Yet Another Failed Apocalypse
Like the inevitable outing of virulent homophobes, we have yet another example of a failed apocalypse. The problem is not necessarily the apocalypse itself, but the frequency of these failed apocalypses has become so grating that even the jokes have become predictable and flat. In 2012 alone, we had Howard Camping’s multiple declarations of impending doom as well as the famous Mayan “apocalypse.” (Ironic air-quotes because it is a classic misunderstanding of a non-Gregorian calendar system by hysterical nutjobs. In December 2012, the Mayan calendar ends. What happens when you reach December 31, 2012 in your household? Most people usually get a new calendar.)
I won’t bother listing the failed apocalypses. Here’s a link. It’s a really long list. And in the future there will be more non-apocalypses added to that list. But people will still be hysterical, declaiming the end of the world, and getting everyone worked up over nothing. Another after-effect of all these failed apocalypses is that apocalyptic rhetoric has lost all meaning.
Apocalyptic rhetoric has been trotted out whenever a poorly written cash-in reaches the New York Times bestseller list. (Because that never happens.) Until the next sub-literate hack gets a choice book deal and struggling authors continue to struggle in obscurity. All this talk of cultural apocalypse because the author of Fifty Shades of Grey sold some books seems a bit overheated. The wealth of Hollywood wasn’t built on good movies either. The apocalypse is fast becoming meaningless the same way terms “indie” and “edgy” have been eroded to vacuous buzzwords.
Do not misinterpret this post as some snarky smug “religion is dumb, hooray science!” diatribe. (The Internet has plenty of those.) I was raised in a Lutheran household and apocalyptic rhetoric wasn’t in the conversation. Yes, the theological basis for Lutheranism includes the Apocalypse, but there wasn’t any ham-fisted close readings of the Book of Revelation like certain denominations, sects, and cults do. (For examples, tune in to your local religious networks, except EWTN, since the Catholic Church isn’t apocalypse-happy as Kirk Cameron’s flock.) The Apocalypse was part of Lutheran theology, but believers were taught not to presume to know when it would happen.
Presume is the key word here. As with other things, God will determine when the Apocalypse will happen. Hence the constant empty blathering of failed prophets. This goes hand in hand with the phenomenon of the Antichrist of the Week. So many people have been charged with being the Antichrist that it gets comical. Cracked.com, the reliable barometer of American opinion, published one of their most hilarious articles saying “Obama is the least efficient Antichrist ever.”
Not to belabor the point, but naming someone the Antichrist has become as politically expedient as calling someone a Hitler. The same people using the same rhetoric have called everyone from the Ayatollah Khomeini to Saddam Hussein to Barack Obama the Antichrist. One doesn’t need a PhD to see what’s going on. Label the political opposition the Antichrist and the flock will follow accordingly. And since Obama was re-elected, American is in a state of moral depravity and God will smite us. Or something. (I live in Minnesota and the state recently voted down the Traditional Marriage Amendment. I’m still waiting for the being-caused-by-gays earthquakes and hurricanes. We did get a snowstorm on the day of the Mayan Apocalypse … in Minnesota.)
The same people who label the President as the Antichrist are the same people who allege there is a War on Christmas. Which leads us to …
The Holiday Spirit
August to December 25th annually, depending on the retailer
“First-nighters, packed earmuff-to-earmuff, jostled in wonderment before a golden, tinkling display of mechanized, electronic joy!”
A Christmas Story (Bob Clark, 1983)
I enjoy the holiday season. I get to home to Wisconsin, be with family, open presents, and generally have a good time. Again, this is not some garden variety anti-religious screed. Those are boring. This post is exploring the issue of fatigue. Along with apocalypse fatigue, the commodification of Christmas inevitably gives way to fatigue. Since free market capitalism is based on the premise of an ever-expanding market, the Christmas season has been incrementally expanded into more of the calendar year. While retailers and businesses are right to exploit the reason for the season, this can have an unintentional blowback effect.
