Why we love watching the world end

zombies.jpgCostumed actors, promoting the television series The Walking Dead, shamble along the Brooklyn Bridge. (Seth Wenig/Associated Press)

First aired 01/06/13 on Day 6

This summer, brace for the apocalypse. Coming soon is a slew of apocalypse-themed blockbusters that will be hitting movie theatres across the country. You can already see Will Smith's After Earth, and soon Seth Rogen in This is the End and Brad Pitt in the zombie flick World War Z. Author and media theorist Douglas Rushkoff stopped by Day 6 to explain why we are so obsessed with the apocalypse. According to Rushkoff, we are drawn to apocalypse movies because they provide the perfect type of escapism for the specific problems of our time.

presentshockJPG.JPG Rushkoff says we are living in a time of "present shock." He explains this as a kind of a real-time, always-on existence where we don't really have beginnings, middles and ends. "We don't have origins and goals. We don't even have the social rhythms that used to orient us in time. It's more a sense that everything is pulsing with a digital now that leaves us untethered in time," he said. And beyond this new digital world -- which makes us feel like we are always plugged in -- the new economy is changing the way we experience our work lives. There's no longer a beginning, middle and end in our career paths.

Thus, enter cataclysmic events and zombie apocalypses. "When you live in a world where stories no longer work, where you don't have a beginning middle and end, you feel you're just on this static precipice all the time, you tend to ache for conclusion. And we'd rather this thing end badly than not end at all." Rushkoff explains that it's not only the end of the world that is the fantasy, but the events leading up to it -- the bracing for an apocalypse. "We get to live the simple life with a shotgun over your arm. You're there with your family and all you have to do is pick off slow moving zombies on the horizon".

Apocalypse movies are a fantasy of our time, but they also have a universal appeal. Rushkoff says these types of movies always present black and white moral dilemmas. These simple moral tales are ones that have persisted throughout our culture tracing back to Cain and Abel from the bible. "At the core of these zombie movies is a real concern about what does it mean to be a human being, there's some self-loathing in these movies, like what really makes a person different from a zombie?" Rushkoff said. "[It's] not a hell of a lot. We got to kill in order to eat, we don't really have moral tether, there's no real way to say if we're ethical or moral. So what is the difference? That's another cultural preoccupation now as we move to an increasing digital reality."




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