Is the world ending more often now?

With the release of 2012 today, we’re now at the peak of the apocalyptic movie season.  Soon to come will be the big-screen adaptation of The Road, which looks like yet another barrel of laughs.  This comes on the heels of animated apocalypse movies like 9 and WALL*E.  This raises an interesting cultural question — ...

By , a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School at Tufts University and the author of The Ideas Industry.

With the release of 2012 today, we’re now at the peak of the apocalyptic movie season.  Soon to come will be the big-screen adaptation of The Road, which looks like yet another barrel of laughs.  This comes on the heels of animated apocalypse movies like 9 and WALL*E

This raises an interesting cultural question — is the obsession with disaster/apocalypse films correlated with the economic downturn? 

I’m not sure the answer is yes. Roland Emmerich, the director of 2012, is just a disaster porn fetishist who likes to destroy the world every time he commits anything to celluloid (except mosques, apparently).  His first disaster flick, Independence Day, was released in 1996 — not exactly the peak of anxiety about the state of the world.  Deep Impact and Armageddon were also released during the boom times of the last decade.  Furthermore, during the Great Depression, Hollywood responded by instituting the Hays Code and releasing films about "high society" that allowed the downtrodden American to fantasize about The Good Life (a fact that Woody Allen ruthlessly exploited in his best and darkest film, The Purple Rose of Cairo). 

Still, the last time I can remember a spate of disaster flicks being released in such a fast and furious fashion was in the 1970’s, another period of economic and political upheaval.  Films like the Airport series, Poseidon Adventure, Towering Inferno, Meteor, and Virus were not pieces of great cinema, but they all seemed to hit some taproot of anxiety that caused people to flock to the movies.

So… a question to the pop culture mavens here at foreignpolicy.com — do down times lead to more disaster flicks, or is this just a trick of the light? 

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School at Tufts University and the author of The Ideas Industry. Twitter: @dandrezner

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