Christmas is fine. Shopping is fine. But I don’t need to see Christmas trees in retailers in August! By the time Black Friday rolls around, I’m already sick of Christmas. To put this another way: I like chocolate cake, but I don’t want to eat chocolate cake for every meal every day for three months. What is happening to me and fellow shoppers is the retail equivalent of diabetic shock.
Ironically, I see myself as a traditionalist here. Christmas season should begin on Black Friday and end on Christmas (with some overlap for New Year’s). The relentless drive to have us shop, shop, shop til we drop has extended the holiday season way too far. The Holiday Season has become a calendar-eating amoeba, devouring everything in its path.
Christmas, the best seven months of the year.
The Battle of Stalingrad
July 17, 1942–Feb. 2, 1943
Nikita Khrushchev: [addressing a roomful of Soviet political officers] My name… is Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev. I’ve come to take things in hand here. This city… is not Kursk, nor is it Kiev, nor Minsk. This city… is Stalingrad. Stalingrad! This city bears the name of the Boss. It’s more than a city, it’s a symbol. If the Germans… capture this city… the entire country will collapse. Now… I want our boys to raise their heads. I want them to act like they have balls! I want them to stop shitting their pants! That’s your job. As political officers… I’m counting on you.
Enemy at the Gates (Jean-Jacques Annaud, 2001)
The Battle of Stalingrad was one of the pivotal battles of World War 2. Thousands died, thousands more were killed, and it was an ideological wrestling match between two totalitarian superpowers. I only mention this because, as a punchline, I have likened the annual Christmas season to the Battle of Stalingrad. It is a Stalingrad-like battle of enforced cheer and omnipresent Christmas songs. I’ll leave you with a clip of Christopher Hitchens likening the holiday season to living in North Korea. Is it really? Let me know your opinion in the comments section.
This week, I continue my ongoing series “On Being Human” with “Battlestar Galactica” and “Caprica,” two Syfy TV series that explored the struggles between humanity and the machines that rebelled. |
I continue my CCLaP essay series “On Being Human”, this week exploring the dark world of Warhammer 40K and the Space Marines.
Short answer: Why not?
Long answer: The reason I’m investigating Warhammer 40K mostly stems from my own biography. As an 80s pre-teen, I enjoyed the pop culture of the time, especially if it was on TV and involved robots, vehicles, and weapons. Transformers, Voltron, and GI Joe were my favorites. (Although I owned a number of GI Joe toys, the TV show remained anathema in the house.)
I’m not sure when it happened or where, but it was probably a hobby shop somewhere in (possibly?) South Milwaukee area. While the store had the usual hobby store staples – trains, models, kites, etc. – what caught my wasn’t a model car or a Lionel product, it was the Citadel Miniatures catalogs of 1991. (And yes, I still have them.) The monsters, demons, soldiers, and armored vehicles really hooked me. In the terms of museology, I had a case of poeisia, the Greek term for wonder and awe. In the end, my dad ordered not a miniature or model, but the catalog itself.
Besides the Citadel Miniatures catalogs, I also found a copy of Rogue Trader. The illustrations, the hyper-dystopian mythology, and the ultraviolence appealed to my baser instincts. Only recently have I discovered my copy, falling apart as it is, remains a collector’s item in high demand.
Rogue Trader, the Dune Encyclopedia, and the Star Wars VHS trilogy (pre-Lucas meddling) form a constellation of precious pop culture commodities I value as one would a saint’s bone. Given the crypto-religious tone in Warhammer 40K, a reliquary for my Rogue Trader 1st edition doesn’t seem inappropriate at all.
Fast forward to the mid-2000s: I’m in the thicket of a grad school public history program. (What is public history? Short answer: The program you take when you don’t want to become a history professor.) Grad school in the humanities involves lots of reading. Lots and lots of reading. Footnotes, Foucault references, using the words “discourse” and “space” in a sentence. Heady, intellectual stuff, occasionally interspersed with writing as dense as a uranium milkshake. I don’t regret a minute of it.
