The Apocalypse Industry

page230050mvc-003sJerry Lembcke writes at CounterPunch:

Writing for his October 25, 2013 New York Times column, Paul Krugman noted the attraction that apocalyptic scenarios had for American investors, policy makers, and economists. He named Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles as “deficit-scolds” whose doomsaying has been overwrought, and he reprised a 2010 article by Alan Greenspan in which the former Chairman of the Federal Reserve warned that the national budget deficit would lead to soaring inflation and interest rates, trends that we have not yet seen.

Mr. Krugman is an economist so it is understandable that it would be the scaremongers in his own area of expertise that catch his attention. His concern that the “debt-apocalypse community,” as he calls it, includes powerful people whose technical judgment might be clouded by irrational fears is legitimate. A single policy enunciation by any one of them, after all, can make or break the life-chances of millions of people around the globe.

But left as it is by his column, Krugman appears to think some gentle teasing like his—he calls his mistaken peers “Chicken Littles”—might diminish the credibility of the end-of-time crowd in the arena of public opinion, if not actually disabusing them of their fantasies. He also assures his readers that they needn’t fear an ultimate final collapse, a “fiscal apocalypse,” such as that warned of by the fear-peddlers he names.

He says all this as if the prophets of national cataclysm have arrived from another planet with a message that is totally alien to the populace hearing it. In fact, the real relationship between the people, cultural apocalypticism, and the elites whose rhetoric associate them with it is something closer to the inverse of what Krugman implies.

One need look no further than the titles of movies and books produced over the last fifteen years to see the extent of apocalyptic themes in American popular culture. One search of film titles returned over 900 such references including those to Apocalypse 2012: The World after Time Ends, Apocalypse: World War II, and Zombie Apocalypse 2012, all made in the new century. Playing on the theme, films like the very popular Apocalypto made in 2006 by Mel Gibson broadened the audience for that imagery, as did television documentaries like Doomsday Preppers about people preparing for the end of the world. By some count, the end-of-time book series known as Left Behind, about those “raptured” to the after-life and those left behind, was the largest selling book series of all time.

In the last five years, the New York Times alone has used the word “apocalypse” in news stories more than 1,100 times.

Culture-critics attuned to these currents would easily recognize that the policy elites that Krugman is critical of are not responsible for the fear and anxiety expressed by many Americans about the insecurity in their lives—the people have their own sources of that, thank you. Rather, the elites are smartly feeding into a thick and deep vein of uncertainty running through the country wherein they know their forecasts of fiscal collapse will find resonance.

Krugman’s Times piece carried the title “Addicted to the Apocalypse”; understanding that “addiction” as a socio-cultural malady, rather than a fixation of professors and pundits, does not diminish it as a cause for concern. Indeed, the history of mischief that has come out of the nihilist impulse in apocalyptic imagery—think Nazi Germany—underscore the importance of an inquiry into the American iteration of those ideas.

Read more here.

6 Comments on "The Apocalypse Industry"

  1. InfvoCuernos | Dec 10, 2013 at 4:31 pm |

    The average American has lived so comfortably in the last 60 years or so, that I think we all sense that most of us would bite the Big One if a real apocalypse hit, but, being Americans, we all think we’ll be among the survivors. Nobody expects to be the starving guy, but nobody keeps an emergency store of food in their pantry. Everybody thinks they will be able to take food from their neighbors if needs be, but they forget that their neighbors have been raised on the same Mad Max violence that they have been brought up on.

  2. Simon Valentine | Dec 10, 2013 at 7:14 pm |

    lol chickens are domesticated lol it’s not branding it’s cow wards by muggles

  3. kowalityjesus | Dec 10, 2013 at 7:27 pm |

    Thinking about 1601-03 in Russia or 1348-50 in Europe brings the gamut of potential maladies into perspective. Either could happen again at any time.

    That being said, there is no place for mortals to speculate about when the second coming might occur. None but the Father knows. Give us this day our daily bread.

  4. When you hear talking heads say “It can’t happen here”, it’s generally in progress and happening before your eyes.

    Apocalypse is the ultimate evidence of EPIC FAIL among elites. Members of the elites like Krugman have a vested interest in telling us it can’t happen, since they’d really we didn’t look at the kind of performance and value-add we get in exchange for the wealth they extract from us.

    What’s being done about global warming? Impending exhaustion of critical raw materials? Wealth distribution that threatens the consumer economy? At the current level of elite performance, the question isn’t whether most people will see apocalypse in their lifetimes, it’s what kinds and when.

Comments are closed.