Department of Theater, Dance,
and Performance Studies
HOW DOES TECHNOLOGY AFFECT OUR PERCEPTION OF WHAT APOCALYPSE IS AND IS THIS IMPACT FOR BETTER OR WORSE?
by Victoria Ngan 12.11.18
Themes of apocalypse are common in today’s preformed stories, shaping modern society’s idea of what apocalypse looks like. The different depictions range from the fantastical sort where in some otherworldly event — such as the popular zombie apocalypse, to name one — destroys the world to more small scale personal ones. Either way, the world as we know it ends because of some change and becomes a new world in which we must adapt or suffer the consequences. However, these popular depictions of apocalypse delude and distract us and our communities from the truth currently present and give us unrealistic expectations of possible apocalypse. One common depiction of many in this genre is an the topic of technology. It is often shown that technology and the reliance upon it is a negative force especially when it is then removed from our society. In the event of a real world apocalypse, people and communities can be left waning due to their reliance on something that no longer exists. The commentary essentially is that modern society’s reliance on technology will be society’s downfall when it disappears. However, despite this common commentary, I do not believe that technology is inherently bad to rely on. The answer is more nuanced than that of technology is destroying or helping culture but it is undeniable that it is shaping it. The media that depicts apocalypse is both a blessing and a curse, a double edged sword already affecting today’s world. Though it is possible we are being deluded into false expectations of what the apocalypse is and how it will come due to popular media and pop culture and even possibly being deluded into calling for other forms of cultural production, it also allows for revelations to be realized amongst the ignorance.
One of the very first questions that was asked in this class was what were the ways that we understood apocalypse. Many pointed to movies and TV shows like the AMC’s Walking Dead and tropes like alien invasions and environmental apocalypses. One of the ideas of apocalypse was a religious one where one could either reach salvation or be cursed to damnation. Even the death of our Sun was an apocalypse that crossed the minds of my fellow peers. The syllabus even mentions movies like Avengers and Mad Max: Fury Road. While it feels trivial and silly to consider pieces of popular culture in an academic context, this is important because this is how modern technology and media communicates and educates the people around us and thusly our communities, our identities and how we conduct ourselves in our everyday lives.
One can see the direct effect of the idea of apocalypse to the extremes in people’s lives — or at least in preparation of one — in a show called Doomsday Preppers. The show profiles various people and whole families that prepare for certain types of apocalypse that can bring forth the end of civilization including economic collapse, societal collapse, and electromagnetic pulse. These people fear the idea of apocalypse and the collapse of modern society so much that some of the families on this program have secure bomb shelters, a good stock of non perishable foods, and some families even know how to throw shurikens, ninja stars. If one were to live in Florida and prepared in case of a hurricane — that makes sense. Hurricanes are a real and have a high chance of happening at some point in a Floridian’s life. A likely threat that happens in that state. While knowing how to throw ninja stars with deadly precision may be an interesting hobby to pick up and would make for a neat conversation starter, these people legitimately believe they will need these skills in order to survive in the future in which society collapses. This shows how easily people are influenced and the real world effects that media has on people and their families — whole communities.
In our own communities, people are concerned about the environment and if we do not take care of it then something like the movie The Day After Tomorrow can happen. In the film, global warming is a serious issue, as it is in real life. However in the movie, global warming gets so bad that natural disasters become more powerful and escalate to the point that a major plot point was that New York City gets hit with an astronomically large tsunami — the chances of being hit with a tsunami in New York City are slim in the first place — and then it freezes over so quickly to the point that people get frozen solid if they don’t escape it and retreat somewhere safe. If there are people who are pushed to the point where they take precautions like in Doomsday Preppers then who is to stop any person from believing that a disasters like freezing tsunamis and EMPs can destroy their whole world.
While Doomsday Preppers might appear unhinged, their allure rests on a willingness for radical action in order to survive. Especially if one considers an electric-tech collapse in what Yvette Nolan calls The Unplugging. In her 2013 play, characters Elena and Bern are two women who are cast out of their communities for several reasons: deemed useless due to their age, having lost the capability to produce children, and disliked for their poor personalities to name a few and must survive out in the wilderness for the foreseeable future with winter incoming. This post apocalypse world is one where technology, like the internet and things like equipment in hospitals have ceased to function, has fallen and thus massive amounts of knowledge was lost and modern society has fallen as well. They find that in spite of being cast out they still are able to survive thanks to the knowledge passed down from person to person that they have gained. This type of apocalypse brings to light the reliance and dependency that modern society has on technology and allows for the audience to reexamine their relationship with the technology and with their interpersonal relationships.
An important aspect of the play is the topic of knowledge. Bern has cup of tea and smells it, worrying if it has gone bad and if it is possible to die from bad tea leaves which her companion, Elena, responses with dry humor, “google it” (Reader 311). Later in the play, after the two gain their footing with survival in the wilderness with just the two of them, Bern meets a handsome man named Seamus who was also cast out of the community. She then teaches what she has learned from Elena to him so he can survive and feed himself as well which later becomes a source of conflict between the two women, Bern and Elena (Reader 331). In both cases, knowledge is survival. Knowledge, or lack of it, dictates whether they will live to eat or if they will starve to death and can even be cause for strife. The days where one could simply just ‘google it’ are over and these knowledges that are passed on are priceless. When the apocalypse in the play first started happening, Elena recounts that the first few weeks people thought that the power was coming back on and they all went wild and society fell to chaos with looting and carnage (Reader 316). This reaction to initial apocalypse is not unheard of. The act of going wild during the first stages of apocalypse is a common trope and could also be the effect of technology going out. The fact that technology has gone out and is not televised in order to let the masses know what’s going on allowed the first reactions to be ones of chaos, similar to how children scream and go wild when there is a blackout at school. The apocalypse was not televised but it was live and people didn’t know what to do so they acted like their actions had no consequences because no one, like emergency announcements on the TV or pings on a phone from an AMBER alert, was telling them otherwise.
