Remediating the apocalypse

Apocalypse as Revolutionary State of Emergency

The apocalyptic myth, and its associated heroics, is apparent in President Bush's evocation of a “crusade” against an “axis of evil” and in numerous pre and post 9/11 Hollywood films. But the same myth can also be recognised, in Zizek's (2002:107) broader sense of an “authentic revolutionary state of emergency,” in the sites of resistance to such crusades against difference.

Michael Moore's Farenheit 9/11 is one obvious expression of such resistance. In many ways Moore's urgency and determination, commonly read by his critics and the media in simplistic terms as “bias,” is both apocalyptic and anti-apocalyptic. Moore takes on the mantle of prophet and urges that we read the signs of the times and act to avert disaster. There is a tendency in Moore's style to set up black and white scenarios that in effect mirror Bush's own dualism. However his use of humor and irony create a more open text than any of Bush's speeches.

In a less obvious way Hollywood blockbuster Day After Tomorrow also presents a very different apocalyptic vision. As distinct from other films in this genre, such as director Roland Emmerich's previous apocalypse film Independence Day, this apocalypse is not averted. More significantly this apocalypse is not the product of an externalised alien “other” it is clearly portrayed as a result of a human refusal to develop a sustainable relationship to nature. In Independence Day the President is a fighter pilot who leads the attack against the aliens. In Day After Tomorrow, the president is killed and the formally dismissive and arrogant Vice President (who bears a striking resemblance to current US VP Dick Cheney) is humbled in exile in the warmer climes of South America. He thanks the nations of the “third world” who have welcomed the exiles of the developed nations with generosity. Although, even in exile, there is an intrinsic power displayed in such a presidential world address this version of the apocalyptic story shows a world turned upside down with an as yet unfulfilled hint at the establishment of new and different power relations.

Elaine Pagels (2003) has pointed out that even the divisive language of good and evil links to a whole series of mythic meanings. She notes that many progressive social movements such as the fight for racial equality were firmly rooted in this discourse. For Pagels, a history of religions scholar with a speciality in the world of the early Christians, the language of good and evil is “an essential language that we use to interpret events”. But its current mobilisation and application to “whole blocks of people and groups of countries” by the Bush administration is being used to “shut down political discourse.” For Pagels this suggests an all or nothing drama. This drama precludes negotiation. The only end to such a story is the annihilation of one side and the victory of the other. (Pagels 2003)

This web project is an evolving space exploring contemporary manifestations of the apocalyptic in current affairs and popular culture. It is being developed in association with my Ph.D. research and is both a research method and a presentation of that research. In exploring the apocalyptic I am particularly interested in mapping a series of multimodal mythic clusters that are evolving through a process of remediation which I identify as a key cultural logic for an age in which electracy is the new literacy of nomadic subjects. This hypertextual presentation foregrounds affiliational logic and although I hope the project accumulates meaning it does not seek to present a single, formal, linear argument. I have presented some of these ideas in more traditional academic formats in other places. Although the navigational choices are the user's own these tips may be useful. Feedback is very welcome.

Marcus O'Donnell 2005-2006