Apocalyptic Fears

There has always been a fascination with the idea of the apocalypse and what that would look like. Today, there is a significant focus on a zombie apocalypse, which is where a disease infects a human that kills the host but the disease lives on feeding off human flesh; however, when a human is bitten, this infects that human, and thus leading to a worldwide viral outbreak where everyone are zombies. This seems completely irrational; but yet, this idea has attracted a large audience. What makes people attract to this idea? It could be that it is very close to real factors. For example, the idea of “zombies” sounds too sci-fi, but the idea of a disease wiping out a large population is not so unrealistic. So, it could be a matter of how fear can effect how one views the apocalypse. Therefore, one can narrow their thinking in a way to relate to why people are attracted to these apocalyptic ideals; fear fuels the reality of an apocalypse in two ways: Through what is heard and through what is seen.

An example of how fear can fuel the reality of an apocalypse through what is heard is the radio broadcast of 1938. During the eve of Halloween October 30, 1938, Orson Welles, famous theatre director and radio actor, broadcasted a drama of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, in what seemed like a serious news broadcast. During this time, people would eat dinner and then sit down to an evening of listening to the radio. Turning the dial, listeners were scanning the stations to find something to listen to; however, most missed the introduction that included the disclaimer that the following broadcast was only a dramatization, where Martians invade earth and begin killing everyone in sight. Within a half hour of the broadcast, panic filled the streets and Orson Welles was being forced to take a ten minute break to reassure listeners that this was only a fake broadcast, but most listeners had already packed their bags and were trying to leave the city. It was a major moment in history because the fear and panic of what could be a real Martian invasion caused thousands to tremble and some to end their own life (War of the Worlds). People were enraged by this fake news broadcast. Later, listeners on that fateful night were interviewed to explain what was going through their heads at that moment. This is a real life example of how fear can impact the irrationality of emotion. The mind is able to play a role in manipulation of what is real or not. This example shows how one can take a simple act of trickery and impact the lives of many into believing something that is clearly fiction. One listener admitted that as he was in his car leaving the city, and because he heard this broadcast and it was late at night that he could literally see what looked to be Martians over the trees. Of course, it was a fiction of his imagination, but due to the realness of the broadcast, it caused his mind to see what was not there.

One view of the apocalypse that was popular during the mid-to-late 1900s was that a nuclear warfare would take place, resulting in the destruction of the earth. People were terribly frightened that the world was going to end because of the creation of Atomic Bombs. Cities were destroyed and many lives were devastated because of these acts of horror, and because it was so real, fear took hold of the minds of many. Thus, books and films were made to capitalize on this fear, to create an imaginary world after a chemical warfare. An example is the film, Book of Eli, in which the earth was scorched and in desolation because of a world war. The characters live in what looks to be a desert ruin, scarce food and minimal water cause many to resort to robbery and murder (The Book of Eli). This film shows the imaginative world in a post-war setting. While some might not think this is a valid outcome, this work of fiction can trigger fear in the lives of many just by the mere thought of it. This is an example of how fear can fuel the reality of an apocalypse. In the fact, during that time; people saw countries making these bombs and saw the test sites where bombs were tested. Less than a decade later after the Orson Welles broadcast, Hiroshima and Nagasaki became the first cities in the world to witness the power of nuclear weapons. Therefore, what one sees can dramatically effect how people react to these apocalyptic ideals.

Now that there is a baseline for this topic, it is important to know the application of fear. Fear can be a broad area to focus on because so many fears are associated with many different things for different individuals. However, it is important to know what fear is or is not. Fear is a cognitive perception of one thing or another. In an anatomy class, one can learn about “the flight or fight response,” which is induced by fear and danger to either run away or fight. The initial response is in the amygdala, located in the brain, that signals to the adrenal medulla, which is located just above the kidneys, responsible for hormonal secretion, including adrenaline. Furthermore, these organs result the natural response of fear in a given situation. Although, as mentioned previously, it is a perception issue, so a fear to one person may not be a fear to another.