I preserved my sanity by rediscovering Warhammer 40K, this time in the omnibus editions of the Black Library novels I found in the local Barnes & Noble. The hook occurred with the first sentences of Ian Watson’s magisterial trilogy The Inquisition Wars. Now considered non-canon, it remains one of the best Warhammer 40K novels I’ve ever read.
The omnibus opens with a short story entitled “The Alien Beast Within.” It concerns an Imperial Assassin infiltrating a cabal of Genestealers. Pretty standard stuff in terms of space opera and military science fiction. While the plot didn’t stand out, the language did. Watson wrote the story in a gaudy pop decadence, a delicious fantasy reincarnation of French Decadent Joris-Karl Huysmans. Here are a few opening lines:
THE GIANT EXERCISE wheel accelerated yet again while Meh’Lindi raced, caged within it. The machine towered two hundred metres high, under a fan-vaulted roof. Shafts of light, of blood-red and cyanotic blue and bilious green, beamed through tracery windows which themselves revolved kaleidoscopically. Chains of brass amulets dangling from the rotating spokes of the wheel clashed and clanged deafeningly like berserk bells as they whirled around.
I read on, blissed out on the verbal pyrotechnics. Here is Watson’s description of the God-Emperor’s Palace on Terra in the novel Draco(1990; 2002):
IF VIEWED FROM low orbit through the foul atmosphere, the continent-spanning palace was a concatenation of copulating, jewelstudded tortoise shells erupting into ornate monoliths, pyramids, and ziggurats kilometres high, pocked by landing pads, prickling with masts of antennae and weapons batteries. Whole cities were mere chambers in this palace, some grimly splendid, others despicable and deadly, and all crusted with the accretion of the ages.
Following the Inquisition Wars, I read the Eisenhorn omnibus written by the impossibly prolific Dan Abnett. The trilogy follows the eponymous Imperial Inquisitor and his rag-tag entourage across worlds. What makes Eisenhorn different from the usual Black Library volume is it spends most of the time amongst the ordinary and everyday in the grim 41st millennium. It was a nice re-introduction into this world. Both Inquisition Wars and Eisenhorn are excellent gateway volumes for those interested in the Warhammer 40K universe.
One final note: I don’t play Warhammer 40K. First, from the prohibitive pricing of just about everything in their inventory makes it financially detrimental to start an army. Second, I don’t know many players who live in my area. On the other hand, I continue to enjoy reading the novels and browsing the catalogs online.
Having survived Ayn Rand’s epic literary atrocity Atlas Shrugged, we thought that it is time to explore other pop cultural avenues. The two subjects under consideration are the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica and Warhammer 40,000. (Each title is shorthand for sprawling creative properties involving TV shows, role playing games, video games, web series, tie-in novels and comics, and countless other pop cultural artifacts.)
Battlestar Galactica represents a rich vein to tap into the struggles and ethical dilemmas facing the United States after the September 11th terrorist attacks. The spin-off series Caprica dealt with issues like organized religion, terrorism, virtual reality, technological advancement, organized crime, and capitalism. The franchise will expand again with the upcoming series Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome, chronicling the First Cylon War.
Warhammer 40,000 (hereafter known as Warhammer 40K) began in the United Kingdom as a fantasy role-playing game. (There is also a companion RPG called Warhammer that has a fantasy setting.) Starting from the premise of The Lord of the Rings … IN SPACE!, the franchise has expanded in tie-in novels, video games, a magazine, and a vastly expanded universe. Issues like colonialism, imperialism, and posthumanism will be explored.
NOTE: For both features, there will be spoilers. These are critical analyses, not episode or book summaries. Also, given the vastness of these franchises, we at Coffee is for Closers would appreciate any feedback, corrections, etc. from fans and members of the academic community studying these pop cultural touchstones in greater detail.
“You do not become an author just by using the language to call a cabinet minister unfit for office.”
“There are writers who can express in a mere twenty pages things I sometimes need two whole lines for.”
Karl Kraus (1874 – 1936)
Reflections: The nature of fictional storytelling requires emotional and narrative pay-offs. Starting with John Galt’s speech, Atlas Shrugged moves into the dénouement. This is where all the deck-stacking and intellectual dishonesty of Rand’s project reveal the flaws and fractures within her attempted “philosophy.”
