An email I wrote to a local radio talk show host, who asked the question, "Why are end-of-the-world stories are so popular?:
Sent: Tue, Oct 28, 2014 5:45 am
Subject: "The useful dire warning." re: Your question last week as to why end-of-the-world stories are so popular.
I tried to get in to your show last week when you posed that question above but was unable to. The answer lies in part in the crisis of confidence in the institutions of government brought on by the events of Clinton/Bush/Obama misrule since Waco. See: "The Chaos Election:The midterms are about Americans' deep anxieties — but the fear has been building for a long time." http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/10/the-chaos-election-112185.html#ixzz3HQrsUIeY
Government has proven itself to be a predator of people's liberties and economic security and, worse, an incompetent one as well. Folks who are willing to trade "essential liberty for a little temporary safety" in Franklin's words are outraged to discover that they get nothing for the swap.
But the American people are first and foremost a practical people. If the government (or political party, local law enforcement, hell, even the fire department) fails many of us will make our own arrangements. Hence the "prepper" phenomenon, the Minutemen on the border during the Bush presidency, and the reinvigoration of the 1990s constitutional militia movement under Obama (although not along the same lines as their predecessors).
Our fictional tastes reflect our real fears that things are out of control -- that it is, if not truly apocalyptic, then certainly the end of the world as we have known it. I mean, does this excrement bear any relationship to the country that you and I grew up in? People understand that it does not, the future seems grim and unrelenting and they turn to fiction that expresses their unease. They turn to "the useful dire warning."
As David Brin, author of the magnificent book The Postman (which bears no resemblance to the Costner cinematic flop), wrote in a forward to a reprint of Pat Frank's classic Alas, Babylon:
Two books that emerged at roughly the same time as Alas, Babylon were Eugene Burdick's Fail Safe and Peter George's Red Alert, which later inspired Stanley Kubrick to make the magnificently humorous and thoughtful Dr. Strangelove. As archetypes of the useful dire warning, each dissected a specific possible failure mode, bringing it to the awareness of so many that, ironically, their particular type of debacle became much less likely. Indeed, the "self-preventing prophecy" may be the highest and most useful species in all of the vast, imaginative genus of speculative fiction. In much the same way that Orwell's 1984 girded millions against "Big Brother," these tales may have helped to keep their own nightmares from coming true. In other words, our most vivid nightmares may have been utterly practical, helping to save our lives. -- David Brin, Forward to the First Harper Perennial Modern Classics Edition of Pat Frank's 'Alas, Babylon', 2005, p. X.
The Walking Dead is a perfect example of art imitating life imitating art. There is a pandemic that gets out of control (can you say CDC?), and the world is swamped with "walkers," yet in the last episode the question is posed and answered, "Which is worse, the undead or people?" Predatory humanity is of course the answer. Even at TEOTWAWKI, humanity remains humanity, or should I say, inhumanity. A glance at the latest ISIS beheading video confirms that.
And what can be the antidote to ISIS/TWD cannibals/zombies in the light of abject government failure? Judge Napolitano hits the nail on the head here: http://sipseystreetirregulars.blogspot.com/2014/10/what-is-best-deterrent-to-that-armed.html
It may be a poor substitute for a government that is supposed to be doing its constitutional job competently, but the bald statistics of Obama as the preeminent firearm salesman in world history demonstrates that the common folk internalized that lesson long before the chattering class. They will make their own arrangements, these practical Americans, and they will watch/read "useful dire warnings" for clues as to how best cope with the end of the world as they have known it.
PS: One other thing that bears mentioning. Have you noticed that just as The Invasion of the Body Snatchers was a metaphor for communist infiltration in the 50s, that "zombies" resemble present day collectivists? They are ravenous, hard to stop, go around in bunches, cannot be negotiated with or reasoned with, only walled out or confronted with deadly force. It is no accident that zombie targets are far more popular at firearm ranges these days than bullseyes. Wanna shoot a collectivist and still be under the radar? Shoot a zombie target. Nobody objects to that, perhaps because they can't break the code. I mean, what is the functional difference, if any, between Nancy Pelosi and a flesh-eating zombie? ;-)
LATER: David Codrea reminds me of this classic.