People who are genuinely concerned about having to face an apocalyptic scenario in their own lifetimes generally fall into one of a few categories. There are evangelical Christians anticipating the Rapture. There are foreign-policy paranoiacs who foresee nuclear war. And there are the environmentalists who figure they need a back-up plan for when the ozone layer gets shredded or smog becomes sentient or overpopulation turns the earth into a giant Japanese capsule hotel. I once got talking to a Brooklyn hipster who told me about her community garden and how it taught her and her neighbors such important skills. “I know what you mean. Like patience and gratitude and all the other old-fashioned virtues modern society lost when we moved off the farm.”
“No, I mean that when oil runs out, we’ll have to know how to feed ourselves. Like, I’ll be fine, because I raise my own chickens.”
And I don’t even want to talk about the fortysomething guy who told me we don’t need to stop global warming, we just need to slow it down to the point where the crisis won’t come until after space-flight technology is advanced enough to permit a mass interplanetary evacuation.
Joss Whedon lives in Los Angeles. Between the Christians, the warmongers, and the greens, which type of doomsayer do you think he encounters most often?
At the end of Cabin in the Woods [SPOILER], the redhead and the stoner allow an apocalypse to occur. The top geeks and film buffs of the conservative movement have been debating whether that choice makes moral sense on its own terms, and in the course of that debate introduced a few metaphorical comparisons. Jonah Goldberg said the kids were “objectively pro-genocide.” Ross Douthat brought up Omelas, with pro-life echoes. Foreign policy was a popular theme. Commentary accused Cabin of “enthusiasm for American decline,” Sonny Bunch (who started this whole discussion) compared the Old Ones to genocidal dictators, and I seem to remember someone else comparing Sigourney Weaver and Bradley Whitford to the CIA, which I guess makes the kids enemy combatants. Or maybe they were supposed to be draft dodgers.
Joss Whedon could have had these things in the back of his mind when he wrote the script. (He probably wasn’t thinking about radical Islam, though, since he already made his movie about the pro’s and cons of fanatical belief. It was called Serenity.) But if Cabin in the Woods can be traced back to a rant that Joss Whedon’s internal monologue has actually delivered in real life, my guess is that the rant sounded more like this:
Congratulations, mister cocktail-party dipstick, you are the 1,000th person this year who wants to tell me about the precautions he’s taking against the coming environmental apocalypse. You say you’ve got a bunker half a mile above sea level fully stocked with spam and organic toilet paper. You’ve learned how to bow hunt. You’ve got a hydroponic-farming expert on retainer. By the way, sucker, James Cameron hired the same guy, and he’s paying him a lot more money, so maybe you want to double that spam order.
But let me confront you with a blindingly obvious truth: If the apocalypse comes, you are almost certainly going to die. Your wife is going to die. Your friends are going to die. Even Mel Gibson is going to die, and he was in Mad Max. You work in PR. You couldn’t even find the craft service table on a post-apocalyptic movie set. You really expect to stay alive by kicking it Jeremiah Johnson style after the ocean takes over the San Joaquin Valley?
I don’t know why this is so hard for you to grasp. Your ancestors were plenty reconciled to the possibility of death: My mother might get bitten by a copperhead, my brother might catch the consumption, and I might get sent off to war or mauled by a puma or shot by a bandit. I’m not asking you to face all that. I’m not asking you to achieve some kind of Zen enlightenment where you are perfectly at peace with death because the universe is all one or whatever. I am just asking you to make the tiniest concession to your own mortality that can possibly be imagined: In the highly unlikely event of an honest-to-god apocalypse, absolutely everyone is going to die, including the two of us. That’s what an apocalypse means.
Fake Joss Whedon is just as annoyed as I am with fortysomething guys who earnestly believe that in thirty years, when Earth goes to pieces, humanity will survive by colonizing other planets. Actually, he’s probably even more annoyed, since they’ve plagiarized the entire premise of Firefly. The point is that sometimes, people need to be motivated into putting up a fight against armageddon, and sometimes they need to be told not to worry about armageddon so much. For the first, we’ve got Bill Pullman’s monologue from Independence Day. For the second, there’s Cabin in the Woods.