One thing I tell people about movies and TV is that I’m not into post-apocalyptic stuff. Given the chance, I’d rather not spend time in a future dystopian wasteland. This reality is rough enough, I don’t need to inhabit someone else’s living hell.
So, it was with some trepidation that I asked Eerdmans to send along a copy of How To Survive The Apocalypse: Zombies, Cylons, Faith, and Politics at the End of The World. Turns out though, Robert Joustra and Alissa Wilkinson are using the word “apocalyptic” more in line with the idea of “revelation” instead of “end of the world.” In other words, apocalypse is more “about the revelation of the meaning, purpose, and end (and new beginning) of things” (35). As such, apocalyptic stories “expose hidden truths, wipe away the veneer, push past the superficial and simulacra, and get to the reality of things” (35).
Now that’s something I can get into. It helps as well that philosopher Charles Taylor figures prominently. I just finished James K. A. Smith’s exposition of him, and Joustra and Wilkinson reference that frequently. A brief overview of Taylor’s work and his notions of the secular occupies the second chapter of this particular book. He becomes a frequent ally in pop cultural commentary as the book progresses.
The aforementioned clarifications of the apocalypse is the subject of chapter 3. Here also, the authors take readers on a brief historical tour of the development of apocalyptic thought in the more traditional sense. It provides helpful background for how the traditional conception relates to the root word’s meaning. I would have like more interaction with the type of sources a theologian might reference, but it was interesting to get a different perspective.
Starting in chapter 4, each chapter tackles a different pop cultural artifact, bringing it into conversation with the apocalypse and Charles Taylor. First off, it’s Battlestar Galactica how it unmasks our understandings of what it means to be human. The next focuses on anti-heros, as represented in Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and House of Cards. The following chapter is an extended interaction with the social commentary in the movie Her. As one might hope, chapter 7 takes us to Westeros and the power play slide to subjectivism in Game of Thrones. The following two chapters were the least interesting to me because I don’t watch The Walking Dead (see first sentence) or Scandal. Chapter 10 takes us to Panem and before a concluding chapter that ties everything together, concluding with a discussion of the politics of the apocalypse.
On the whole, this is a great book, if like me, you like most of the TV shows used and want sophisticated analysis of them. Charles Taylor’s work provides a good unifying reference point. And the general idea of shows being a way to “unmask” and “reveal” the meaning, purpose, and end of things is spot on. If you’d like to think more deeply about some really great TV shows, this book is for you.