April 03, 2013 | Brandon Ballard
Brandon’s the kind of guy who’ll pause the movie every five minutes to give you further insight into whatever comic book/fantasy novel/Grecian myth you’re watching — he’s a lifetime ambassador of all things nerdy and awesome. He predicts literary matchups for PostScript.
Since the invention of the big budget summer blockbuster, the film industry has been trying to warn us … the end is coming. Hollywood’s top scientists are unable to pinpoint exactly how most, but not all, of humanity will be wiped out, but they are determined to present every possible scenario to us, so we’ll be prepared.
Maybe a giant meteor will crash into the Arctic Circle and unleash a sentient evil snowstorm that will spread across the globe, freezing everything in its path. Or an experimental new deodorant will cause a lethal pandemic that wipes out everyone except people born on February 29th. Maybe zombie cheerleaders will get us. Or vampire cheerleaders. Or Martian cheerleaders. Perhaps all the smartphones will simultaneously implode and the resulting panic of not being able to post our blueberry pancakes on Instagram will cause a complete collapse of society (sadly, I would probably be one of the first to chuck a trash can through a storefront window in that scenario). Who knows how it will happen, but, oh — it’s happening. Why else would they spend so much money on shitty movies, if not to warn us?
Visual approximation of Brandon in the case of eventual apocalypse. Photo by Jeff Stalcup.
So. Let’s say the world is over. The cyborgs and tornadoes and giant termites have wrecked the planet and 99.9% of the human race is toast. Now it’s time for the POST APOCALYPSE. The last dregs of humanity wander across the globe, past well-known landmarks that are destroyed just enough so that you can still recognize them (for a much more dramatic effect). The survivors scrounge for food and water, occasionally duke it out with whatever it was that killed everybody, and in some cases, try to start over. Hollywood has made a plethora of post-apocalyptic movies also, but I personally like them a lot more. A lot of them seem to have more thought put into the whole process than just,
“Dude. How about some disease makes everyone on earth lose their sense of smell?”
“You’re a genius! Here’s three million dollars!”
In the post-apocalyptic scenario, we see the human spirit really put through the ringer. The folks that are left have just gone through the worst catastrophe in human history and they are completely on their own to make it from day to day. There’s no agency or organization left to offer them aid. There’s no grocery store on the corner for when they run out of milk and bread. There’s no Google to look up what kind of snake it was that just bit them and how to get the poison out. You get a glimpse of what life would be like if things were not just actually difficult, but nearly impossible. My only complaint is that it’s always privileged, white-boy Americans (like myself) that are the heroes of these stories. How about a Sudanese refugee, or kid from Haiti, or somebody to whom the apocalypse might not be that big of a deal? Seriously. If the apocalypse really happens, anyone that has ever owned a television or taken a hot bath will be dead in a week.
Holy cow, first I complain about movies and then I try to get politically noble? This is a blog about books, right? Well, there are two books that do an excellent job of showing us what a life could be like after it all ends. Richard Matheson’s I am Legend and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Both books present one man’s story of struggle for survival in a world that has gone to hell. And while the circumstances and characters are very different, both authors hammer home one very true point: being alive after the world ends pretty much sucks. Since there can only be one truly worst-case scenario, however, it’s up to all of us (but mostly just me) to decide: Whose post-apocalyptic life sucks the most?
Neville’s Life Sucks
His neighbors see him as little more than a juice box
He has no luck when it comes to pets
Neville’s Got it Easy
The entire planet is one giant estate sale, everything is free, and he’s the only customer
When it comes to booze, food, and music, his home is the ultimate bachelor pad
The Father’s Life Sucks
The phrase, “Lovely weather we’re having” is a thing of the past
All the animals are gone, but people are still getting plenty of meat in their diets
The Father’s Got it Easy
Canned peaches never tasted so good
There’s no more reality television
In Matheson’s I am Legend, all of humanity has succumbed to a plague and become a race of vampires. Not the cape-wearing “bleh bleh” kind, but more like just crazy people that want to run screaming at you and suck your blood. This book not only inspired George A. Romero to create his film Night of the Living Dead (which pretty much started everything I’ve been yammering about for four paragraphs), but it has also been made into three different movies itself. They’re pretty decent (the 70’s one with a groovy Charlton Heston fighting a vampire with an afro is my favorite), but, as usual, none can compare the book:
Robert Neville, somehow immune to the plague, is literally the last living human on the earth. During the day, he drives around the city, collecting supplies and searching out dormant vampires and killing them. At night, he barricades himself in his home and tries to ignore the hordes and hordes of screaming, taunting undead that surround his home. As time goes on, he begins to grow desperate and depressed. The deaths of his wife and daughter haunt him constantly. He lives in relative comfort and security, but the lack of human companionship starts to get to him. So Neville then decides to try and find a cure for the vampires, but only discovers ways to kill them more efficiently and in greater numbers. A few times a small amount of hope comes into his life, in the form of companionship, but it always ends in sorrow and more loneliness. In the end, he discovers that to the vampires that are slowly beginning to regain their humanity, they aren’t the monsters: He is.
The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, presents a drastically different scenario. Some unknown disaster has wiped out all plant and animal life and most of the human race. The world is a place of ash and ruin, with the last vestiges of mankind trudging along, trying to find food and shelter. Some of them turn to cannibalism and form savage gangs that search for victims to be raised like cattle and then consumed. The rest of the survivors spend their days living like hunted rats, hiding from these predators and searching desperately for whatever food is left. The story follows an unnamed father and son as they try to survive in this nightmarish world. Always on the move to escape the cannibals and the coming winter, the father tries desperately to preserve his son’s morality as much as he can. He teaches him that they are “good guys.” They don’t steal or hurt others to survive. He never lies to his son by giving him false hope, but he does teach him that they have to continue to survive together as long as they can, because it is the right thing to do. And for this, the kid loves his dad. And as hokey as it sounds, it’s that love for each other that keeps them going.
And that’s why Robert Neville’s post-apocalyptic life sucks the worst. Because despite his health and his abundant supply of food; despite his comfortable and secure home; despite the fact that he is immune to the plague and can hold his own against the vampires, he is utterly alone. The Father and Son fight an uphill battle against sickness and starvation every day. They live in constant fear of the people that are hunting them. But they have each other. They each have another person to draw strength from. That’s why, in this readers opinion, theirs is the more bearable situation. I will take cannibals and a ravaged landscape over sitting around talking to myself any day of the week. But then, I’m a people person. All you introverts are probably reading this, thinking I’m crazy right now. Luckily, none of us will ever be put in either of these scenarios. Because everybody knows the apocalypse will actually occur at the hands of Andre the Giant, and he specifically stated that there will be “no soo-vive-aws.” (I need sleep …)
Brandon Ballard loves his job (teaching), his family (Brooke, Lily and Sophie), and Root Beer Tuesdays. He lives and writes in Birmingham, Alabama.