The end of the world as a professor knows it

Relax: Dec. 21 is just the latest in a long history of apocalypse prediction dates.

The world isn't going to end on Dec. 21, despite what the Mayans did (or didn't) predict. Our fascination with stories about the end of the world isn't going to disappear, either.


These stories have been told since Plato wrote about the destruction of an entire continent in "Atlantis," says Barry Vacker, associate professor of media studies and production at Temple University's School of Media and Communication. Today, movies like "Armageddon" and "Melancholia" prove that the fascination continues. "What all of these various scenarios have in common is that they pose the question: 'What if?' Whether it's bioterrorism, global warming or a meteor, people like to think about what might happen and how we might react," says Vacker.


Some of the scenarios are ridiculous and unlikely, but others are more realistic. These fact-based scenarios are intended to explore human behavior and make an argument for how we should act as a unified species, not how we should act as individuals. "Examining what would happen if we continue burning fossil fuels or use nuclear weapons can serve as a warning," Vacker says.


Vacker's latest book, "The End of the World -- Again: Why the Apocalypse Meme Replicates in Media, Science, and Culture," will be published later this month -- and it's likely sales won't be hurting. "In the past year, NASA has spent $4 million looking for near-earth objects," Vacker says.

"Compare that to the $550 million the American public has spent for tickets to 'Armageddon.'"


If you go

Vacker will be participating in a three-evening celebration marking the predicted end of the world at PhilaMOCA (531 N. 12th St.) Dec. 19-21. Events include panel discussions, apocalyptic film screenings and an end of the world party — with a countdown.

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