What’s the deal with the apocalypse? The same weekend that North Korea and the United States were diffusing tensions in Singapore to avoid nuclear war, avid gamers were attending the Electronic Entertainment Expo to see the latest renders of a post-apocalyptic Earth in a video game. If anything, this contradiction proves that escapism doesn’t need to be to anywhere better than one’s current environment — but rather, somewhere the participant feels more in control.
The end of the world as we know it is nothing new. From Revelations in the Bible to War of the Worlds to World War Z, we’ve cumulatively ended the world hundreds of times over. Moreover, each tale is more bleak and horrific than the next. Yet, while we hope to avoid destruction, we relish in watching people fight off zombies, societies rebuild and humanity fall into a state of anarchy in a wide variety of fictional scenarios.
Without context, it’s odd that any part of the public would look forward to Armageddon. With modern systems, few people ever complete control over how to rule their lives. There is a well-established clockwork to society, and individuals usually follow convention whether they like it or not. Whether it’s working at a job you hate, participating in a political system that seems broken or drowning in debt to pursue an education, life can feel impotent. Specifically, you rarely ever get the chance to act on that thought of, “If I was in charge, I would do a better job than that.”
This is what makes post-apocalyptic fiction so alluring — the sudden blank slate that humanity receives. Shows like The Walking Dead embody this shift considerably by portraying transformations like that of a used car salesman turned dictator. In other words, out of the ashes of catastrophe, humanity rebuilds with the freedom to make the new world as they see fit, and the only rule is that there are no rules. By being rooted in the future unknown, imagination enables a type of autonomy that isn’t capable in the present.
Few settings are as lawless as those in apocalyptic fiction, yet there are almost none as popular in entertainment. Perhaps as society plateaus at a state of contentment and familiarity and every frontier is explored, it gets ever tempting to hit the reset button — which in Trump’s case, is a giant red button on his desk.