There’s a quote floating around, generally attributed to Fredric Jameson but actually originating with H. Bruce Franklin, that goes ‘it is now easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism.’ Jameson was talking about the proliferation of science fictional forms of the apocalypse, and what they said about contemporary ideology. As the post linked to points out, Jameson actually depoliticizes what is, in Franklin’s work, a diagnosis of a specific class ideology, giving it a purported universalism that treats it as a fact of life, rather than a nasty little piece of late bourgeois fantasy.
With all this in mind, I wonder if the general sentiment behind both Jameson and Franklin’s use of the idea can tell us anything about the recent explosion of various forms of apocalypse kitsch. In response to a deranged billboard campaign by professional rapture predictor Harold Camping, a whole host of people have assumed the position of exuberant snark, creating a minor cultural phenomenon of apocalypse mocking. The facebook event ‘post rapture looting,’ for example, has about 500,000 attendees. Various atheist groups are using the hubbub for an excuse to throw a party. Last night, Stephen Colbert ended his show with jokes about how it would be the last one ever.
Some of this can be chalked up to liberal atheist snottiness and an attempt to make ‘the fundies’ look silly (as if they needed any help on that front). But I think the resonance this very predictable routine has found bespeaks a deeper mooring in mass consciousness. To me at least, people seem to be laughing a bit too hard. It is as if those participating in the fun are a little too eager to convince themselves that it actually is all fun and games. In other words, the disproportionate enjoyment people are getting out of this joke stems from the fact that it provides reassurance that it is, in fact, all just a joke. The world is not really ending. Life will go on as usual after May 21st.
But it is precisely because the world will keep going on as it is that people are so desperate for reassurance that the whole thing won’t be ending. Environmental destruction is only the most obvious way in which the future is dissolving. Hitting closer to home in the key demographic of the apocalypse humor (college educated white twenty-somethings) is an economy which provides them, quite simply, no future. Ben Davis has perspicaciously argued that a similar anxiety explains many of the key aspects of hipster culture.
This anxiety seems to me the key emotional anchor for the various forms of apocalypse kitsch. Mocking the fake apocalypse is a way of dealing with the fear of the real one that looms before us. Though I haven’t read Evan Calder Williams’ Combined and Uneven Apocalypse, the last week has convinced me I need to, because we are only going to be seeing more of this sort of thing.