What we talk about when we talk about Post-Apocalyptic stories; an essay by Gabbler on how the Post-Apocalyptic is too natalist.
Be it natural disaster, war, famine, alien invasion, robots, zombie attacks, or all of the above, post-apocalyptic literature and film are usually about hope. Hope that no, this is not the end. There is more. We will rebuild it.
But rebuild what? What exactly do we hope for?
It is arguable that our “hope” is a hope for what was there before the “apocalypse.” But, because that is an implausible hope, humankind in such stories tends to just start at square one and tries to catch up to where they left off (reestablishing civilization, the population, surviving until those points are achievable, etc.)
To a point, “starting over” is kind of a sad thing to hope for because it would mean that mankind would just be doomed to repeat itself. It’s not what I would call a “true solution.” It only means that humans will continue to suffer as they continuously pick themselves back up and fall yet again at the next coming apocalypse.
This is when the theme of “hope” starts to become synonymous with “children.”
This is seen very well in the film Children of Men – where humanity has gone in the tank because there is, essentially, no purpose for life if you cannot leave something behind (such as art) for someone else to appreciate (a.k.a. future generations/children).
Starts playing midway to help my point.
“The true infertility is the very lack of meaningful, historical experience.” – Zizek
Upon viewing the end of the film, the viewer is left with the “hope” that the only child born in the last 18 years will restore, you could say, not only the species, but its humanity. This is a slightly selfish spin to the post-apocalypse genre – to put all that pressure on one child. Not to mention why anyone would want to bring another living thing into such a terribly unstable world. The point is, there are still too many eggs in one basket – a basket of pro-natalist fantasies. Though this is a brilliant film on the topic of culture and is a step in the right direction, I saw no true hope at the end of Children of Men.
In a recent short story titled “As Good As New,” published by Tor and written by Charlie Jane Anders, a young woman – a lone survivor of some recent apocalypse – finds a genie and uses her three wishes to, basically, restore humanity back to the day before it went to hell and to keep the genie “in the family” so that she and any of her descendants can keep the apocalypse from ever happening again. It’s a delightful and witty story, but it highlights the fact that even the author, Charlie Jane Anders, knows the human tendency to just keep screwing things up. But the funny thing is, the main character puts a lot of faith in her own DNA to keep an apocalypse from ever happening again. At the end of the day, the story makes for a very natalist excuse to keep on breeding and doing “what humans do” without consequence.
A less post-apocalyptic example (but nonetheless approaching apocalyptic) is seen in the BBC TV show UTOPIA, where the protagonists try to stop a secret organization that wants to sterilize the world population by putting something undetectable in our food. The show often vilifies or makes pitiful only the characters who actually want population control or see it as humanity’s only hope.
While I disagree with forcing your choices on someone else, this is still a natalist wet dream. The protagonists (kind of) stop the bad guys at one point, but they offer up no solutions as to how to help their downward-spiraling world. Thus, the solution is just “keep breeding.” Or, perhaps, something sadder:
Just kidding. But honestly. Let’s hope the US version gets it right.
In the trailer for the new film Interstellar, we see that Earth has been used up by man’s (probably) selfish ways (famine, running out of resources, other dick moves) and so we must go colonize explore other planets for a new place to use up its resources inhabit. This movie trailer is so blatant in its obvious human selfishness (that we, as humans, must go on and on and on by reproducing and reproducing and reproducing) that I am already dreading the movie. Yes, it’s sooo sad that our breeding has forced Mathew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway to go into space to save McConaughey’s kids/grandkids/whateverkids but, you know what? Kids are what got us into our apocalyptic messes. Kids. Too many of us. And we don’t seem to be getting it. Even our stories can’t acknowledge it.
And don’t even get me started on the new Left Behind film. The only reason that’s not a natalist orgy apoc-pile is because all the innocent little babies have been raptured up to God and he no longer needs us to be good Christian breeders. UGGGGGH.
At this point, many of you might be saying to the screen “OK, SO WE’RE JUST SUPPOSED TO GIVE UP IF THE APOCALYPSE HAPPENS?”
No, no. I’m not saying give up. I’m saying that we must not be afraid to hope a little bigger in our post-apocalyptic mindset.
Our hope does not have to be pro-natalist drivel. Why does hope have to be contingent on children? Why can’t hope be uploading what’s left of us into a matrix where we can become immortal and not need to repopulate?* Why not become cyborgs that don’t need to depend on current human resources? Hell, why not put your hope in an entirely different species for a change?**
So, that said, am I wrong in thinking that post-apocalyptic literature’s aim to show human hope is too clouded with flying storks and should therefore explore more options? Or should future generations really be the point of everything?***
What are some of your favorite non-pro-natalist post-apocalyptic stories? Are there any out there, even? Right now we’re thinking HBO’s The Leftovers has a lot of potential to fit this role. But we’ve only seen the first two episodes.
*Was it ever a need? Define “need.” Farm hands? What?
**…And isn’t that what some of us even believe is why we’re here (that an alien species planted us here/propagated us and therefore invested their hope in something other than themselves).
***If they should be the point of everything then we should probably follow our own advice and clean up our act. And does anyone else find it funny that I’m annotating my own work here? I do.