Burning city buildings against a dark grey backdrop

To Live or Die: The Survivalism Obsession

By Jernice Kelley
Web Content Contributor

Why is it that America has become obsessed with tales regarding the end of the world or post-apocalyptic settings? It is in our films, television series, literature, and video games. 

Apocalyptic films have been around as early as 1916 with Otto Rung’s “The End of the World”. Yet, the genre had never been more explored than between 2002 – 2020, kicking off with “28 Days Later” (2002). There have been more than 150 apocalyptic films released between this time, and they all explore some form of these classic tropes: 

● Exhaustion of resources

● Dangerous weather patterns and overexposure to the elements

● Radiation after a nuclear war

● Pandemic sickness

● Loss of technology

● Group dynamics in survival situations

I love a good zombie movie just as much as the next person. Although, I wonder, why has the uptick in interest occurred? People are so committed to the themes of these films and television series that they build shelters under their homes or stockpile guns and dry goods. They are preparing for the end, and they feel as though they will be the ones to make it.

There are several possibilities as to why we are obsessed with the end. A major theme I have noticed in this genre is the undeniable human hand that is responsible for the destruction.

As human beings, we are fascinated with ourselves and our place in the universe. We want to be the last ones standing when all else falls to the ground. At the same time, there is an underlying desire to deconstruct our modern world. To wipe our history and start fresh.

It is the allure of being the last generation. To be the last one in the chain or the one whose decisions supposedly determine whether or not history even exists.

The concept of rebirth is crucial to a survival situation. The apocalypse makes the world such a mess that there is a broad space to create something better. These films explore that. However, maybe our interests are not that deep. 

Some people enjoy this genre solely because it is pure chaos and entertainment. Maybe everybody who enjoys the genre imagines themselves surviving, and imagines what it’s like to have a clean slate with no rules. You can be a hero or a villain, and success or failure is ultimately up to you. 

Sometimes these films seem to become more popular when things aren’t going well in the world. Probably because it feeds off the fear, pessimism, and cynicism of time. Whatever the reason might be for our society’s love of this genre, I don’t see it dying down anytime soon.

Feature image created by Jernice Kelley

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