While all the characters get shuffled into place, John Galt prepares to escape the clutches of the evil looters. The looters, in their idiotic desperation, call for John Galt’s help. The tables are turned and the looters are revealed as having a bankrupt philosophy.
When Galt is finally detained by Thompson’s men in a section of the Wayne-Falkland Hotel brimming with military men, Galt still refuses to help. Despite Galt’s two-hour speech, Mr. Thompson still doesn’t get it.
In this exchange between Galt and Thompson, we get to the essence of Atlas Shrugged, the very nubbin for why it exists in the first place.
“Okay, I’ll tell you. You want me to become Economic Dictator?” [Galt]
“And you’ll obey any order I give?”
“Then start by abolishing all income taxes.”
“Oh, no!” screamed Mr. Thompson, leaping to his feet. “We couldn’t do that! That’s … that’s not the field of production. That’s the field of distribution. How would we pay government employees?”
“Fire your government employees.”
“Oh, no! That’s politics! That’s not economics! You can’t interfere with politics! You can’t have everything!”
Galt crossed his legs on the hassock, stretching himself more comfortably in the brocaded armchair. “Want to continue this discussion? Or do you get the point?”
Do you hear that? It’s the sound of a balloon deflating. This alleged confrontation distills the philosophies of both camps, yet it’s so … so … anticlimactic. Galt is so perfect, smart, and heroic; Thompson is so conniving, weak, and contradictory. It is the immovable Idealist versus the unstoppable force of the Looter Hordes.
Narrative sterility aside, the essence of Objectivism is now revealed as Rand’s distaste for the income tax. The fucking income tax! I read over one thousand pages for this! Seriously! (I feel like James Taggart, all exclamation points and apoplexy.) Nevertheless, let’s take a step back, since I don’t want to give myself an aneurysm, least of all for this book.
Like anyone who has had to pay taxes, I understand the resentment and hatred people level at the Internal Revenue Service. Money earned through hard work, etc. But to write a 1100 page book against the injustice of the income tax is sort of silly. Like building a cathedral to why Justin Bieber sucks. It’s ridiculous and rather petty. Added to this is the Randroid perception that this is the Greatest Novel of All Time. (It would be, if you’ve never read any other book. One would also think it the Greatest Novel of All Time as a natural and logical opinion. Don’t worry, Objectivists, Scientologists hold the same opinion about Battlefield Earth. They’re both good at buying in bulk and rigging literature polls. But Objectivism is totally, totally not a cult. ***Stifled laughter***)
The trick is buying the books in bulk. Also works when selling subprime mortgages as loans.
Ironically, Rand’s philosophical novel resembles the logorrhea of Dave Sim, except Sim has talent as a comic book artist. Ayn Rand (neé Alisa Zinovyevna Rosenbaum) is just another paranoid megalomaniac who changed her name to sound tougher to her adversaries. Wait a second … paranoid megalomaniac … name change … sounds a lot like this guy.
“Complain about the income tax all you want, I’ll be pummeling the Nazis into a slurry and sending the first man into space … with the occasional famine and purge. Have to think of the bottom line in all this. It’s not personal, it’s business.”
To adapt Stalin’s quote to the parlance of our time, “One unemployed person is a tragedy, a million unemployed people is a statistic.”
Part III: Chapter VIII: The Egotist
I Blow Minds.
After John Galt’s speech melts the airwaves, the looter elite at the Wayne-Falkland lose their collective shit. They bicker and freak out until Mr. Thompson declares that Galt is just the man to right the listing ship of state. It turns out Mr. Thompson is a pragmatist above all, and willing to overlook all of Galt’s windy “theory” in order to exploit his clearly singular mind. So the government starts a campaign to find Galt and give him the power of economic dictator. Meanwhile, Galt’s incendiary rhetoric and the continual collapse of the economy lead to an upsurge of violence across the country, as the people strike back against government goons and their civilian lackeys.
