I dislike adding "porn" or "-sploitation" to descriptive phrases (torture porn, poorsploitation, etc. etc.), but if anything could be called an exploitation of our natural fear of an upcoming worldwide crisis, it would be 2012. Eerie shots of crowds praying en masse and major landmarks crumbling are juxtaposed with smaller stories, like the family struggling to stay together, a personal crisis set off by an ethical conundrum, and, of course, the prophet-kook in the woods who's happy to see his greatest suspicions verified.
Orson Welles's radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds sent Americans running for their bomb shelters in 1938, and once everyone realized it was just a radio show (and recovered from their terror), a new type of horror was born: the fear of massive worldwide destruction.
Every US generation thinks it's going to be the last. If it's not the Cold War, it's the Middle East, and if it's not aliens, it's the ice caps. But it's also a reality; it's mind-boggling to turn on the news and see footage of a tsunami that's killed about 230,000 people and injured and displaced so many more.
Is this some sort of cyclical paranoia that's mirrored in what we go to see on the big screen – a sort of catharsis where we face our worst fears, where we watch the cities we love and live in slide into the sea or get frozen over or crumble into smoke? Is this a form of exposure therapy – that if they can live through it, hey, so can we!
Whether you buy into the Mayan prophecies or not, you can tell from the commenters that it's a point of contention, no matter how far-fetched it may seem to some. There are people who openly believe the world will end on December 21st, 2012. And there are just as many who think it's a steaming pile of poop.
The worldwide disaster movie is a part of the cinematic landscape that, for some reason, the United States has firmly claimed. No other country has created disaster movies on the Roland Emmerich level. There's nothing wrong with going to see a movie for cool special effects, or to be scared, or to wonder if this is what our future could look like (except way less glamorous).
On the other hand, documentaries on real-life disasters like Trouble the Water make bupkus. Oscar nominations don't pay the bills. Is it easier to watch bigger, louder, faker disasters on the big screen than smaller, real ones? More importantly, why are we so interested in our destruction? Why did you go to see 2012 this weekend? Or didn't, as the case may be?