The Apocalypse Survey:
21st Century Attitudes on the End of the World
Atom Bomb
Originally written 5/13/2010 for CIS 1, Final Project College of the Redwoods-KTIS


he idea of the end of time or an Apocalypse is not new; numerous societies from Babylon to the ancient Hebrews have all produced a least a glimpse of the end of the world. As western civilization is rooted in Christian tradition, the biblical Book of Revelation is our primary source in the belief of an inevitable showdown between good and evil, a belief that has effected history and politics for the past 2,000 years, as well as shaped our expectations as a culture of how the world will end." [1] But times change, and well-held beliefs change as we need them to. Pop Culture reflects these changes. To provide a sort of "reality check" of how society currently perceives the current state of the Eschaton, or the end of the present world [2] , I created a survey that presented eight possible scenarios of how the world might end:

  • Biological Outbreak
    ("I Am Legend", "12 Monkeys", "The Stand")
  • Celestial Catastrophe
    (including: Extraterrestrial Invasion, Coronal Mass Ejection, Asteroid Collision, etc.)
  • Ecological Catastrophe/Climate Change
    ("The Day After Tomorrow", "2012", "Waterworld")
  • Nuclear War, limited exchange
    ("The Day After", "Panic in Year Zero", "Star Trek: First Contact")
  • Nuclear War, mutual assured destruction
    ("A Boy and his Dog", "Damnation Alley", "Planet of the Apes")
  • Soft Apocalypse
    ("Children of Men", "Mad Max/Road Warrior/Beyond Thunderdome", "The Book of Eli")
  • The Rapture/Tribulations/War of Armageddon
    (The Book of Revelation, "The Omen III", "Left Behind")
  • Zombie Apocalypse
    ("Night of/Day of/Dawn of/Land of the Dead", "28 Days/Months Later", "Resident Evil /Apocalypse/Extinction")

41.2 percent of respondents chose a Soft Apocalypse as the most likely End of the World.



 Soft Apocalypse has been defined as ". . . where the end has come but life goes on." [3]  It can be assumed that a serious Biological Outbreak or Ecological Catastrophe could derail society, but my purpose in putting the Soft Apocalypse into a separate category comes from my belief that it will occur gradually. Natural resources will dwindle, the world’s population will to spiral out of control, and the world’s financial systems will finally collapse for good. These factors coupled with the current trend towards a lack of interest in space exploration and technological advances all lead us to a Soft Apocalypse.

The Soft Apocalypse is a logical choice, if we are to choose our ultimate doom. In most cinematic representations of this concept ("Children of Men", the "Mad Max" movies, "The Book of Eli"), some survivable catastrophe is to blame for this predicament. And a glimmer of hope is usually portrayed in these texts as well.

What was most interesting about the survey results was the lack of any response for Nuclear War, either limited exchange or mutual assured destruction. In a survey conducted after 9-11, the Pew Research Center found 53% of Americans said they often worry about the prospects of nuclear war; four-in-ten often worry about the chances that terrorists may attack the U.S. with nuclear weapons. "Concerns over the prospect of nuclear war are in line with the 1990s. In 1987 and 1988, when Cold War tensions were still present, roughly six-in-ten said they often worried about a nuclear conflict (62% in 1987, 61% in 1988). [4] .


his seems in stark contrast to how American’s in the 1950’s felt about nuclear war; there was a palpable fear that ran across all levels of American society. Laura Kunstler Graff shared the following with the Atomic History website "Throughout my elementary school life, I experienced shelter drills and air raid drills. I don't think I understood the ramifications, but I obediently followed the teachers’ instructions over the years. We had to practice duck and cover defenses as well as lining up in the halls away from glass that could shatter on us. These activities were just part of the school day. What terrified me were the air raid sirens." [5]

How To Survive An Atomic Bomb

Being subjects of this indoctrination, my Mom and Dad once bought me a record album called "If The Bomb Falls." It came with a civil defense pamphlet and gave audio instructions on what to put in a fallout shelter, what to do if you saw the "Nuclear Flash" and all the rest of what seems like campy advice to our modern ears. I still have the pamphlet.

Recognizing that times and attitudes change, I asked the question: Has your concept of the End of the World changed as you've grown older? 41.2% of survey participants replied in the affirmative. "I think the slow decline of civilization is more likely. . ." said one 45 to 54 year old, Single Male. "A new Dark Ages. The world ends with a whimper; no one will remember how to make a bang". A 45 to 54 year old, Single Male said "Very little has changed since I was five or so, and this is no exception." "Not really," said an 18 to 34, Single Female. "It's going to be nasty." A 55 to 64 year old, Married Male summed up the view of the 11.8% who chose Biological Outbreak as the likely scenario: "I used to think it would be a nuclear strike causing the domino effect but now I think it less likely to be a world ending event. However with spiking populations and increased travel to and by 3rd world countries as well as dense concentrations of populations in giant cities, it seems to me that a biological agent moving fast is the most likely scenario." [6]

