyptic
The Road sums it up nicely for me. The Pulitzer-winning work - perhaps the bleakest piece of pop I'm aware of - is about a father and young son trying to maintain their humanity while staving off starvation and sickness, and avoiding cadres of cannibals, on a dead highway to the coast.

But at one low point, the father says to his boy, "when your dreams are of some world that never was or of some world that never will be ... you have given up."

To me, this means our dreams of a blissful world where Elroy zooms to school and Rosie the Robot cleans the house is a rose-colored distraction. End-of-days entertainment is a cautionary tale, a scared-straight warning of what could be. 

Maybe as long as we’ve pop culture that warns us the end is near, we will be less interested in having an apocalypse now - or anytime soon.