In Douglas’s circles, people talk about “the end of the world as we know it” with such regularity that the acronym Teotwawki (tee-ought-wah-kee) has come into widespread use.
There's a post on the New York Times Magazine website about the new mainstream strain of survivalism amongst suburban Americans. The article outlines how the survivalist 'cult' - for want of a better term - has spread beyond right-wing 'nuts' and secessionists looking for conspiracy in the world order and into the suburban way of life.
He doesn’t have a mountain stronghold or a 20-acre spread. He doesn’t have a bunker or anything resembling a barn. Instead, he, his wife, Heather, and their six children, ages 4 to 16, inhabit a typical American suburban home
There's a lot to be read into this, in particular the nature of the hero of the piece - a suburbanite called Douglas who runs an expo and web resource of survivalist info. With the financial siege being inflicted against America's suburban middle class it's not a hard leap to see how Douglas might suddenly have a very visceral grasp of the apocalypse striking his home town and it's a view that is made clear as something now not uncommon amongst his own class. But the survivalist movement, as it was called at around the time of the Millennium Bug paranoia and Obama's 2008 election, is now more generally called the 'preparedness' movement. This notional semantic shift from a lifestyle currently under threat and to be defended with barbed wire, attack dogs and paranoid nationalism to an impeding and unstoppable threat, again, speaks volumes about the nature of this 'threat'.
'Prepareds' are notably hazy about what the threat is. We could read into the idea that the first survivalists were born out of the Cold War fear of MAD and just continued to latch onto whatever they could - technology, liberalism, Islam - as a way of continuing an increasingly secluded lifestyle. The 'prepareds' on the other hand don't see their lifestyle as under threat currently - living as they do in normal homes rather than castles - but fear that a threat is coming and that they must be prepared for it.
To draw a brief comparison, one of the most praiseworthy parts of Max Brooks peerless apocalyptic fiction, World War Z, was the study of suburban America's reaction to the apocalyptic crisis gripping the world. With half of the rest of humanity wiped out, the coddled suburbanites had desensitised their fate, putting misguided faith in the American way of life to overcome any obstacle. They literally refuse to even pay lip service to the idea of global catastrophe until it is quite literally smashing through the French windows and ripping their children in half. (pardon the lengthy extract)
Oh yeah, I was worried, I was worried about my car payments and Tim's business loan. I was worried about that widening crack in the pool and the new nonchlorinated filter that still left an algae film. I was worried about our portfolio, even though my e-broker assured me this was just first-time investor jitters and that it was much more profitable than a standard 40l(k). Aiden needed a math tutor, Jenna needed just the right Jamie Lynn Spears cleats for soccer camp. Tim's parents were thinking of coming to stay with us for Christmas. My brother was back in rehab. Finley had worms, one of the fish had some kind of fungus growing out of its left eye. These were just some of my worries. I had more than enough to keep me busy.
Did you watch the news?
Yeah, for about five minutes every day: local headlines, sports, celebrity gossip. Why would I want to get depressed by watching TV? I could do that just by stepping on the scale every morning.
What about other sources? Radio?
Morning drive time. That was my Zen hour. After the kids were dropped off, I'd listen to [name withheld for legal reasons). His jokes helped me get through the day.
What about the Internet?
What about it? For me, it was shopping; for Jenna, it was homework; for Tim, it was . . . stuff he kept swearing he'd never look at again. The only news I ever saw was what popped up on my AOL welcome page.
At work, there must have been some discussion . . .
Oh yeah, at first. It was kinda scary, kinda weird, "you know I hear it's not really rabies" and stuff like that. But then that first winter things died down, remember, and anyway, it was a lot more fun to rehash last night's episode of Celebrity Fat Camp or totally bitch out whoever wasn't in the break room at that moment.
One time, around March or April, I came into work and found Mrs. Ruiz clearing out her desk. I thought she was being downsized or maybe outsourced, you know, something I considered a real threat. She explained that it was "them," that's how she always referred to it, "them" or "everything that's happening." She said that her family'd already sold their house and were buying a cabin up near Fort Yukon, Alaska. I thought that was the stupidest thing I'd ever heard, especially from someone like Inez. She wasn't one of the ignorant ones, she was a "clean" Mexican. I'm sorry to use that term, but that was how I thought back then, that was who I was.
Did your husband ever show any concern?
No, but the kids did, not verbally, or consciously, I think. Jenna started getting into fights. Aiden wouldn't go to sleep unless we left the lights on. Little things like that. I don't think they were exposed to any more information than Tim or I, but maybe they didn't have the adult distractions to shut it out.
How did you and your husband respond?
Zoloft and Ritalin SR for Aiden, and Adderall XR for Jenna. It did the trick for a while. The only thing that pissed me off was that our insurance didn't cover it because the kids were already on Phalanx.
If the Times article is anything to go by it seems that a significant minority of the suburban populace might actually be ready to pick up tools and tackle the threat instead of the traditional American reliance on anti-depressants. Just take a glance at the part marketing, part tongue-in-cheek Gerber Apocalypse Survival Kit or in fact just Google search for 'apocalypse survival kit' - the price tags some of these kits carry imply more than just rampant marketing and fanboyism.
Of course there's no doubt that commercialism will always steal some part of the public and cultural conscience to sell back to it, but this tie between TV and film production and a very American apocalypse goes deeper - it's a feedback process. Since the end of the Cold War, there has been an explosion of US film and TV work speculating on an apocalyptic America that has accelerated with every successive crisis. This explosion hasn't been seen in such nationalist drive since the explosion of British dystopian literature in the first half of the twentieth century. Zombie and monster dirges such as The Walking Dead, I Am Legend and The Mist (though adaptations) lend a weight to the zombie ending (still somewhat comical) but take it away from the teenage fear-mongering of Day of The Dead and co. and into an impression of the life and moral struggles of a zombie apocalypse. Others - Blindness, 2012, The Day After Tomorrow, Children Of Men, even Wall-E take broader but more human-led paths to destruction while being box-office hits. We only in fact need to look at the Wikipedia list of apocalyptic films almost double over the 90s to 00s decades.
This is now the lens through which the 'prepareds' see the endtimes as coming. Not through a red scare or a liberal conspiracy as popularised in the literature of the Cold War and Bush years but in a very level-playing-field human based natural end. As Douglas himself says:
...since Sandy, Douglas has been considering putting on an expo in New York or New Jersey. “This is exactly what we’re trying to prepare people for,” he told me. “Everybody talks about doomsday, the end of the world — apocalypse nonsense. This is New York’s doomsday right now.”
They may still tread carefully around environmentalism, and the article never once mentions global warming or natural disaster, only ever referring to a vague sense of 'what's coming.' But the idea of natural disaster is seeping into popular conscience through film and TV and the response is being prepared in the same way.
This new form of survivalism could be read as being the right-wing response to the environmentalist movement. Less of the emphasis is placed on the science and the politicians as 'big government liberals' see as the main path to global warming, but the same 'each man for himself' onus of the right is put on surviving the 'coming global catastrophe.' Whether this interpretation and response is right or wrong is largely irrelevant because both forms of response engage the same issues. One of the interviewees is the owner of Sun Ovens who make solar-powered ovens:
“I refinanced my home three different times just to eat,” Munsen says. But in time, business began to improve, thanks in part to Barack Obama’s presidential victory four years ago, which alarmed many on the right worried about everything from his economic policies to his middle name. “The day after the election was one of the best sales days we ever had,” Munsen says. “Some people were just so upset about the election that they said, ‘We had better be prepared.’ ”