While giving out the surveys by hand, I did get the "Isn’t this kind of morbid?" question from time to time. But each of them turned back responses, so there is a healthy curiosity about what essentially would be sudden, inescapable death. Or as James Poniewozik put it, "That millions can handle the question, in literature or a soft-focus made-for-CBS version may be testament to our willingness to face the times. . . That's the charitable explanation. The more disturbing one is curiosity, fatalism, even, at some level, a measure of acceptance. We need to face our darkest possibilities." [7]

To gauge our current level of concern of an impending Apocalypse, I asked "As you look back on events that have happened during your lifetime, how likely do you feel that the End of the World will happen within your lifetime?" 29.4% believed it was Very Likely. But an almost equal amount of people found it Unlikely or Very Unlikely, at 23.5% each.


ne of the main purposes of the survey was to see how effective modern Pop Culture is at portraying the end of the world: "Have depictions of the End of the World in Movies, TV and Print become Very Believable, Believable, Unbelievable or Very Unbelievable." Only 29.4% found apocalyptic media to be Believable, 41.2% found them to be Unbelievable.


The Believability Index is taken from responses to specific films in the apocalypse genre. 35.3% found "Children of Men" to be Very Realistic, 17.6% chose "On The Beach" as Very Realistic, while at the same time 70.6% had never even seen the film; Survey respondents thought "Book of Eli", "12 Monkeys", "The Matrix", "Terminator" and "Tank Girl" to be Very Realistic, at 11.8% for each film. "I Am Legend", "Children of Men", the "Resident Evil" movies, and "The Matrix" all scored as being Somewhat Realistic, at 11.9% each. 29.4% chose "I Am Legend" as being Possible. 29.4% thought the "Terminator" future was Unconvincing.

Terminator: Salvation

52.9% chose "Planet of the Apes" as the Most Unbelievable movie future. Whether the latter result had to do with the time period, a thousand years from now after a nuclear holocaust or that apes became the dominant life form was the most unbelievable aspect of the film is uncertain. One respondent had this to say in the comments section: "Yup. My concept has become less dramatic and less final. Life goes on. We may all revert to a Dark Ages state (kind of like Planet of the Apes but without the Apes) but short of a total nuclear exchange I don't see planetary extinction happening."


esearcher Richard Eckersley writes that we have but three choices when facing the Apocalypse: Nihilism, or Abandoning order; Fundamentalism, taking control with rigid certainty or Activism, adapting and transforming. I would posit a fourth option, to Avoid apocalypse altogether, which seems to me to be the obvious answer. But Eckersley worries: "All three 'apocalyptic' responses are growing in social intensity in a head-to-head contest that, sooner or later, will shatter the status quo" [8]

In the 2006 paper, "Post-apocalyptic Film and the Post-modern Apocalypse," Dr. Eric Dodson concludes by asking the question, "is perhaps now the moment for us to enter forthrightly into both the dangers and the promises of a new age, or on other hand, is now the moment for us to seek shelter in a retreat to a more comfortable, more secure age? In the final analysis, this may be post-apocalyptic film's greatest message; perhaps post-apocalyptic film's ultimate significance is that it implicitly asks each of us how he or she is participating in the larger revelation, in the larger apocalypse." [9]

The Road


he classic 1950’s Sci-Fi film "Plan Nine from Outer Space" begins with TV psychic "The Amazing" Criswell intoning "We are all interested in the future, because that is where we will spend the rest of our lives." [10]

My guess is we’ll continue to make the same wrong predictions about the end of the world that we always make, and that we’ll end up getting the apocalypse we deserve, whether a whimper or a bang, man-made or predestined. And as Dodson notes, we’ll all have to make up our own minds about how we’ll face it, when it comes.

Criswell Predicts!

If it were up to me, I’d choose to live life as best I can. And my advice to anyone overly concerned about The End is to try and make some new beginnings for yourself, and let The End take care of its self.

[1] Sickinger, Raymond L. "Apocalypse Now: Magic and the Millennium." Journal of Popular Culture, 34.4 (2001), 183-194.

[2] "Eschatology." Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica, 2010. Web. 6 May 2010 .

[3] Timberg, Scott. "Welcome To The Soft Apocalypse." Gawker Media, 29 Jan. 2010. Web. 27 April 2010 .

[4] "2003 Values Update." Web. The Pew Research Center. 2003. 11 May 2010 .

[5] Kunstler Graff, Laura. "Sirens, Dog Tags & PS 11: A Brief Cold War Rememberence." 2003 12 May 2010 .

[6] Heminger, Michael. "Apocalypse Survey." Unpublished. College of the Redwoods. 11 May 2010. <>.

[7] Poniewozik, James. "Postapocalypse Now." Time International (South Pacific Edition), 23 Oct. 2006: 64.

[8] Eckersley, Richard. "Nihilism, Fundamentalism, or Activism: Three Responses to Fears of the Apocalypse." Futurist Jan/Feb 2008: 35-39

[9] Dodson, Eric. "Post-apocalyptic Film and the Post-modern Apocalypse." Essay. State University of West Georgia. 2003. Web. 27 April 2010 .

[10] Kunstler Graff, Laura. "Sirens, Dog Tags & PS 11: A Brief Cold War Rememberence." 2003 12 May 2010 .

[11] "Plan Nine From Outer Space." Dir. Ed Wood, Jr. 1959. DVD. Wade Williams, 2000.