“Doomsayers”-Analyzing the Rising Relevance, Appearance, and Popularity of Doomsday Events in Current Media

Hostess, the maker of what was once considered America’s favorite treat, Twinkies, declared bankruptcy in November. Surprising amounts of people who heard this news began t o buy Twinkies in bulk, hoarding them, building Twinkie stockpiles to ensure that they obtained their Twinkie fix before the inevitable end of production of the high-calorie snack.  In a poll taken by Pensions & Investments, 18% of those polled wanted to stockpile Twinkies and other Hostess products as a reaction to their liquidation. The New York Times’ Business Section, The View, Market Watch by The Wall Street Journal, Time’s Business section, and MSN Money each posted a “how to stockpile Twinkies” article, giving advice on how to get the most profit from selling off your collection of Hostess products..

This Twinkie craze made me think of 2009’s Zombieland. Actually, if I’m honest, my friend posted a Facebook status about it: “No zombies (yet) but its time to go Tallahassee mode for the Earth’s last fucking twinkies!” In the movie, Woody Harrelson’s character Tallahassee is on a frantic search for the remaining Twinkies in a post-apocalyptic, zombie-ridden world before the treats reach their expiration dates. I can imagine these Twinkie stockpilers having a thought process very similar to Tallahassee’s:

”There’s a box of Twinkies in that grocery store. Not just any box of Twinkies, the last box of Twinkies that anyone will enjoy in the whole universe. Believe it or not, Twinkies have an expiration date. Some day very soon, life’s little Twinkie gauge is gonna go… empty.” (IMBD)

Zombieland is one in a long list of movies and television programs produced in the current millennium about the end of the world and its consequences. Many deal, as Zombieland or 28 Days Later or The Walking Dead do, with some catastrophic plague that turns people into zombies and shatters the world as we know it. Others, like 2012, or The Day After Tomorrow, represent a cataclysmic series of natural disasters either brought about by mankind’s ignorant treatment of the earth, a destructive alien race, or the infamous ending of the Mayan Calendar, which some people believe to run out in a few days from now. There are also romantic comedies, such as Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, that use the doomsday narrative. Even more represent a post-apocalyptic view of our earth: The Road, Wall-E, I Am Legend.

However if I hadn’t studied this closely, I would think that the majority of people in America don’t actually believe that the world will end this December.  If you haven’t been living under a rock for the past few years, you will know of at least a few predicted cataclysmic events that were set to happen this year.

“What really is going to happen in 2012? Asteroid 433 Eros is going to pass within 17 million miles of the Earth in January; the United States will hand over control of the Korean military back to the Koreans in April; there will be an annular solar eclipse in May and a solar transit of Venus in June; the Summer Olympics will take place in London; the Earth’s population will officially pass 7 billion people in October; the United States will elect a new President in November; construction of the new Freedom Tower will be complete in New York City; the sun will flip its magnetic poles as it does at the end of every 11-year sunspot cycle; and, as I’m sure you’ve heard by now, the Mayan calendar completes its 5,125 year cycle, presumably portending the End of Days.” (Skeptoid)

Asteroid 433 Eros didn’t make contact. The Olympics went on almost without a hitch. Unfortunately, we still have a few days until we can be certain if the Mayans Calendar foretold of the apocalypse. But then again, there have been several failed prophesized doomsdays that gained an extraordinary amount of media attention, like Y2K. Do you remember the “Rapture” that was prophesied to happen last year? Harold Camping was all over television, warning the public that May 21st, 2011 was to be the Christian day of reckoning, when God finally decided to end it all, and call up all his believers, both living and dead, to literally rise up off of the earth and towards the sky into heaven. I was still in high school, spending my Saturday cleaning out the planetarium when my teacher said it was time to go outside. “It’s almost 6 o’clock. Let’s go and wait for The Rapture.” So there we stood, only half-jokingly awaiting our doom. I wondered who among us, if any, would soon be floating up towards the big blue sky. We counted down the minutes on our cell phones…but nothing happened.  Mr. Camping had messed up. He rescheduled until October 21st, but when that day came and went without much worldwide disaster, Harold finally gave up the Rapture-predicting business.

There are innumerable lists compiled by various people, blogs and organizations that give reasons as to why the end of the world may be approaching. TruTV has its own list which counts things such as plague, nuclear war, worldwide market collapse, aliens, and Sarah Palin as potential doom-bringers. Mike Strobel of the Toronto Sun ends his list of “Signs the end of the world is coming soon” with this: “10. The law of averages. Sooner or later, some doomsday forecaster is going to get lucky.”

But believing that the world will end on the 21st of this month, or the Rapture is imminent, requires faith, like believing in an afterlife, or Sasquatch. It’s unable to be scientifically proven or predicted; doomsayers rely on nut jobs like Harold Camping or ancient Mayan texts (or rather the interpretation of those ancient Mayan records) to base their beliefs. There are of course some doomsday catastrophes that very well may occur and can even be backed by science, for instance major natural disasters, like the eruption of Yellowstone National Park. Even an economic collapse or the event of nuclear fallout can seem absolutely realistic if one does enough research.

