Friday, 21 December 2012

The End of the World - it's all a Plot

So, as Any Fule Kno, today sees the end of the world, according to ancient Mayan prophecy.

I'm not going into any attempt to refute this.
I remember first reading about this decades ago - I must have been oh, ten, and reading one of my many "strange stories, amazing facts, mysterious world" type books.  The article, as I remember, ended something like this:

The Fourth Mayan Long Count Calendar comes to an end in December 2012.
There isn't a Fifth.

Now isn't that a brilliant, cliffhanger piece of writing? I remember being thrilled and scared and thinking "I'll be alive to see that!" - though of course it was so comfortably far in my future I had no actual anxiety about it.

But looking round, it seems quite a few people are now convinced and terrified by the  Mayan Apocalypse. And a lot of others are capitalising on that - using it to scam or make money. And the more the media/internet blows it up into an Event, the weirder people start behaving.

Why would they believe this? More to the point why would they want to? 

We're storytelling animals. We love drama. We want to see ourselves in the thick of the action. It's not enough that the world will end one day, it has to end RIGHT NOW WITH ME IN THE MIDDLE OF IT. It's not enough that I fall in love, there has to be ONE PERSON IN THE WHOLE WORLD WHO IS MEANT FOR ME, AND WE WILL LIVE HAPPILY EVER AFTER. It's not enough that I feel miserable, I have to TAKE EVERYONE DOWN WITH ME SO I WILL BE REMEMBERED.

We all know how stories go because we're brought up on them in books and movies and TV: there's challenge, and conflict, moments of joy and relief and then disaster, and it all comes to a huge climax. Sometimes it's a horrible climax, sometimes it's a happy ending.

Real life is just not good enough for us:

From the ever-wonderful SMBC

We don't like that. We don't like ending with a whimper, not a bang. We don't like things muddling on in a dull way until they stop. So we sell ourselves stories with Happy Endings (Heavenly rewards after all life's trials, Star Trek futures where humankind will have outgrown all its vices and problems), or Horror Endings (suicide, environmental disaster, economic and political collapse that must be Prepared For).

I do ... Don't I? Myths are simply stories we live by

And people do all sorts of stupid, self-destructive shit on a lower level - pick that fight on Xmas day with everyone in the family looking on, dial the police during a manhunt with completely made-up eyewitness accounts, slap naked pictures of themselves (ahem!) on the internet, jump onstage and punch their heroes. We're not trying to be idiots, we're trying to be dramatic.

It's because we want to be part of a Big Story.

Am I saying we should just stop this crap? Well ... I think that's like saying we should stop breathing. Telling stories is part of what makes us human, and not some sort of dull herd animal. We get born and we grow up and we fuck and we die just like every other creature - but we tell stories about it. That makes us unique. It makes us terrible beyond words. It makes us truly great.


Nikki Magennis said...

I have no objection to being a dull herd animal. I think wanting to be otherwise is where that urge to storytelling comes from - a bit chicken and egg.

Janine Ashbless said...

Of course!

And naturally, this whole post is my version of a Story too - an attempt to make dramatic sense of the world, and reconcile myself to its chaos.

Jo said...

Yup. Perhaps storytelling is just what we do with the overflow from our bizare, imagining, fearful brains. It's away of containing it all. Syphon all the experience and our reactions to it off into stories.

Janine Ashbless said...

I sometimes think our imaginations are just too big for us to deal with ...