In this issue, we will look at why we react so strongly to the post-apocalyptic story.
Operation Blackjack was a slide show story in the UK Telegraph that caused widespread panic among it’s readers. The story caught my attention because it was based partly on the Jericho story.
The strip started by showing a date in the future “June 20 . . . 2PM” and the following message: “MI5 REPORT WARNS GOVERNMENT OF IMMINENT TERORIST ATTACK …”.
The story added:
“…a coalition of home-grown-grown extremists, Islamists and Christian Doomsday Cultists may have acquired the means to carry out a mass-casualty attack …”
“such a strike may take the form of a biological, chemical or even nuclear attack in one of the main population centers…”
“…human intelligence indicates that this group is ready to strike at any time …”
Further in to the story you get this photo, showing London undergoing a nuclear explosion:
All slides had this notice beneath them: “The events portrayed in this slide show are entirely fictitious”.
The Jericho story and Operation Blackjack warn of a possible near future. These types of stories, where the alternate future has a starting point in contemporary times, often reflect society’s fears.
Heather Urbanski states:
“The tension between our cultural excitement for change and our concurrent fear of it often expresses itself in cautionary tales that reflect the nightmares the Unknown can cause. These stories, it is important to note, do not simply express the fear, nor do they admonish us for it. Instead, they attempt to warn about the possible nightmares that encounters with the Unknown might generate, in an attempt to prepare us for just such situations.”
Since the 9/11 attacks, our society has been inundated with warnings of future attacks. The warnings in the press, the government bulletins, and the changes in airline travel. In California, I’ve seen bridges closed, public facilities canceling events (Ranch Seco, a park around a dismantled nuclear power plant, often has to close if the warning level goes up), and the closing of many public bathrooms (like at the BART stations).
The website Transparency has many essays on speculative fiction. One states:
"Into these worlds, which are our own and not our own, post-apocalyptic fiction places one or a handful of main characters whose job it is to experience the pageant of the future, confront its demons, and often undergo an ethical transformation and bring about a new world. These characters escape from and destroy oppressive dictators or machines that control human life; they go on journeys to find better ways of life; and they found new societies in which civilization will get a second chance. Their role is often to fight so that humanity will have a second chance, and to manifest ethical qualities that demonstrate it deserves a second chance.
As we observe them in our role as the audience (or reader), our identification with their struggle puts us in touch with our own ability to think and care about the fate of the human race. Similarly, as we are drawn into their battle, we get a sense of what it would be like to sacrifice for this very large goal and all-encompassing value, the human prospect. This not only puts us in touch with our better selves, it gives us a sense that our location in the unfolding of events might not be so inconsequential after all. It tells us that we can change our own world-turned-upside-down, the way they try to change the one they are in, to prevent a world like theirs from developing."
As we study what the authors of speculative fiction are trying to show us, we realize why the stories we study are so important to us. The message these stories tell us, that we can change the world, is so powerful that we feel the need to move from the role of TV fan into a larger role of advocator for a better future.
This also explains why the stories are so popular and taken so seriously. The Operation Blackjack story also has Easter Egg websites that had to be found and identified. One of those hidden website got five million viewers. Just imagine how many viewers actually saw the slide show if the hidden website got five million views.
Not only was Operation Blackjack widely popular, but unless you saw the hidden website with a countdown clock ending in 2010, you assumed the attack would be in six months (the slide show began in January depicting attacks in June). The closer it got to June the faster the story flew in the on-line realms. It was actually hard to keep up with all that was written and beyond the scope of this essay.
Before the attack date, depicted in Operation Blackjack, the author came forward and confessed that it was a fictional story expressing his political views. It was reported there had been calls to Homeland Security in the US, the MI5 in England, the author’s identity had been hacked and he was receiving harassing messages.
Feel free to post how these stories affected you and what your learned from them.
Operation Blackjack Part 1
Operation Blackjack Part 2
Operation Blackjack Part 3
Operation Blackjack Part 4
Operation Blackjack Part 5
Urbanski, Heather. Plagues, Apocalypses and Bug-Eyed Monsters, How Speculative Fiction Shows Us Our Nightmares. McFarland & Company Inc., 2007, page 145.
Sanes, Ken. Post-Apocalyptic Fiction: Holocaust as Metaphor from Transparency.