However, after looking at instances in the media such as Doomsday Preppers, or movies such as 2012, I’m starting to realize that more people in the country believe in such things than I anticipated. Doomsday Preppers airs on Tuesdays on the National Geographic channel. The show profiles people who are “prepping” their homes, lives, and families for survival after various instances of world-changing catastrophe. Doomsday Preppers claims that there are approximately 3 million preppers in America who are preparing for a doomsday event. Their website has a feature called the Doomsday Dashboard, which analyzes chatter from Twitter and visually represents which catastrophes Twitter users think are most likely to occur. As National Geographic states, “we are mining the chatter to see what is at the forefront of the public’s collective consciousness.” Presently, 34% of Tweets related to doomsday are expecting a catastrophic pandemic, 22% believe the 2012 cataclysm will end life as we know it, 20% await nuclear war/radiation, and 16% are preparing for an economic collapse. As well, 6% of Tweets state that an electromagnetic pulse will doom us all, 3% warn of a megaquake, and the remaining 2% anticipate an extreme oil crisis.

The American Preppers Network is an organization of people who for various reasons are preparing for a collapse of society as we know it, often by stockpiling food, water, fuel, and weapons, fortifying their homes in case of attack. They use their website to give tips and discuss their preparations. At first glance, the group might seem slightly unusual but generally harmless, their motto pushing “Freedom through Teaching Others Self-Reliance”. However, the discussion boards grant a peek into the extent of some member’s paranoia about potential doomsday situations.

What are you prepared to do if:

DHS, UN or other feds demand your food storage (in order to distribute via food centers) and/or demand you turn over your firearms (for the safety of society)? Would you resist with force? – OregonMike

why are all my fellow preps not seeing thing for what they are???

with world bank saying off the camera that its broke and everyone not in grip with a govermoent unit saying if obumu gets the uncontroled spending he want they say ssn and all other checks will be broke in 6 months and mainstream tv/radio hiding they truth,why is it so hard for them to get it??// my bad thing is for over a year ive preped but what i found is nnothin but greed among prepps not all but the most taking avantage of people im a vet and now a disabled vet ive got most my gear up but like most ive tryed to find a good bug location an let me tell you WOW thrir is no land worth that kind of cash and these dry food places their the worst of all even the one you indorce on this site there really bad well enough of that // you no never mind it use to be grunts help grunt and still see it in these grunts today but what the hell happen to our generation did we just quit look ive been homeless they werent there except at the end were a couple old ww11 and korrea vet got into it oh crap never mind just ramballin on just get blown away with these movents and all the talk have a great day – jim b

I usually try to get most things online … but now I’m worried about the NOSY FEDERALES wondering why I’ve bought so much ammo! -Hayduke47

The founder of APN, Tom Martin, recently published an article in light of the tragedy in Connecticut, “Was suspected shooters mother a prepper?” In the article, he addressed claims made by the Daily Mail that Nancy Lanza was a prepper who had turned her home into a fortress in preparation for an economic collapse, and of course, owned weapons (weapons which ultimately were used to perpetrate unimaginable suffering and heartbreak).  Martin was quick to defend the prepper community, stating that their purpose is to “prepare, save, and defend life”. One can’t help but question the integrity of this statement, however, when these preppers, many of whom have spent their time and money stockpiling weapons and ammunitions, also share these slightly irrational, paranoiac views and thoughts.

Understanding this matters, because it connects to the larger issue of our reliance on media, and how the media spins our feelings about certain issues. Perhaps the media is scaring the public into preparing/being wary of imminent destruction? Perhaps this is why such extreme beliefs or groups of people are formed? Surely there must be some connection between the amount of doomsday coverage, and groups such as the American Preppers Network. The question is: are there more preppers because of media coverage, or is the rise in prevalence of doomsday theme because of the increased reality of an apocalypse?

As I’ve stated, there is a noticeable and sometimes inescapable amount of media coverage of such doomsday events. Often media gives sensational coverage to events that are potentially disastrous: take for instance the Cold War, SARS, or a giant meteorite/comet will come rushing towards us out of the sky to annihilate us all. The people who consume this information must be somehow affected by it, in some cases by becoming fearful or deciding to prep themselves for impending doom. However it’s not just adults who are exposed to this kind of media attention.

According to Patti M. Valkenburg, author of “Children’s Responses to the Screen”, children develop fears about “abstract things, such as politics and the economy, the global situation, and wars and nuclear weapons” at the age of 10 years and older. She goes on further to elaborate that many children who saw scary films (that were made for adults) reported having fears that lasted weeks or even months. As well, 70% of 75 older children whom Valkenburg studied reported remembering a specific movie or program on television that frightened them intensely. Perhaps children who are growing up in this millennium and are exposed to programs such as Doomsday Preppers or movies like 2012 will carry the fear of an apocalypse into their adulthood, spawning a whole new generation of preppers.

