Essay:
The End Games
A cultural primer for the end of days.

  • Words Hettie O’Brien

The phrase “unprecedented times” has become an axiom for the present, but it’s less an accurate description than a banal truism. After all, a condition of thinking about the future is that we assume our own moment stands in extraordinary relation to it, and that we must be living through the end. But we might never know when the end has really arrived.

Last year, the number of people preoccupied with the end of the world grew from a core group of religious fundamentalists and conspiracists to include just about everyone, as the fast clip of 24-hour news announced the terrifying consequences COVID-19. A poll of American citizens conducted in the first months of the pandemic found that 29% of adults think there will be an apocalyptic disaster in their lifetime.1 This could be a sudden event—an asteroid, a nuclear war—or an accumulation of incremental catastrophes, the climate crisis being the most obvious among them.

And yet, despite everything, it was still possible—if y...

( 1 ) The survey also found that men are considerably more likely than women to back their survival odds: 49% of men thought they would survive a week or more, compared to 36% of women.

( 2 ) The threat posed by nuclear weapons goes far beyond the explosion itself. Scientists have modelled how the resulting smoke would block out the sun for an extended period, plunging the world into a deep freeze.

( 3 ) In a statement to the press, Bulletin justified its 2021 calculation by pointing out that “the pandemic revealed just how unprepared and unwilling countries and the international system are to handle global emergencies properly."

( 4 ) Several US billionaires fled to their New Zealand bunkers in March 2020. However, according to manufacturer Rising S Co, at least one had to call up to ask for the door code.

( 5 ) Research by the Stanford scholar Angela Becerra Vidergar has demonstrated that interest in survivalist fiction tends to rise in the years after a crisis like World War Two, rather than during.

( 6 ) Children of Men, released in 2006, is set in 2027 and imagines a world beset with natural disasters and widespread infertility.

ISSUE 52

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