Saturday, June 14, 2008

Night Brooding

Plonk: In drops the heavy thought that we are gearing up to wind down. My wife and I watched 12 MONKEYS this evening. I'd seen it before but had forgotten how good it is. It struck me that it foreshadows M. Night Shyamalan's THE HAPPENING and CHILDREN OF MEN and 28 DAYS LATER and so on, at least in the foreboding sense of inevitable doom. Apocalyptic themes are not uncommon in movies but those like the ones I mention are films with an eerily prophetic feel.

Time and again plague is cited in such fictions. The Stand by Stephen King is his best-selling book and it's a doorstop about a plague bringing about mankind's end and, with it, the final showdown between Good and Evil. Albert Camu's The Plague, by contrast, comes off, despite its bleakness, as elegantly hopeful.

A sentiment that crops up regularly is that mankind deserves to be wiped out or does not deserve to survive. Our excesses, our cruelties, and our general rampage of indiscriminate destruction are cited, and even brief references to specific examples convince us to nod in agreement.

We feel guilty and crave punishment. We feel ashamed and dive into depression and self-negation, dragging the world with us.

I would argue this is quite a serious theme for popular entertainment. Oh, sure, its okay for writers and directors to get artsy but the fact of us eating up morose works like these speaks of a possible universality underlying the sentiment of approaching and deserved doom

That's why I wonder if we are all sensing something that's really looming.

Of course, history shows me any number of examples of millennialism. Crying doom is a lucrative cottage industry and doomsday is a cult-leader's best spiel. It is even religion's cornerstone in many major cases. Shrinks tell us it's just good old personal mortality being projected into paranoid fantasies and perhaps so, for the most part.

Trouble is, these things have a way of being self-fulfillling prophecies. Cults suicide, wars escalate, and science errs in favor of annihilation. It is not difficult to see where straight-line trends lead. Over population plus antibiotic-resistant diseases multiplied by jet travel equals a dead loss for humanity.

And how soon we forget how close we've come before during, say, the Black Death or the 1918 flu pandemic. Perhaps this creeping dread we all feel is ancestral memory of other end times when only small percentages of populations survived.

What we need to do is fight the sense of inevitability and overcome the inertia that keeps us doing the same suicidally stupid things over and over. Breaking the cycle of pollution, of subjugating nature to our whims rather than trying to live with and within it, and of killing and obliteration wars bring us would go a long way toward proving the doomsayers wrong. Let those terrifying visions of what has almost been and what might very well soon be teach us object lessons. Our own actions can turn these dystopias into mere cautionary tales, if we but heed their warnings.

If this goes on the lights go off for good.

Why not stop the stampede before reaching the cliff's edge?

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