The Mayans predicted that on the 21st December 2012 the world will come to a grisly end and that a few bored and hungry astronauts will be all that remains of humanity. Except they didn’t. Their calendar actually predicted that humans would go through some kind of change and enter a new phase. Maybe the internet becomes sentient and takes over and things actually turn out a lot better. Who knows. Of course the Mayans also seemed to have thought that their culture would be around to witness this ‘change’ so, like every prophet ever, their prediction is likely to be bollocks.
I am clearly a bit sick but there is definitely something that smacks of schadenfreude when a doomsday group sets a date and waits for the Rapture/inevitable disappointment. I’m talking about the nice ones where everyone dresses up in matching ludicrous outfits and when nothing happens, they either justify it somehow or shrug, blush then slink of home regretting that they sold the cat and TV. I think it is because they often get so public about their delusions and probably end up genuinely scaring some vulnerable people that I enjoy seeing a bit of hubris inaction. Or maybe it is the secret joy akin to seeing someone walking into a lamp post – you wince in sympathy but snigger a little deep down. The suicide cults are thankfully very rare and very sad for most of followers who were just misguided and could probably have done with some genuine help.
I’ve lived through quite a few predicted apocalypses. There was a Nostradamus one when I was at school in the 80s (I think his fans ‘reinterpreted’ it afterward to explain it away. On the 6/6/6 a few people predicted doom based on the arbitrary dating system humans invented after incorrectly working out Jesus’ birthday (it’s actually Spring around 5BC). Last year there was that hilarious Rapture fiasco.
The big one was Y2K because there was a danger that all computers were going to freak. There was a fascinating article in the New York Times written just before 2000 that listed a lot of these doomsday mentalists. Here are some of my favourites:
Elohim City, Muldrow, Okla. Elohim City is an armed compound guided by Robert Millar, 73, a former Mennonite who based his revelations on an eclectic mix of fundamentalist Christianity, racism, pyramidology and astrology. Millar teaches his followers that the Great Tribulation is upon us and that ”worse is to come”when ”Asiatics” invade America. ”I abhor war,” Millar says, ”but it is a foregone conclusion.” He says he believes that Jesus has been revealing himself for 2,000 years and that disasters will strike, possibly by 2006, at which time the ”wicked will be removed” and Elohim City will enjoy an age of peace.
The True and Living Church of Jesus Christ of Saints of the Last Days, Manti, Utah. James Harmston, 58, a former real-estate agent, claims he was ordained by Moses and is, according to his followers, the reincarnation of Joseph Smith, the long-dead 19th-century founder of the Mormon Church. Harmston predicts that a period of violent, apocalyptic turmoil will start within five years. In preparation, he started a Mormon survivalist community in the town of Manti, where some 300 armed, food-storing polygamist followers plan to ride it out. (Harmston denies there are arms and food.) Several former members of the sect are suing Harmston, alleging that he duped them for $250,000, and the church has been excommunicated by Mormon authorities in Salt Lake City for”undue preoccupation with Armageddon.” Harmston says he is planning a countersuit.
Chen Tao, near Buffalo. Previously based in Garland, Tex., Chen Tao entered the national spotlight last winter, when its leader, a Taiwanese emigre named Chen Hon Ming, predicted that God would appear on March 25. Overcoming this setback, he has since moved 80 of his Taiwanese followers to a place just outside Buffalo. Dressed in regulation white smocks and cowboy hats, Chen Tao faithful expect Armageddon to start next month, when China invades Taiwan and precipitates a nuclear holocaust. Eventually a third of the world’s population will die, but God will arrive in a”Godplane” to deliver the sect’s believers from doom.
That’s enough for now I guess. There are loads of these and they are fascinating. The link to the NY Times article (which is fascinating) is: www.nytimes.com/1998/12/27/magazine/apocalypse-now-no-really-now.html?pagewanted=all
You’d better read it quick but we are doomed! From something. At somepoint.
I seem to be obsessed with apocalyptic google maps at present. Soon after finding The Map of the Dead, another cool map comes along. Nukemap. It is morbid but kind of fun. Basically, you set a point on google maps, select a bomb size (from existing nuclear arsenals), then hit detonate. The map then shows things like the initial blast zone, lethal radiation zone, and so forth. You can even programme the kiloton yield yourself.
