What Is America’s Fetish This Week? Armageddon

There was supposed to be chaos. There was supposed to be confusion. There was supposed to collapse. There’s wasn’t any, of course.

Granted, the so-called Carmageddon was predicted to hit the City of Angel hard last week, but it ended up being a non-starter, with people enjoying taking pics of empty streets. But the gloom and doom isn’t finished, not with the US risking a national debt default next week and the President saying he wants to avoid (economic) armageddon.

It’s the dead of summer in the US, and I don’t know about you, but I’m suffering armageddon fatigue. For Americans in 2011, the end of life as we know it is becoming, well, endless. For some, it’s getting to the point where doom-and-gloom is the new normal, and you’re always on standby for meltdown.

This year has seen had several end-of-life-as-we-know predictions, some of them tied to religion, some to politics. People point to events in Japan with an eye on the Mayan calendar, worrying about 2012. In the days and weeks following the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, American companies selling doomsday bunkers told CNN sales surged up to 1000 per cent. Folks an ocean away were worried that they might be next. News reports and survival blogs ran stories about how fallout was going to impact America’s West Coast. The stories were, well, panicky, but not unexpected. During the Swine Flu scare, Japanese news was also overblown – if not outright scary. Scary gets television viewers. Scary gets newspaper readers.

“Americans historically are self reliant and independent, so it makes sense that as a culture we took to the Armageddon scenario more so than in other countries.”

Scary gets gamers too, of course. There already is a long list of end-of-the-world games. Joining them in American gaming consoles across the country are the likes of Brink and MotorStorm: Apocalypse. Later this year brings more interactive global calamity, as we’ll see in Resistance 3 and Rage, with Darksiders 2 and Metro: Last Light to end the world more next year.

For some in America, the end of the world seems prophesied by religion. For others, it’s the weather. To many, things just seem to be getting worse and worse. Enter shelters like the sprawling underground complexes California-based Vivos is building. Its largest measures 12,700sqm and can hold 950 people for one year. Able to withstand a 50-megaton blast, the Nebraska facility will, once completed, have four levels, including a medical and dental cellar as well as pool tables, pet kennels, and a wine cellar. Who said a post-apocalyptic future couldn’t be lux?

In 2011, there are people in America who are worried. You’ve got the fact that next year, 2012, could be this decade’s Y2K, a computer-induced doomsday prophecy that had some people stocking up on food and even purchasing gas-powered generators. That never panned out. Neither did radio host Harold Camping’s prediction that May 21, 2011 would be Judgment Day. (FYI: it wasn’t.) For Camping and his followers, that prediction was a test of faith, both before and after.

(Joe Raedle/Getty)

“I think the surge in failed end-of-the-world predictions is systemic of a greater movement,” William Atkin of website Survival Spot told Kotaku. “Americans historically are self reliant and independent, so it makes sense that as a culture we took to the Armageddon scenario more so than in other countries.” According to Atkin, even though past predictions have failed, there is an honest concern some people have about the future.

“But anytime you have fear, you will also have people capitalizing on that fear,” added Atkin. “And so that’s where you have people like Howard Camping making 72 plus million dollars off of people’s genuine concerns.” There’s a difference between worrying about what’s going to happen tomorrow, and installing fear in others. A big one.

CAR COMBAT – Gamers will know that “Carmageddon” doesn’t merely refer to the recent interstate closing in Los Angeles, but also a controversial late ’90s vehicular combat game developed by Britain’s Stainless Games.

That doesn’t mean things won’t go down in a fireball of chaos – one day, maybe, they will. Until then, people get prepared. And right now, with unemployment hovering above 9 per cent, job creation slowing, the devaluation of the US dollar, the high price of oil, America’s perceived decline, and a general uncertainty, things have looked better. Some feel they need to be prepared for whatever is thrown their way.

They’re called preppers, as in being prepared, like Boy Scouts. Like William Atkin, a former boy scout, and current prepper. Like many Americans, September 11, 2001 made a big impact on him and his thinking. “A lot of people are realising that the government can’t or won’t take care of them when things get hairy, and a lot of other people believe the government will cause disaster,” Atkin told Kotaku. That disaster isn’t necessarily nuclear.

“In the future, I don’t think most people should be concerned about a global wipe scenario like nuclear war or mega-disasters that would wipe out humanity,” said Atkin. “If that happens, you won’t be able to avoid the consequences.” Instead, preppers like him are focused on the break down on society, such as food or energy shortages.

And like many preppers, Atkin started to learn how to take care of himself, learning to garden, growing everything from bibb lettuce to watermelons, getting proficient in firearms. Preppers differ from the militia movement of the 1990s, which was spurred on by incidents at Ruby Ridge and the Branch Davidian complex in Waco and centered largely around the Second Amendment and running military drills. Atkin occupied his time getting ready with more important things, like focusing on making cheese and wine.

SHELTER FROM THE STORM – During the Cold War, fallout shelters were perceived as a way to survive nuclear holocaust. Interest in them waned as the Cold War thawed, but, as recent sales data for pricey shelters and shelter reservation indicate, are currently on the rise. There are also low-end fallout shelters, such as what’s offered by website UndergroundBombShelter.com, which sells “plans and information for constructing your own underground bomb shelter for less than $US5000.” You can even order the site’s bomb shelter kit and have the materials delivered to your house.

Many preppers, such as Atkin, are not interested in or members of militias, though, no doubt there are those with feet in both camps. Preppers like Atkin stream from the disasters of 9/11 and Katrina, both unexpected and devastating.

America’s long history of independence and self reliance is why Atkin believes the prepper movement is so strong in the US. “While I don’t think there is anything uniquely American about end of the world prophecies,” said Atkin, “there is definitely a unique quality to the American prepper.”

There is something very America about living off the land, and relying on yourself. Maybe it’s the country’s fabled frontier spirit. Henry David Thoreau’s Walden is an eloquent treatise about life in cabin in the woods. But in recent years, for right or wrong, having a cabin in the woods is seen by some as scandalous. Thank (blame?) Ted Kaczynski for that.

“Populations as a whole are likely fatigued from these failed predictions, however that shouldn’t stop us from preparing,” said Atkin. “History has proven time and time again that bad things will happen, it’s just a matter of when.” Nothing wrong with being ready, because when one apocalypse doesn’t pan out, there’s always another. And another.

Top photo: David McNew/Getty

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