Apocalypse Always

by by Maggie Lange

It would be nice to blame someone for these massive panics, these big bait-and-switch games about the impending end of the world, and it would be easy to blame the media. The Aughts saw the rise of 24/7 news channels and of instantaneous blogging. Both exaggeration and sensationalism played a part in the game to keep news relevant and entertaining. This is nothing new for media, but with 24/7 news, there was inescapable quality, incessant repetition, and constant speculating.

Stories about impending, looming, Malthusian doomsdays will always attract attention. If new news hasn’t broken, the most captivating fallback is a doomsday scare on the backburner. Natural inquisitiveness combined with a desire for self-protection spark human curiosity about the end of our world.

There might be something comforting in worrying about improbable problems rather than likely ones, just as plane flights inspire more terror than car drives. There are problems of epic proportions that the media cover with just as much fervor, like the economy or global warming. These crises are large and uncomfortable. Often, it’s easier to ignore the real problem and make a mountain out of a molehill. Especially when the mountain is Yellowstone, which has been stewing for an uncomfortably long time.

The Y2K fakeout welcomes us to a decade of paranoia

At the stroke of midnight, January 1, 2000, the world was supposed to freeze, digitally speaking. In an episode of incredible foresight, computer programmers had made computers recognize dates by only their last two numbers. Computer analysts indicated this might lead to a large digital meltdown and Wells Fargo Bank warned that five million small businesses were at great risk.

Oh, no!

If computers couldn’t go from ’99 to ’00, banks would shut down, the stock market would evaporate, airplanes would fall from the sky, and the information infrastructure would return to year zero. Large swaths of people promtlybought lots of bottled water as a preemptive strike to any resource-grabbing in a post-digital chaos. Meanwhile, the US government spent an estimated $300 billion fiddling on computers to prepare.

Oh, wait. Never mind.

There were minimal technological hang-ups, but everyone was hung-over. People who stripped their bank accounts sheepishly re-deposited their savings. To grand disappointment, entry into the 21st century came with neither hovercrafts nor mandatory uniform silver space suits.

The Other White Powder

Fear of bio-terrorism continued for weeks after September 18, 2001, when letters containing anthrax spores were mailed to several media offices and two Democratic Senators (the letter to Tom Daschle was addressed from “the 4th Grade”). Even Jennifer Lopez got a letter.

Oh, no!

People were advised to open their mail outside. Letters then had to go through much more thorough inspection and everyone became afraid of hand-written messages (see Rise of Twitter).

Oh, wait. Never mind.

Although a White House aide indicated that he received pressure from the Bush administration to attribute the attacks to Osama Bin Laden, there was no discovered link, despite a major investigation. Anthrax was never used in a massive attack.

The particle accelerator causes panic,
is taken down by a pigeon

The Large Hadron Collider, once called the atom smasher, uses electric fields to propel charged subatomic particles at each other at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland (see the November 19 Independent). This was hoped to mimic the first milliseconds of the universe’s existence.

Oh, no!

If the first seconds of the big bang were reproduced, some notables in the science world, namely Dr. Otto Rossler, indicated this device could create microscopic black holes and absorb everything. The New York Times reported that CERN hadn’t researched enough about the potential dangers and that Earth could transform into a lump of uninhabitable “strange matter.”

Oh, wait. Never mind.

In 2008, CERN went ahead and lit the thing off anyways. Black holes were not created, there was no big bang, but in November 2009 a pigeon dismantled the whole thing by dropping a piece of a baguette into it. How Euro.

SARSn’t you going to share your face mask with me?

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome started in southern China. It spread relatively unchecked through the Chinese countryside in 2002 and was brought to the US by a Hong Kong businessman, who probably feels terrible about the whole thing.

Oh, no!
Cable news and the press served as a primary tool to raise awareness about the syndrome; and global health experts cited the lack of media intervention as a reason for the quick spread of the syndrome through rural China.

Oh, wait. Never mind.
Just over 8,000 were infected, and 800 died. But by 2003, no further SARS deaths were reported. Its effects were no different than tuberculosis, but the panic was much greater, making it a lesson we later wouldn’t learn about H1N1.

H1N1 goes for #1

Oh, no!
With the first few cases in the beginning of 2004, the H1N1 virus was declared by the World Health Organization a global pandemic in 2009. It made its way into various countries, facing various misunderstandings about pig’s involvement.
Oh, wait. Never mind.
Although cases continue to be reported around the globe, a global pandemic doesn’t appear to be on its way. Like SARS, the Avian Flu, and salmonella (the Great Spinach Scare of 2008) before it, the problem seems to be more the panic and the anxiety rather than a worldwide case of flu-like symptoms.

But if the poles flip where will Santa live?

Oh, no!
Based on a shotgun marriage of ancient Mayan numerology and crazed-sci-fi-savants, the impending disaster of 2012 will bring about the next apocalypse. Modern Mayans, about half of Guatemala’s population, have made several statements about what they see as a Western misinterpretation of their beliefs. There was no concept of apocalypse in ancient Mayan culture. “If I went to Mayan-speaking communities and asked people what is going to happen in 2012, they wouldn’t have any idea,” an archaeologist in the Yucatan, Jose Huchim, told the Sunday Telegraph “That the world is going to end? They wouldn’t believe you. We have real concerns these days, like rain.”

Oh, wait. Never mind.
Well, we’ll just have to wait and see.

It’s the end of MAGGIE LANGE B’11 as we know it.