We are thinking about a house, so obviously it is prudent to see how far away from the centre of London we should live in case a terrorist blows up Parliament with a dirty bomb. (I think having just typed that last sentence my readership at MI5 just went up.) As I said, it’s a bit morbid but it is interesting. The Nukemap is here.
We’re all doomed! On the 10th of January 2012 the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (acronym is BAS but BLAMS would be better) moved the Doomsday clock from 6 minutes to midnight up to 5. In case you are unaware of this clock, midnight means we have just blown our planet up and are all dead. Most of us anyway. The few that remain will be donning leathers, forming gangs, and sharpening their finest cannibal cutlery in a cool post-apocalyptic landscape.
This is just like in Watchmen when they have a doomsday clock that counts down to midnight. In the comic/movie the clock gets to 1 minute to midnight before… well just read/watch it. The nearest the clock has been before is 2 minutes to Doom during the cold war, when the superpowers were dicking about threatening each other over Cuba. The clock was last changed two years ago when, in a spirit of unbridled optimism, BAS moved the clock up to 6 minutes to Mass Death. The reason they gave was:
“Two years ago, it appeared that world leaders might address the truly global threats that we face.” (http://www.thebulletin.org/content/media-center/announcements/2012/01/10/doomsday-clock-moves-1-minute-closer-to-midnight )
They have since decided that not only have world leaders not bothered to do anything, in most cases the world is a bit worse. Lazy arses.
It all feels a bit like the scientists felt they were missing out on all the misery of recessions and wars and wanted to chip in to add to the general malaise sweeping the globe with some scientific pessimism. Thanks for that.
I will keep you updated on any more clock movements just to make sure you feel the appropriate levels of stress and anxiety as you go about your day. At one minute to midnight, I will be doing this from a bar on a beach. Post apocalyptic tropical islands will be nicer that post apocalyptic cities.
Just keep in mind: Be mildly afraid!
Everyone loves a good Apocalypse and everyone seems to love John Martin’s work. I certainly did.
John Martin was hugely popular in the 19th Century and toured the world with his spectacular paintings of the end of the world and scenes from the bible of God smiting the shit out of everything. Obviously most of the paintings come from the Old Testament when God was going through his ‘angry phase’ and regularly destroyed cities and drowned the whole planet. Fortunately he chilled out a bit after that and started banging on about being meek and merciful as if all the mass destruction had never even happened.
Martin’s work focuses on these more exciting bits of the bible along with other scenes such as debauched feasts and epic battles. Man, the bible went downhill in the second half (apart from the epic destructive end scenes, but it was too little too late to save the book in my opinion).
At the time, plebeian Victorians flocked in their thousands to see the huge and exciting pieces of work. They were the blockbuster cinema equivalent of the time (it was boring back then, hence all the warfare and Empire building). Of course the intelligensia of the day slagged off Martin’s work as being distasteful and dubbed him the ‘people’s painter’. Intellectuals hate stuff that gets too popular and John Martin was the Michael Bay of his time. The main difference is that Martin is now seen as being ahead of his time, whereas I suspect Bay won’t be.
John Martin: Apocalypse
is well worth seeing. I loved it. There’s an added bonus near the end where a load of arty actors have done a voice over for a sort of mock up of the sensationalism that surrounded his tours. This consists of a triptych of pictures (three paintings in case you’re an oik) with lights and cool effects. The left picture is of heaven and has cherubs lolling around fatly and pointlessly. The centre has Jesus being judgemental and condemning half the population to eternal torture. The painting on the right is of hell and collapse and general coolness. This is accompanied by the actors recreating the sort of cinematic voice-over sensationalism that was used to publicise his work. ‘SEE THE DAMNED CONDEMNED TO THE FIERY PITS OF HELL’ sort of thing. It was brilliant.
As I said, I loved it and so did everyone I was with. It’s on at Tate Britain until mid-January, so you have plenty of time.
Bizarrely, here’s a trailer: