"Now, remember when we said there was no future? Well, this is it"
- Blank Reg
Blank Reg
Originally written 5/13/2010, Final Research Paper, English 1A, College of the Redwoods-KTIS


his quote is from the Max Headroom TV series, depicting a future 20 years from now where individual governments have been absorbed into one massive Global Government and corporations have taken over much of society. The majority of people live in squalor and a small group of ultra wealthy elites provide an unending stream of entertainment programming through omnipresent televisions that even the poorest of its citizens carry with them everywhere they go.

This vision could be considered the ultimate portrayal of a dystopian future: ". . . where people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives." [1] This was a common theme in the Science Fiction genre "Cyberpunk" in the late ‘80s to mid ‘90s, and through depictions in the movies of the past ten years, the dystopian meme has penetrated mainstream culture, particularly during."W´s" presidency [2] .

Given that we live in a post 9-11 world, and every 24-hour news cycle brings word of a new catastrophe-of-the-moment, is the Dystopian Future really inevitable? Why does modern American Pop Culture so consistently depict a coming Dark Age? Has our 21st century experience of ecological and financial collapse affected our perceptions that much? The following will examine and document his trend, looking at the Zombie phenomenon in current books and movies and the nature of apocalyptic thought, from the late 20th century into today.


ombie entered the English language in 1871 from the Haitian Creole word "zonbi" describing "a will-less and speechless human in the West Indies capable only of automatic movement who is held to have died and been supernaturally reanimated." [3]  Our modern concept of the zombie comes entirely from George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968), the film that would prove to be more influential on the concept of zombies than any literary or cinematic work before it [4] .

Romero had created a new kind of horror film, one that transcended its B-movie trappings, becoming recognized as a commentary on a crumbling American culture. In the follow-ups Dawn of the Dead (1978), Day of the Dead (1985) and Land of the Dead (2005), Romero continued to focus on an America where rampant consumerism and the disparity between the rich and the poor eventually causes us consume ourselves.


In a New York Times interview, George Romero described these films as "being about revolution, one generation consuming the next... all my films are snapshots of North America at a particular moment. I have an ability within the genre to do that." [5]

In redefining the zombie as a Post-modern Shiva, or destroyer of our society, the "Romero zombies" have found a firm place in America’s apocalyptic myth-making. Zombies made several appearances in movies of the last ten years, with remakes of George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead films, 28 Days Later and the sequel 28 Months Later, Zombieland, and the Resident Evil movies. Professor Erik Vance teaches a popular course offered at Columbia College in Chicago that ". . . explores the history, significance, and representation of the zombie as a figure in horror and fantasy texts." [6]

And the number of books being written about a zombie apocalypse does not seem to be slowing down: "Zombie literature" has become all the rage in America’s bookstores.  "World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War", "The Zombie Survival Guide", "Zombies: A Record of the Year of Infection" and "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies", combining Jane Austen's classic 1813 novel with elements of modern zombie fiction, have all been million-selling titles. "Other monsters may threaten individual humans, but the living dead threaten the entire human race," says Max Brooks, author of the 2003 best seller The Zombie Survival Guide. "Zombies are slate wipers." [7]

Of all the scary monsters from our Collective Unconscious, the zombie has become our modern day boogeyman. I believe the idea of the dead eating the living reflects our anxiety over the modern state of affairs. If "Life As We Know It" were all to end suddenly, were there no food to eat and no electricity to run the machines that make our society function, wouldn’t we be faced with the prospect of a world truly ruled by survival of the fittest? Wouldn’t the strong end up eating the weak? [8]

I don’t know if we find the concept of being eaten so distressful as much as the fear that we might just as easily become part of the hungry horde ourselves. The phrase "You are what you eat" takes on a whole new meaning.


he concept of the Apocalypse is not new; numerous societies from Babylon to the ancient Hebrews have all produced at least a glimpse of end of the world [9] . Western civilization is rooted in Christian tradition, and the Book of Revelation is the source of our belief in an inevitable showdown between good and evil, "…that will usher in a thousand-year period of peace, prosperity, serenity, and justice which in turn will come to an end when the new heavenly Jerusalem will appear on earth." [10]

The feeling of a coming apocalypse continues to hang like an albatross around mankind’s neck.