Another example of apocalypse with dependence on technology is the play Marisol. The titular woman, Marisol is a young Puerto Rican woman who technically lives in the present, as dictated by the play’s setting, but is set in a time that is both present and set in post millennium, which can be interpreted at post apocalypse. She works for a Manhattan publisher and although she is technically of white collar class, she continues to live alone in a dangerous Bronx neighborhood. The play begins with Marisol taking the subway home and encountering a man with a golf club. He begins to question her and she shows no fear. Despite the front, it does not protect her and he begins to run at her to assault her with the club but he is stopped by her guardian angel and the man is turned to a pile of salt. Marisol is watched over by her guardian angel that often prevents bad things like sexual assault and murder from happening to her but in the next sequence, the angel visits her in a dream and tells her that she can no longer protect Marisol from harm because she is going to war against God. After this encounter, it is televised that a Marisol had been bludgeoned to death — reported to be at the same location of where she lived. In addition to this scare, a man with ice cream assaults her with the aforementioned dessert and is encouraged by her friend and coworker, June, to take the day off together. She ends up meeting June’s — as June puts it — ‘fuck-up brother’ Lenny who lives with June. The two siblings fight which ends up with Lenny kicked out and on the streets which leaves June feeling regretful and devastated immediately after kicking him out. In the wake of this, June asks Marisol to move in with her for her safety and for company. Marisol agrees and when she goes back to her place in Bronx to pack, Lenny arrives and accosts her. The scene ends with the mention of the war that Marisol’s formerly guardian angel went to go fight (Reader
After this, the world seems to fall apart on Marisol as the world as she knew it as changed drastically. She meets a woman in furs and what was once north became south and there are no buildings, no streets, no cars, no noise (Reader 245). The dependency on technology comes in the form of Citibank MasterCard. The woman that Marisol meets claims that the MasterCard people were abducting people and had done so to her for being over her credit card limit
(Reader 246). The woman is obsessed with the money and the MasterCard and even ran at and began to assault Marisol with the same golf club that she was assaulted with at the beginning of the play. This is not the first mention of the MasterCard. This is one aspect of the many facets of the play. The people in the play are dependent on this plastic card technology that once had great value but once the apocalypse came it meant nothing. Many people don’t even carry cash anymore so to be left with only this piece of plastic is actually less useful that of having a wallet full of bills — at least with the cash it can be used as tinder to start a fire if ever faced in a scenario where one needs to start a fire.
Despite all this ignorance and misguidance from popular depictions of apocalypse on both the silver screen and on stage, technology and the spread of knowledge is a boon before all information is lost. It is a common thread where the context of technology is specifically things like the internet. In the aforementioned example, having been to just be told to “google it” implies the ability to have always have had to looked things up. This is true in modern society where if a person does not know something they can just look it up. It is a tool and should be used. Even so, with the allegedly so-apparent dependency on this technology, I find it a recurring experience where a person asks another person a question and then the question just stays unanswered because neither of them know the answer (and they forget that they can look it up but that’s besides the point. Pre-internet, life was like this on the daily so it reflects how the post-terminating-the-internet-and-technology apocalypse would be like).
Technology affects how we act and how we create things like story and narratives. The stories that people watch in their downtime can be very telling of who they are as a person and the sort of ideas that they have and contribute to the world around them — which is their community. Yet at the same time, it’s very true that a lot people are passive viewers. They watch to have fun and not analyze the way that the piece of media they’re watching in their downtime is affecting their life and their actions and the way they think about the world. Even if they are passive, it’s still important to note that even as a passive viewer, it still affects the person and thusly their community actively as seen by the Doomsday Preppers and Elena and Bern in the Unplugging. And in the cases where the viewer is not passive but is instead an active viewer and is engaged and thinking about the ideas being presented to them, they can take action in their live and make movements to make change. People can take inspiration from anywhere, even from an over the top yet environmentally concerned apocalypse movie like The Day After Tomorrow can inspire one person to make change in their lives in order to better benefit the world which is where the revelations amongst the ignorance can happen.
Apocalypse comes in many forms and depictions. Some can be over the top and some can be frighteningly close to current and future events and reality. All forms of preformed stories of apocalypse in media — whether it be the silver screen or on stage or on a computer screen — give the audience some sort of impression and expectation of what the the apocalypse is and how it will come and is also a reflection of contemporary and modern ideologies of apocalypse. We with our preexisting ideas of what they could possibly be are all evidence of that. If not learning how the apocalypse comes, then they are at least aware of a possibility of another and this gets the imagination running which in turn creates more apocalyptic type stories and influences more people in a cyclical nature. Even if the audience is being deluded to ignorance that still doesn’t negate the revelations that come with the spread of ideas of apocalypse because of technology.
Doomsday Preppers. Directed by Alan Madison. Written by Alan Madison. National
Geographic, February 7 2012.
Emmerich, Roland. The Day After Tomorrow. Film. Directed by Roland Emmerich. Los
Angeles: Twentieth Century Fox, 2004.
Nolan, Yvette. The Unplugging. Reprinted in Theater of Apocalypse Course Reader (121 TPDS)
2018. Berkeley, CA: University of California, Berkeley.
Rivera, José. Marisol. Reprinted in Theater of Apocalypse Course Reader (121 TPDS) 2018.
Berkeley, CA: University of California, Berkeley.