Thursday, April 18, 2013

The End: 50 Apocalyptic Visions from Pop Culture That You Should Know About... Before It's Too Late by Laura Barcella - A review by Nick Petersen

The World is Ending. That's what we are told constantly through movies, tv shows, books, everywhere. In the last few years we've lived through half a dozen end of the world prophecies, Y2K, the Mayan Calendar prophecy, the Valentine's Day prophecy from Ghost Busters 2, the list goes on. People have been speculating about the end of the world since societies began. Will it be an Earth shattering event, a disease, a zombie uprising, or a Biblical Apocalypse? This book explores some of the many Doom's Day predictions we've seen in the media, explaining the cultural relevance and factual probability of each in a funny yet intelligent way (Good news, zombies are considered unlikely!).

I think this particular book has a good deal of academic worth to middle school and high school teachers. It can be a fun introduction to a creative writing unit, (create your own apocalypse. How do you think the world will end?), or a film class where students are to critically examine social context in media (Invasion of the Pod People = McCarthyism), or just a fun examination of the myths of the world ending that might dispel the fake fears and get kids more socially alert, (overpopulation = Soylent Green). Critics may complain that the book's format isn't that of the standard text book, but I think this added variety would be a bit of fresh air in the classroom. An easy to read format with lots of side notes and interesting pictures would only encourage students to read more. And lets face it, it's a lot less dense than some of the usual assigned reading. You can finish this book in a quarter of the time it takes to read the Scarlet Letter or Where the Red Fern Grows. If it's easier to read, than a lot more kids will actually read it.

I think that the biggest reason for teachers and students to read this is to build up some skepticism in the classroom. In modern times we recieve thousands of messages from the media, and it's important to know how to think critically upon the validity of each statement. Could this happen? Why? What is this film trying to say? Is there an agenda behind this message? If everyone believed everything that they heard about the end of the world we would all be living in bunkers like the people on Doomsday Preppers. Teaching students how to tell the difference between what is real and fake, and make decisions based on these realizations is a vital part of growing up, and belongs in every curriculum.

Some links that I thought would be interesting to include with the teaching of this book:
The movie Idiocracy would be a great video representation for the "End of the World Unit". In the movie, future society hasn't been destroyed by aliens or a vampire infestation, but by it's own stupidity. Funny, yet poignant.

The movie Soylent Green, which strangely enough isn't featured in the book. The future has become so overwhelmingly crowded that food is a scarce commodity.

This link from the Fox News website is the perfect example of the kind of news we want our students to be wary of in the terror hungry media.

Another news link, this time dealing with the asteroid that exploded over Russia:

 In order to gain a broader sense of cultural variances of Biblical apocalypses, I think selected readings from the Book of Genesis, the Nordic story of Ragnorok, Nostradomus' predictions, and a description of the Y2K disaster. Many of these stories can be found here:


Renee Thornton said...

I like the idea of approaching learning from this perspective. Reading about pop-culture references will be much more interesting to students than a text book and will help them to look at the information from a different perspective. One of the hardest things to do with students is to get them to see the real world application of the knowledge they are getting in school, i imagine that using apocalyptic pop-culture references will help them to make the connection. Thanks for the review!

Clarice Howard said...

I do not believe that there is going to be an apocalypse, however, I love post-apocalyptic novels and shows/movies. I think including this books with some other novels or even movies that are post-apocalyptic could create something really interesting in the classroom. It is fun/silly and educational at the same time. I think this is something that will really get students talking and we need to get more students talking in classes. This is something where students are going to have so many questions, ideas, and opinions and students can debate and draw their own conclusions about these pop-culture references. I think that learning how to debate with a fun subject like this, will make debating fun and not something dreadful like I think it usually is.

Alexandra Klitz said...

When I was in high school, we actually had a sort of post-apocalyptic literature section in my senior English class. We read Brave New World and Anthem, and both of these books sparked interesting ethical debates. It sounds like this book would be a great companion piece to these books and others like them.
Also, is Soylent Green really a post-apocalyptic movie? I've seen the film multiple times and would argue that it is a pre-apocalyptic movie, as in once the human race finds out what is in soylent green, there could be a mass-riot ending in the apocalypse. That's just my opinion, and I think that that could in and of itself spark a debate in a film, English, or creative writing course.

Vincent Restivo said...

If this book lives up to the praise you passed on to it to the book seems like it would be fantastic for young readers. So many people now go through school all the way up to college without ever really engaging or growing their personal critical thinking skills this book seems like it is challenging kids to acquire these skills while also practicing reading skills.

Based on your review I am now strongly considering picking this up for my little cousin who is about ten years old and a strong reader.