Why Are Post-Apocalyptic Settings So Compelling? 

The Walking Dead, Mad Max, The Road, Fallout, The Book of Eli, ___ of the Dead, Gamma World: why are post-apocalyptic settings so popular and so compelling?

I think it’s because they give us a simple and focused problem to hold on to. There are two types of fear of death, the neurotic and the basic. For most of us who have the time to watch tv or play games in an apocalyptic settings our lives are swaddled in complexities

– regulations, economics – that largely insulate us from the basic fear of death, that fear of literally  dying that is endemic to every wild animal and every person who lives in the wilderness or Journeys too far from civilization, and that we all face at the end of our lives.

Most of the time we deal with a neurotic fear of death the fear of not mattering, the fear of not leaving a legacy of not being important, of not being loved, of not being good enough. You could argue that this is actually a fairly biologically driven fear as well, since a big part of survival is passing on your genes, at least at the most animal level. And only the “superior specimens” have the best chances of passing on their genes the most times in the animal kingdom.

To quote the Bloodhound Gang, “you and me baby ain’t nothin but mammals.”

We’re all swaddled up in this relatively safe bubble filled with self-doubt and bitching and just a general feeling that we’re wading through shallow water or mud or molasses. We just don’t have that freedom that people used to have.

In the apocalyptic genre, it’s basically you can do whatever you can get away with. There’s no police, no law, no civilization: you just have to survive.

You can get away with whatever you can physically get away with.

It’s good to root for people who try to maintain some sort of goodness in the sight of this lawlessness.

This is why people loved the Western genre for so long before it fell out of favor, because you had the strong individual standing up for something good in the lawless land.

I will leave the obvious low-hanging fruit of westerns’ horrible representation of Native Americans and other social issues for later because I have no desire to shoot fish in a barrel.

The post-apocalyptic setting usually gives us a chance to inhabit a character who’s trying to be a good guy or reluctantly becoming a good guy in the face of lawlessness, while also experiencing that basic fear of death vicariously.

And the best part about it is we don’t have to experience the deprivation and hard work that come along with it. We don’t even have to watch our favorite heroes experience that. 

I mean sure The Walking Dead‘s characters scavenge for food, but Abraham would not really be able to keep that glorious ginger high top fade of his during an actual struggle to survive.

But we can watch, enjoy, be shocked and scared and catharsis-ed  six ways from Sunday (at 9 pm, 8 central), without having to ensure trench foot or sepsis,  and without smelling as bad as the zombies. 

And, just because I can, and must:


The End of the World as We Know it (And I Feel Fine)


This is it: the day the Mayan Calendar “runs out,” and the “age ends.” Some people say it’s the end of the world. Of course, some people said the world was going to end last year (link). Others said [Late Great Planet Earth’s prediction]. Of course, a lot of people thought the wheels would come off one New Year’s Day, 2000, including Prince:

Some survivalists have been holding onto the belief that TEOTWAWKI (The End Of The World As We Know It) is “just around the corner” since the Carter Administration. I know, I actually have a couple of late 70’s survivalist manuals. They’re entertaining reading, if dated and a little bit creepy.

Okay, a lot creepy.

But the real question is why? Why are we so quick to jump on every apocalyptic bandwagon? Why did we love Mad Max, The Walking Dead, 28 Days Later, Waterworld, and Left Behind so much? Okay, “love” may be a little strong for the last two, but still. Why are we so fascinated by the end of it all?

Why do we spend so much time poring over The Revelation to the Apostle John, mostly ignoring the pertinent letters to the seven churches and instead trying to suss out every scrap of meaning about horned dragons, the mark of the beast, and who might be the antichrist (pretty sure it’s not Barrack Obama. He’s just a garden-variety militaristic corporate puppet, though admittedly one with a penchant for bombing civilians).

I’ve read a lot of “prepper” materials, and a common thread I detected was a deep dissatisfaction with the current world, and a desperate hope that a rebuild world might turn out better. If that sounds paranoid or even insane, just think about what goes on every day.

The poor of the world still struggle with starvation, disease, and water so contaminated it can kill. Predator Drones still sweep the sky in Pakistan and Yemen, killing men women and children in our name. Children die by the thousands, too far away for us to care.

Here in the first world, an entire generation struggles with massive college debt, delaying marriage, home ownership, and starting their adult lives.

The Internet brings easy access to knowledge and far-flung friends, but also puts sexual predators and hardcore pornography within easy reach of our children and ourselves.

Factory farming exhausts the soil and treats living animals with cruelty and contempt.

The rich get richer.

The middle class sees no real gains from increased productivity.

Life is hard.


We should all want something better. It is a godly part of us that calls out for something better. And I believe that, in time, Jesus will return and bring a new Earth, a new creation where evil has no place. But I don’t pretend I can know the day or the time. And I can’t cover my eyes and wait for it to come.

So push aside this talk of Armageddon. Hug your family. Call your friends. Give your time and money to someone in need. Extend the hand of friendship to someone who’s lonely. You’ll be glad you did, whether the world ends tonight or not.

And just in case it does, I’ll leave you with one last thing. It may be my last chance to do this.