Depending on how one is raised can determine how one perceives the application of fear what is important to be afraid of or restrain from. Religion is one building block of how this can be viewed. According to Richard Eckersley in his essay about apocalyptic fears, he illustrates that “fundamentalism refers to the retreat to the certainty of dogmatic beliefs, whether secular or religious. In an extreme form, this is ‘end time’ thinking” (Eckersley 37). Here, Eckersley shows a view from a Christian standpoint that this belief is to illustrate the fear of the Rapture taking place. So, depending on family belief systems, it can influence how one perceives the apocalypse to take place.

Fear is always a response to a situation or in anticipation of that situation and has many responses including freezing, chills, sweating, and screaming. When presented with a frightening situation, the body’s response could include, but not be exclusive to, what is listed above. Fear is closely associated with anxiety too. One can physically feel the response of anxiety: heart rate increase, overwhelming feelings, depression of what might happen. So, with fear being so closely associated with anxiety, it can effect how one handles a situation, whether they dwell on it or let it go. A lot of depression issues are due to anxiety, which can be a response to how one handles fear. Depression is a big issue in the U.S. along with many other countries, but one could argue that it is due to the fear of the unknown. Fear tactics have been placed on every person in one way or another. In Christianity, the fear of the Rapture is always in the forefront of people’s minds. When Year 2,000 came, many people believed that the Rapture would take place, but it didn’t. People actually committed suicide or caused violence in response to what they believed to be an apocalyptic time. It’s interesting and scary to see how far people will go if they think it is the end of days.

In Naomi Oreskes’ essay, “The Collapse of Western Civilization: a View from the Future,” Oreskes says, “dislocation contributed to the Second Black Death, as a new strain of the bacterium Yersinia pestis emerged in Europe and spread to Asia and North America…disease also spread among stressed nonhuman populations” (Oreskes 9). Here, Oreskes is discussing events from the future but looking in the past and is referring to a widespread disease that affected not only humans but animals too. This essay is interesting because it ties in factors that lead to other problems. For example, Global Warming was an issue that was mainly discussed in this essay, but here Oreskes illustrates that other factors are at play. The point is that when examining one apocalyptic ideal, one can easily jump to a different world epidemic that is still related in terms of apocalypse. Thus, increasing one’s anxiety about how an apocalypse could take place.

Throughout history, one can see how people can plant the seed of manipulation and let the mind come up with its own agenda through fear. Is a Zombie apocalypse possible? No. However, it links closely with real life issues. For example, diseases have always been a threat to populations. The Black Death was a disease in the 1300s that killed nearly one-third of Europe’s population (Black Death). Disease is nature’s way of reducing the population, and while a Zombie apocalypse is fictional, the idea of diseases is not.

It is scary to think how far people’s minds will go into believing certain things, but one must keep their thoughts at bay as to what is true and false. It is hard to say what kind of apocalypse is more possible than others, if any is possible, but fear is the major tool in capturing attention to these ideas. If someone has the power of manipulation and forces fear on others, then it is hard to say what kind of world epidemic could come of such power. One reason why people are attracted to these fictional apocalyptic ideas, is not only because it is based off of something slightly true (like disease is to Zombie), but also because some people want to feel the fear and excitement of a need for survival, to prove that they have what it takes to survive.

Therefore, it is important to keep in mind what fear can do, and how it can manipulate one’s thoughts and actions. Knowing that fear can fuel the reality of an apocalypse through what is heard and seen can help people recognize when they are being manipulated. When listening, not letting those words influence an action. When seeing, making sure what you see is real and not letting what you see entirely influence actions. Use both tools, seeing and hearing, to come up with the hypothesis that what is seen and heard, together, is real. When separated, these tools can lead to a factor of manipulation, which is not the best way to take action.

Works Cited

“Black Death.” History.com. A+E Networks, Web. 26 Mar. 2015.

Eckersley, Richard. “Nihilism, Fundamentalism, Or Activism: Three Responses To Fears Of The Apocalypse.” Futurist 42.1 (2008): 35-39. Academic Search Complete. Web. 2 Apr. 2015.

Oreskes, Naomi, and Erik M. Conway. “The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future.” Daedalus 142.1 (2013): 40-58. Web.

The Book of Eli. Dir. Albert Hughes and Allen Hughes. Prod. Joel Silver and Denzel Washington. By Gary Whitta. Perf. Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, and Mila Kunis. Warner Bros., 2010. DVD.

War of the Worlds. Orson Welles. American Experience. PBS, Web. 26 Mar. 2015.


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