After trying to lure Galt out of hiding with strategic loud-speaker begging, the government finally nabs him by following Dagny to his apartment in New York. Of course, he’d been hiding in plain sight as a common laborer at Taggart Transcontinental, with his own apartment filled with a hidden science lab. As soon as Galt sees Dagny, he knows that the feds are just behind, so he makes her swear that she’ll disavow him when they come. If Thompson and company think that Galt cares for Dagny, they’ll threaten to harm her if he doesn’t help keep their failing system afloat. Heavily armed guards so up, Dagny points an accusing finger at Galt, and he’s spirited away to the Wayne-Falkland, but not before his lab self-destructs.
Across a starving land, government buildings burn as looters and home-grown militias vie for power. In New York, a parade of luminaries try to talk John Galt into taking over economic planning. Mr. Thompson offers riches and power, Dr. Ferris threatens to euthanize everyone over 60 years old, and Dr. Stadler just blubbers all over the place. All the while, Galt holds fast against these entreaties: if they order him to sit at a desk that says “ECONOMIC DICATOR,” he’ll do it, but they can’t force him to think for them.
Dagny plays her part as a new convert to Mr. Thompson’s expedient vision and, in order to make sure that the government doesn’t just kill Galt, advises the Head of State that Galt can be convinced, given enough incentive and time. Thompson attempts to force Galt’s hand by holding a massive dinner at, where else, the Wayne-Falkland to announce Galt’s cooperation and the creation of the John Galt Plan. On the night of the event, Dagny watches the assembled reptiles smarm their way around the dais, giving windy, contradictory speeches before Galt’s final remarks. In front of a national television audience, Galt jukes out of the way long enough for everyone to see that his ‘secretary’ has a gun pointed at him, and says directly into the camera, “Get the hell out of my way!”
Reflections: Wait, are there really less than a hundred pages left? Praise Xenu! There IS light at the end of the tunnel! I’ve honestly forgotten that there was a time in my life when I wasn’t reading this book. Who is president? Have we landed on Mars yet? What’s with these young people and their saggy pants and raps music?
“‘That wasn’t real, was it?’ said Mr. Thompson.” That head of state never misses a trick.
“The attendants of a hospital in Illinois showed no astonishment when a man was brought in, beaten up by his elder brother, who had supported him all his life: the younger man had screamed at the older, accusing him of selfishness and greed–just as the attendants of a hospital in New York City showed no astonishment at the case of a woman who came in with a fractured jaw: she had been slapped in the face by a total stranger, who had heard her ordering her five-year-old son to give his best toy to the children of neighbors.” So apparently the looter method of coercion through guilt-trips is giving way to the Galtian ethic of random violence. Incidentally, that ‘best toys to the neighbor kids’ vignette is a reference to the primal scene of Ayn Rand’s philosophical development. Apparently, her parents made a similar demand of her when they were living in Russia. Needless to say, she never got over it.
“‘I will perform any motion you order me to perform. If you order me to move into the office of an Economic Dictator, I’ll move into it. If you order me to sit at a desk, I will sit at it. If you order me to issue a directive, I will issue the directive you order me to issue.’
‘Oh, but I don’t know what directives to issue!’
There was a long pause.
‘Well?’ said Galt. ‘What are your orders?’
‘I want you to save the economy of the country!’
‘I don’t know how to save it.’
‘I want you to find a way!’
‘I don’t know how to find it.’
‘I want you to think!’
‘How will your gun make me do that, Mr. Thompson?'” Physical assaults and passive aggression, the two mightiest weapons in the Objectivist arsenal, apparently.
“‘The John Galt Plan,’ Wesley Mouch was saying, ‘will reconcile all conflicts. It will protect the property of the rich and give a greater share to the poor. It will cut down the burden of your taxes and provide you with more government benefits. It will lower prices and raise wages. It will give more freedom to the individual and strengthen the bonds of collective obligations. It will combine the efficiency of free enterprise with the of a planned economy.'” Alright, Ayn, that’s a pretty good distillation of the sort of political rhetoric that has led to record deficits, record spending, and all-time low income tax rates.