Even after the uneventful passing of the Y2K bug and worldwide "millennium fever," by the summer of 2000, another chapter of the "Left Behind" series was released.

Uh Oh.

The Christian fiction series product line was expanded to include children’s books, music, videos, audiobooks, even a line of apparel and collectibles [11] .

It seems we just can’t quit our apocalyptic myths cold turkey.

Times do change, however, and our well-held beliefs are supplanted by other beliefs as the needs of the culture shift, and Pop Culture reflects these changes. To gauge our current perceptions of the Apocalypse, I created the Apocalypse Survey. Respondents had to choose between Biological Outbreak, Celestial Catastrophe, Ecological Catastrophe/Climate Change, a limited exchange Nuclear War, a Nuclear War ending in total annihilation, the biblical Rapture/Tribulations/War of Armageddon, the aftermath of a Zombie Apocalypse and a Soft Apocalypse. 41.2% of respondents chose a Soft Apocalypse as the most likely End of the World. 

A Soft Apocalypse has been defined as ". . . where the end has come but life goes on." [12]  Some event or series of events has caused society to fall apart, possibly necessitating a return to a simpler, pre-electronic state, at least for a while. In most cinematic representations of this concept, some survivable catastrophe is to blame for an interregnum. It’s my belief that it will occur gradually.

Natural resources will dwindle, the world’s population will continue to spiral out of control, and the world’s financial systems will reach greater heights of stratospheric growth before finally collapsing for good. These factors coupled with the current trend of a general lack of interest in space exploration and technological advances as our society entertains itself to death, all of these signs point to a coming new dark ages, the Soft Apocalypse.

Of all of the many possible causes of a Soft Apocalypse, none seems more likely than a Biological Outbreak. In November of 2009, an airborne fungus was found spreading from Oregon across the West Coast, with strains that kill 25% of people who come into contact with them [13] . Cryptococcus gattii was responsible for the deaths of several animals in the Pacific Northwest, who died from exposure to the airborne fungus.  Humans, especially the immunologically challenged, are not immune. Of special concern to researchers is how a rare tropical toxin ended up in Oregon in the first place. They believe climate change may be the culprit. The next question is whether the fungus is becoming more virulent as it spreads into Northern California [14] . Recent weather patterns have probably saved us from living out "The Stand" for now, but I’d be wary of any sickly animals I might encounter.



here is one other interesting indicator of the coming Apocalypse: The "Web-bot" that predicted the world will end on December 21st, 2012. As reported in the Daily Telegraph in September 2009, these Web-bots normally crawl through relevant web pages, noting keywords and surrounding text, giving them, in theory, an insight into the "wisdom of crowds", as the thoughts of thousands of people are aggregated. [15]

The feeling of a coming apocalypse continues to hang like an albatross around mankind’s neck.

Originally developed in the ‘90s to predict stock market movements, the web-bot technology had successfully predicted a "world-changing event" in the 60 to 90 days after June 2001: The terrorist attacks of September 11th. "Despite the vagueness of this prediction, many believed it to be genuine.

I'm afraid I can't do that, Dave.

Now its(sic) makers claim that the technology can predict natural disasters, and that it foresaw the earthquake that triggered the 2004 tsunami, as well as Hurricane Katrina and the devastation that followed." [16]  

The following are a few of the Web-bot’s predictions:

  • July 8th, 2010 - A major terrorist attack, civil unrest will take place, possibly driven by food prices skyrocketing, and the devaluation of the dollar.

  • Six very large earthquakes are yet to come during the rest of 2010.

  • A major tipping point will occur between November 8th ¯ 11th, 2010, followed by a 2-3 month release period. This tipping point appears to be US-centric, and could be a dramatic world-changing event like 9-11 that will have rippling after-effects. The collapse of the dollar might occur in November.

  • November 11th, 2010 - A big tipping point possibly World War III, leading to the first missile launch of World War III on December 14th.

  • A second depression, triggered by mass layoffs and bankruptcies, we will see people moving out of cities. After March 2011, the revolution wave will settle down into a period of reformation.

  • Major catastrophe in 2012 - The Web Bot has gained most of its notoriety for contributing to the 2012 phenomenon by predicting that a cataclysm will devastate the planet in the year 2012, possibly a reversing of Earth's magnetic poles or a small series of nuclear attacks leading up to a major attack during the year. The prediction does not necessarily call for a complete end of the world.

