Memeing Through the Apocalypse

“In a way, the movie “White Noise” has provided a point of grim humor about the situation facing the residents of East Palestine – the joke no one wanted to make.
“Everybody’s been talking about that,” Ratner said of his friends and neighbors who are keeping in close touch through the crisis. “I actually made a meme where I superimposed my face on the poster and sent it to my friends.”
– “After a train derailment, Ohio residents are living the plot of a movie they helped make

I am exhausted watching the apocalypse unfold in various art forms. Growing up, I was an avid viewer of horror movies. My friends introduced me to the menacing nature of slashers, the adventure and terror of zombie flicks, and the silly gore in 80’s body horror. Before the plague, I loved watching interpretations of the end of the world. Movies like 28 Days Later and then 28 Weeks Later presented how governments would respond to an infectious outbreak. My eyes were glued to the climate change horror movies like The Day After Tomorrow where Jake Gyllenhaal gets holed up in the New York City Public Library trying to survive the next ice age or Snowpiercer where a train circles the globe and sections of cars hold different social classes. When you’re not going through an apocalypse, these films are ways to imagine our futures.

Lately, the quality of these apocalyptic tv shows, films, and books has exceeded in their realness, emotional depth, and poetic interpretations. In every episode of HBO’s Station 11, my tears could not be held back as the traveling Shakespeare troupe, twenty years after the start of their pandemic, put on gorgeous plays with musical accompaniment to push through their miserable and dangerous existence. They had etched into the side of their caravan “Survival is Insufficient.” Or the video game adaptation The Last of Us, week after week has brought new fear and adventure as fungus-infected zombies try to extinguish humanity. And lastly, Paul Trembly’s novel and M. Night Shylaman’s most recent film Knock at the Cabin spell out that true love must be sacrificed for the end to be delayed a little longer. These television shows, films, and books are emotionally draining as it’s hard not to recollect the trauma we endured and continue to.

Of course, I could just not engage with the cultural revival of apocalyptical art forms. Yet, it’s difficult to ignore since it’s in the zeitgeist.

And I know I’ve been conflating apocalypse with the end of the world. As a culture, this is how we understand the two. Yet one of the main reasons we’ve done so is because of our understanding of the Book of Revelation, which is both an end of the universe tale/beginning of God’s City and a revealing of the Roman Empire’s utter disregard for all life. Apocalypse means “to reveal” not “last things,” that’s a different word: eskhatos.

The apocalypse of these last three years in the US has revealed a great deal. It has shown that the lives of our elderly are not a priority and the economy is more important (source). We have continued to demonstrate disregard for Black and Brown people and communities as they have died at a greater percentage than White people (source). It has shown us that we would rather have personal comfort than wear a mask for our neighbor’s health. This apocalypse crushed the financial fragility of faith communities since many have closed, especially smaller majority Black attended ones (source). And the list goes on and on with the inequalities and injustices that continue to perpetuate.

It’s easier to meme the apocalypse than to face our current reality,
to watch or read a worse pandemic (Station 11 or The Stand),
to ignore the widening inequalities, especially when they do not affect you,
to only care for those in your immediate circle.

It’s much more difficult to be engaged in your neighborhood and involved in leftist orgs. People can be difficult to organize with! Yet it’s often up to those willing to do the work, to make the calls, and to build relationships, who create movement and movements. Don’t get lost behind your screens. Deepen your relationships. Fight for a just world.

Published by brother timothie

I am a graduate of Union Theological Seminary in New York City. My interests include constructive theologies, liberation theologies, documentaries, far-left politics, homelessness ministries, creative liturgies, poetry, and pop culture.

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