December 21, 2012 has been relatively uneventful, but there are still a few more hours of Greenwich Mean Time left for the “end of the world” to occur (and by end of the world, I mean that the Tube will stall. Disastrous!). Believe me, I’m very glad to be in England for the post-apocalypse.
Because based on my favorite dystopian/post-apocalyptic books and movies, England is always the last country standing when the rest of the world has gone to shit.
Remember Children of Men? Where the human race has gone infertile and the entire earth is going to a riotous hell-in-a-hand-basket? Who is the only semi-functioning government left standing?
Or in Alan Moore’s V For Vendetta (graphic novel > movie): After we experience a “nuclear war, which has left much of the world destroyed”, who prevails?
ENGLAND PREVAILS, BITCHES!
(Even if it means installing a fascist, totalitarian regime and/or teetering on the brink of anarchy.)
The genre of dystopian literature is a decidedly British tradition— from George Orwell’s 1984 to Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange. In all of these dystopias, the rest of the world is a dark and (for all we know) completely desolate/evil/chaotic place, but England remains the last hope for some sense of order… soul-crushing, bleak order.
Tied very closely with the dystopia is the genre of apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic fiction. From Mary Shelley’s The Last Man to “After London” to 28 Days Later, there’s a long and invariably linked British tradition of imagining oneself and one’s industrial world after some giant catastrophe. Some say it has to do with British anxieties over a falling empire, or impending invasion/threat from other world powers.
Dystopian narratives often occur as people feel society is falling apart (due to prolonged wars, famine, economic hardship) and imagine a world in which these factors— or some catastrophic singular event like Nuclear War or ALIENS or the 2012 Apocalypse— have destroyed old society. Thus, we are rebuilding society into some “New World Order”, where we will have to decide what sort of moral codes we will subscribe to in a bleak and desolate landscape. I think an apocalyptic narrative is often the implied catalyst for the Orwellian, fascist governments of British dystopians.
“But wait!” I hear you say. “Everyone who watches Roland Emmerich movies and modern-day dystopias knows that it’s AMERICANS (with their guns stockpiled with ammo and shit) that make it out alive. AND WE HAS FREEDOM.”
(Freedom buried under God’s wrath.)
I’m not going to dispute that America is now becoming a primary terrain for the post-apocalyptic narrative to playout. One could speculate it fits with the American tradition (read: stereotype) of rugged individualism, dangerous frontiers, and Old West survivalism.
But the prospects in American dystopia are somehow even MORE bleak than the English. Here, we don’t even have totalitarian systems attempting to restore some semblance of political order— we just have pure and utter “every man for himself” chaos. (See: Stephen King’s the Stand, Cormac McCarthy’s the Road, Richard Matheson’s I am Legend… hell, the list goes on.)
But more likely than my elaborate over-thinking analysis, America is the new setting because the popular writers/directors of dystopias are, well…American. Similarly, it obviously made sense that England was the go-to landscape for British dystopian writers in the 19th and 20th century.
Personally, I’m happy I’m in the UK. If anyone’s had two centuries of practice in dealing with hypothetical post-apocalyptic dystopian situations, it’s motherfucking England. You keep your McCarthy roads; I’ll take my chances with Victory Gin and war with Eurasia!