  • A "data gap" has been found between early 2012 running through May 2013. One explanation is that "our civilization gets knocked back to a pre-electronic state," such as brought about by devastating solar activity.

Clearly, there is more than enough evidence to conclude that the Web-bot software is a few megabytes short of a gigabyte. Since it "aggregates" internet message traffic as well as every blog in existence, just the sheer number of conspiracy wing-nuts spouting off on 2012 would skew its ability to "predict" anything. "The more people publish about 2012 and the end of the world. . . the more data web bots get pointing towards 2012." [17]

The basic mantra of computer programming in the last 40 years has always been "Garbage in, garbage out," and we’ve conveniently seemed to forget that.

The "Web-bot" prediction is just another example of what I see as the desire our culture has to have something "significant" happen during our lifetime. It’s evidenced by our selection of leaders (Bush vs. Obama), our choice of political philosophies (liberal vs. conservative), even to our choice in music (county vs. whatever music Lady Gaga plays). We select these polar extremes as a signal to everyone else that we are "different" by following some cause or belief that others are following. We are setting up a society that makes an apocalyptic event inevitable: Immanentizing the eschaton, in the parlance of Robert Anton Wilson; "trying to make that which belongs to the afterlife happen here and now (on Earth)." [18]



o, what will be the end result of this apocalypse making? My guess is that we’ll continue to make the same wrong decisions that we’ve always made, and that we’ll end up getting the apocalypse we deserve, whether a whimper or a bang, man-made or preordained. And as Eric Dodson notes, we’ll all have to make up our own minds about how we’ll face it, when it comes. [19]

The prospect of a Soft Apocalypse doesn’t sound so bad now, does it?


Good Grief.

[1] "Dystopia." Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. 10th Ed. 1999.

[2] Douthat, Ross. "The Return of the Paranoid Style." Editorial.  Atlantic Monthly 301.3 (2008) 52-59. Web. 27 April 2010 <http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/04/the-return-of-the-paranoid-style/6733/>.

[3] "Zombie." Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.10th Ed. 1999.

[4] Harper, Stephen. "Night of the Living Dead: Reappraising an Undead Classic." Bright Lights Film Journal.Nov. 2005. Web. 27 April 2010 <http://www.brightlightsfilm.com/50/night.htm>.

Scheib, Richard. Rev. of Night of the Living Dead, Dir. George A. Romero, 12 March 2010: 6 April 2010 <http://www.moria.co.nz/horror/notld.htm>.

[5] Powell, Henry. "One Generation Consuming the Next: The Racial Critique of Consumerism in George Romero's Zombie Films." Thesis. Colby College, 2009. Print.

[6] Vance, Erik. "SYLLABUS-Zombies in Popular Media." Chronicle of Higher Education 53.25 (2007): A10.

[7] Wilson, Craig. "Zombies Lurch Into Popular Culture Via Books, Plays, More." USA Today, 9 April  2009: 1D.

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

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

[10] Ibid

[11] Schaefer, Nancy A. "Y2K as an Endtime Sign: Apocalypticism in America at the fin-de-millennium."  Journal of Popular Culture 38.1 (2004): 82-105.

[12] Timberg, Scott.  "Welcome To The Soft Apocalypse." io9.com. Gawker Media, 29 Jan. 2010. Web. 27 April 2010 <http://io9.com/5459999/>.

[13] Byrnes EJ III, et al. "Emergence and Pathogenicity of Highly Virulent Cryptococcus gattii Genotypes in the Northwest United States. " PLoS Pathog 6(4). 2010: 27 April 2010 <http://www.plospathogens.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.ppat.1000850>.

[14] Ibid

[15] Chivers, Tom. "‘Web-bot project’ makes prophecy of 2012 apocalypse." Daily Telegraph 24 Sep 2009: Web. 7 May 2010 <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/news/6227357/Web-bot-project-makes-prophecy-of-2012-apocalypse.html>.

[16] Ibid

[17] Ibid

[18] "Immanentize the eschaton," wikipedia.org, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.: Web. 8 Dec 2010

[19] Voegelin, Eric. "The New Science of Politics." Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 1987. 120.