Back in November of 1999, I did something truly rare: I went to the movies with my brother Al. There was nothing special about the day, but for the fact that Al and I had headed out to catch a matinee at the new theatre around the corner from our family home in Lake Ronkonkoma. New Year’s Eve was just a few weeks away, everybody was talking millennial, and millions were living in fear of Y2K. If you remember that far back, it seems all the computers of the world were not set to restart their calendar year at 00; the line of thought was that on New Year’s Eve, every computer would crash, the world would go black, thus bringing about the End of Days.
For me, the fact that Al and I were going out in public together, of our own free will, may well have been a sign post that the end was coming. Even more fitting, we were headed out to see the most recent Arnold Schwarzenegger flick END OF DAYS. Director Peter Hyams’ newest feature jumped right in at a nation’s fears that the end of the 1900s would also bring the end of billions of lives. The movie wasn’t very good—Al and I agreed, an even more astounding rarity. But it did scare up some money on its opening weekend, and here’s why: people love to buy into the concept of the end of the world. Just look at two days ago for proof.
Two days ago on December 21, 2012, the Mayan calendar ended. People had been treating this with the same insane fervor that they treated Y2K. The Armageddon was upon us, the world was going to end, and all human life with it. Two days ago. Well, I’m still standing, and so is the world, so much for all that. But it’s not that the world continues to rotate that interests me here. It’s that people are always looking for it to end.
A character in one of my favorite movies, 1961’s KING OF KINGS, has a line that I’m reminded of here. Another character asks him if he thinks Jesus is the real Messiah, and he replies something along the lines of, “New Messiahs are popping up every day.” New ends of the world do much the same. It’s a ridiculous part of human nature, but we see what we want to see in things. So when Nostradamus discusses a man in a bush, it’s obviously the Kennedy assassination, right? Forget the fact that the Cadillac hadn’t been invented in Nostradamus’ time. Forget that we have computer techies who have the expertise to go and fix computer bugs, even those involving adding 00’s to a date (I actually knew one of these guys. Thanks for saving the world, dude!). Forget that the Mayan calendar… well, that deserves its own paragraph.
If you want an in-depth explanation of how the Mayan calendar works, click here. It’s a complicated mechanism involving three separate calendars that start a cycle. The problem is, the last cycle was about to end, thus locking up the mechanism and creating a literal end of days for the calendar two days ago. But there’s a glitch. The Mayans were an advanced society, but not advanced enough to account for Leap Year; their calendar was 365 days flat, not the roughly 365.25 that our Gregorian calendar is.
And yet there’s been plenty of buzz all year about their calendar. Which proves to me just how simple-minded people can be. We’re in a society where people can video chat on their smart phones from across the world. I can get this article out to billions of people because I’m posting it on the net. We can send men to outer space, or drive from Long Island to Florida over Christmas break (have a nice trip, X!). Do Americans even realize just how advanced we are technologically? If so, why are they buying into a 2000 year old calendar and trusting its end date to be existence’s as well?
Maybe I should look to the hurricane which hit the American Northeast back in October. Here on Long Island, some people were out of power for several weeks; gas stations went to rationing because so many of them had no juice; people were buying generators days after the storm, when they should’ve been buying them days before. Worst, the power authority was so ill-prepared for a natural disaster that they bungled whole grids which could have had power days and weeks earlier. The human condition reached a state of primitivism on my home island, because those in charge of the technology screwed it all up. We didn’t even get the worst of the storm, and it got that bad. I could see why people wouldn’t trust technology after all that, and why they might’ve seen Hurricane Sandy as a sign of the end.
But it’s still superstitious, provincial thinking. Y2K wasn’t going to finish us off, and neither was some weirdo calendar mechanism. Any of us who thought either or both would do the job were way off (especially if you bought into the calendar after surviving the computer issue). We’re resilient, even if a great portion of us need to expand our minds and look at things rationally.
Back in 2011, I was watching yet another flick with my brother. It was on Netflix Instant, and his son Al joined us (Handsome, as I call him; he wasn’t even born to see Y2K). This flick was 2012, the latest Roland Emmerich disaster flick. Like Hyams and Schwarzenegger, Roland was cashing in on our fears of the end. But Roland was a bit more forward thinking; his flick came out in 2009, so the end wouldn’t affect his box office.