The draw of disaster and post apocalyptic media

The history of humanity is littered with a perverse fascination of catastrophe on a global scale. Is this pessimistic or could the disaster genre be the last remnants of a utopian vision? – The disintegration of our current man-made systems, making way for a  rebuild…

FalloutFallout 3, 2008

Mass immigration has dominated the headlines this year, and the forecast for the future looks to further displacement as sea levels rise. In August 2015 NASA announced that by the year 2100 sea levels will rise by approximately three feet – this is now locked-in, our current technology can’t prevent this. Certainly for my generation the future looks fairly bleak: no pension, a salary disproportionate to inflation rates, an education and health care system only available to the wealthy once the NHS is abolished. Our country’s assets are likely to turn into commodities for a few, following the privatisation of schools, libraries, security services, fire brigade, health care, planning departments, transport… just wait until the House of Lords and Parliament are sponsored by Coca-cola, oil and arms dealers (yeah…just imaging). Many of our systems aren’t working in a sustainable manner for the majority of the population or the environment.

Why turn to movies and computer games for a digital dress-rehearsal? These ‘assets’ allow your mind to work through survivalist scenarios – to build upon skills, be resourceful and negotiate zombies and gangsters. In the same way a person’s subconscious may repeatedly play out scenarios of missing trains and falling buildings in dreams, first-player games allow a process of thought to be exercised. Their popularity shows that there are a lot of frustrated people out there.

A Boy and His Dog, 1975A Boy and His Dog, 1975

In October 2014 a document housed by the National Archive – previously classified – was released for public consumption. The document, produced in 1982, described the Home Office’s plans for the UK in the event of a nuclear attack. The public, for the first time, had access to the worst laid plans imaginable. Jane Hogg, a scientific officer in the Home Office suggested putting psychopaths in charge because “They are very good in crises, as they have no feelings for others, no moral code, and tend to be very intelligent and logical.” Thankfully the HBO series The Walking Dead has shown the public that psychopaths do not make good leaders or companions. I do not believe that Hogg’s idea to bring back the death penalty is going to bring about a better day for survivors.

Around the same time the document was produced the BBC aired a drama called Threads. Mick Jackson’s post-nuclear apocalypse movie, scripted by Barry Hines, followed the formula of many in this genre – disaster, followed by wide spread horror, anarchy and martial law. Are these fantasies in anyway a realistic portrayal of what would befall our population?

Threads, 1984

When hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005 and an earthquake devastated Haiti in 2010, similar patterns were exposed by those on the ground. The governments were slow to react (but quick to gain PR shots and interviews to exhibit their concern), while aid workers and people within the communities did what they could with limited resources. Looting followed as desperation set in. After the initial media coverage, outsiders quickly forgot and focused their attention on the next headline. Spike Lee’s incredible four-part documentary film, When the Levees Broke, released in 2006, captured the events in terrifying detail. It was horrifying to see the point at which starving and scared crowds tried to cross a bridge to safety and were met by a wall of armed guards offering no aid. Our advanced civilizations are not so civilized.

When the Levees Broke, Spike Lee, 2006When the Levees Broke, Spike Lee, 2006

During the London riots in 2011, the city’s fragility was exposed with the speed chaos spread. There have been riots before, but improved communication through social media seemed to escalate this one on an unprecedented scale. The emergency services and government seemed powerless as many small businesses saw their livelihoods destroyed. As with many uprisings in the past, an incident between a couple of individuals can be enough to trigger and influence disorder, and permanently alter the public’s confidence in society’s systems.

With these cases in mind, it is worth taking a first aid class, reading, watching and playing a marathon of appropriately morbid titles and being prepared to receive minimal support from the government in the future.

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