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Post-Apocalyptic Fiction And Our Animal Brains

Post-apocalyptic fiction has been around for a while, but it's mainstream now and for good reason.

In 2006 Cormac McCarthy wrote a brilliant, desolate little novel called The Road (which spawned a middling film starring Viggo Mortenson), and officially gave the post-apocalyptic genre chops in the literary world. There's always been a strange pull to envisioning the end of the world, or more appropriately, after the end of the world. Almost always a barren and dangerous place populated by what's left of humanity at it's worst, there's nonetheless an allure about it. In the last decade or so there has been a popular resurgence in the genre. A sleugh of blockbuster movies imagining every possible way in which our little blue planet may suffer a mass extinction event have now made the idea a kind of silly joke, while more intensive literary explorations on the subject have spawned their own cinematic and television events. The Walking Dead, an expertly crafted graphic novel on the now-popularized zombie apocalypse has spun off into a successful two-season television series, as have the Zombie Survival novels. What is this relatively recent interest in the end of the world, and humanity's ability to survive it?

In the late 900's A.D., the Holy Roman Empire experienced a kind of convulsion in its fold. A number of priests began to preach of the End of Times, the prophesied Armageddon specifically laid out in the pages of Revelations. There were mass suicides and demonstrations throughout Europe as the heralding of a new millenia plagued the medieval mind. Something bout the approach of a large even number (like "one thousand") seemed to be too perfect a turn for the masses, and there was a brief, but documented hysteria. Fast forward 1000 years and you see some similar developments. The Y2K scare, holy war, global warming, economic collapse, and even the specter of some obscure defunct civilization's calendar event this year, all has the zeitgeist very much on edge lately. Is it any wonder, with all of the real calamities being even more hyped and sensationalized than they already are by the media, that people are starting to envision "the end"?

Here's what a story of the end of the world gives someone: a reset button. Having trouble paying the bills? Feel like you're getting screwed by your employer? Buy the Lexus and still feel like you're going to die without really having accomplished anything? Imagine if something literally wiped the face of the planet clean, and you suddenly had a new life with all new rules? In our ultra-civilized western world with its tiered safety-nets and political correctness there's an animal brain in us that is howling to be let loose. After all, hundreds of thousands of years of evolution doesn't just suddenly go away because we stop at stop-lights and call ourselves venture philanthropists. It's the same reason we look at someone that is ostensibly successful, but doesn't seem to have the common sense to navigate a paper bag. How did someone like this survive so long? How can a woman whose only measurable talent is carrying a small dog in a purse land at the top of the human pyramid, when people with actual skills are left slogging it out on the bottom? I'll tell you why we're so enamored with post-apocalyptic fiction. The social veneer has gotten a little thick, and our animal brains want to hit the reset button.