A New York Times article, “Doomsday Has Its Day in the Sun” by Neil Genzlinger reviewed Doomsday Preppers after it first aired. The article also touches upon the relevancy of media using scare tactics to frighten people and ultimately sell products: “Even more seriously, what is the attraction of continuing to live in a world that will almost certainly not have television or the Internet, depriving doomsday types of the shows and Web sites that fuel their paranoia and sell products exploiting it?”

This suggestion is not without merit or evidence. Bizarrely enough, one of these fear-mongering websites, judgementday2011.com, offers you a Tide coupon to help you save money when stocking up on laundry detergent. The website claims that clean clothes “will play an important role in who lives long after December 21, 2012”. The conspiracist in me wonders if the makers of Tide, Procter & Gamble, could’ve used this as an advertisement opportunity in order to hock their product to the frightened masses. This theory is supported by the fact that you can also buy “Rapture Ready” T-shirts through this website…presumably to wash with Tide laundry detergent.

The American Preppers Network has commented on how the media portrays preppers. Their insight comes from a different perspective than my own, as people who are actively involved in this sort of sub-culture analyzing its representation in the media, rather than an outsider as myself looking in. Phil Burns wrote an article in response to National Geographic’s Doomsday Preppers and the Genzlinger’s subsequent review of the show that appeared in The New York Times. In the review, the Genzlinger explained the impression he received from the preppers on the show: “What they want is a license to open fire” Burns had this to say in response:

“Presenting anything to the mainstream that allows them to easily draw this conclusion is something we would like to see avoided.  Every person who draws this conclusion will look at us as crazies, as they should, and not only will they not investigate becoming self-reliant themselves, but they will spread the counter-message that we are a sub-culture that should be avoided.”

Burns addresses the problems with some aspects of the prepper community and how they can be viewed as “crazies”, but also gives rational thought to how they can avoid being pigeonholed.

I’m sure a majority of preppers are rational people, who simply want to be prepared in the case that something does go terribly wrong. Whether or not you believe some form of doomsday is bound to happen, it might be useful to begin some prepping strategy. However we should examine the weight that these doomsday prophecies carry in the minds of people, and how the media has affected their beliefs.

Even if the world does end, or we are overcome with an incurable plague, or natural disaster, there is a very good chance that it won’t be anything like how it’s portrayed in movies or on the nightly news. While natural disasters are a very real threat to our citizen’s welfare, often they can be predicted and at least some emergency preparedness procedure can be carried out. We can’t really choose if and when the world will end, but we can choose whether or not to be frightened by it.

We still have a few days before the Mayan prophecy is purportedly set to unfold. Unfortunately, according to the Doomsday Prepper’s website “Get Your Prepper Score” quiz, my estimated survival time in the event of catastrophe is only 1-2 weeks. Best of luck on the 21st. I’ll be at home, watching the skies.

Works Cited

American Preppers Network. N.p., 17 Dec 2012. Web. <http://americanpreppersnetwork.com/&gt;.

Berlatsky, Noah, ed. Doomsday Scenarios. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2011. Print. Opposing Viewpoints Series.

“December 21, 2012 ‘Doomsday’: Impending Apocalypse Similar to Harold Camping’s May 21 ‘Rapture’; Likely Another Failed Prediction.” Latinos Post. Web. 9 Dec. 2012.

“Doomsday Dashboard | National Geographic Channel.” National Geographic Channel. Web. 17 Dec. 2012.

Doomsday Preppers | National Geographic Channel. Film.

Dunning, Brian. “Skeptoid.” http://skeptoid.com/. N.p., 4 Dec 2012. Web.

Errichetti, J. V. 2012 Mayan Calendar Prophecy & Related Myth. Lulu.com, 2008. Print.

Fleischer, Ruben. Zombieland. 2009. Film.

Genzlinger, Neil. “‘Doomsday Preppers’ and ‘Doomsday Bunkers,’ TV Reality Shows.” The        New York Times 11 Mar. 2012. Web. 17 Dec. 2012.

“Judgement Day is December 21, 2012.” http://judgementday2011.com/. N.p., 12 2012. Web.

“Signs the End of the World Is Coming Soon.” Toronto Sun. Web. 9 Dec. 2012.

“The Consequence of Doomsday Preppers.” American Preppers Network. Web. 5 Dec. 2012.

“Twinkie-maker Hostess Declares Bankruptcy.” Metro. Web. 9 Dec. 2012.

Valkenburg, Patti M. Children’s Responses to the Screen : A Media Psychological Approach. Hoboken: Routledge, 2004. Print.

“Was Suspected Shooters Mother a Prepper?” American Preppers Network. Web. 17 Dec. 2012.

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