Art and story can reach people where pure facts don’t.
The film Don’t Look Up was trending #1 on Netflix for quite some time after its release in December 2021. Its plot can be interpreted as a comic-tragic allegory of climate denialism; modern human inertia and unwillingness to sacrifice, endure discomfort. (An asteriod is threatening to destroy all life on Earth in six months; astronomers try to warn people and suggest a possible remedy; humans in the end don’t take the needed action; humans die out in the end.)
Last week, a novel called Zoo landed in my Little Free Library. (James Patterson is wildly popular among my library’s patrons.) The book’s plot can be interpreted as a comic-tragic allegory of climate denialism; modern human inertia and unwillingness to sacrifice, endure discomfort. (Animals all over the world, both wild and domestic, suddenly start forming huge roving packs that attack and devour humans; the cause is found to be pheromones produced by the world’s massive use of gasoline, cellphones, and electricity; humans quit using those things for a couple of weeks and the animals go back to normal; but in the end, humans go back to their consumerist business-as-usual, the animals go pack-savage again, and humans ostensibly in the end go extinct.) Very readable. And: This was published back in 2012. Back before topics related to human-induced alteration of the biosphere were much in the mainstream news. Kudos to a blockbuster author like Patterson for taking on this theme.
Earlier this week I read another TEOTWAWKI-themed book, Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank. (This one I checked out from my county public library’s online app. The lazy, book-devouring introvert’s friend, open 365-24-7!) Published in 1959, it spins a classic Cold War nuclear-war scenario. The added attraction for me was its recognizable Florida setting. Humans nuke each other to smithereens, mostly die except for a few lucky pockets including a fortuitously-situated town in central Florida, whose inhabitants end up piecing together a caring and self-reliant community, where some characters who’d been just going through the motions of life suddenly find a sense of purpose.
Stories of the TEOTWAWKI/Zombie Apocalypse/TSHTF genre will probably always be popular. And who knows, if we read enough of them, something might click.
“We really did have it all, didn’t we,” says a character at the end of Don’t Look Up, as they’re all sitting around the dinner table and the asteriod hits earth and a deep rumbling sound begins.
The story’s not over til it’s over. What other stories can human civilization write for itself?