I wrote a couple weeks ago about a movie called Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. It probably belongs in my “So I Just Saw…” series, but I didn’t want to include it there because I didn’t think it elicited a strong enough reaction in me to deserve that treatment. Of course, I wrote about it anyway, so make what you will of that.
The point is, as far as apocalyptic stories go, it was highly lacking. I thought it was self-absorbed, and completely devoid of any actual attempts at answering questions about what the world would do if an astronomical object were going to impact it.
Enter Our Time Has Come by 19 Action News.
They’re a small indie band that hails from Cleveland, Ohio with two albums to their name. They appear to have disbanded a couple years ago, which is a shame because both of their albums are, objectively, the best things.
I digress though. This is a post about a good example of how to explore the end of the world.
Our Time Has Come is a concept album that posits a scenario in the near future where an asteroid (or meteoroid or whatever) is on course to collide with Earth within 24 hours. From that beginning, we go into a series of songs considering how different people would react to this news.
Every scenario sung about is so much better drawn than any of the scenes from Seeking a Friend. The one I find most moving is in the song “When a Bird Has Got Your Tongue.” An end of the world nut talks about his feelings at finally being proven right after twenty years of doomsaying. It’s a haunting song that asks what kind of satisfaction we can derive from obsessing over something so useless. The speaker says he can sleep easier knowing he’s right, but this is only after years of misery and alcoholism. It’s a poor reward for devotion to telling people they’re going to die, and there’s nothing they can do about it.
It reminds me of the exchange between Rorschach and the news vendor in Watchmen after Dr. Manhattan retreats to Mars to get away from the accusations that he’s carcinogenic, essentially neutralizing America’s only advantage that’s kept the ongoing Cold War from turning into a nuclear exchange. The vendor asks Rorschach, who’s in his civilian disguise as a sandwich board carrying doomsayer, what he thinks of the world not ending that day like he previously predicted. Rorschach replies with his typical candor, “Are you sure?”
Rorschach feels vindicated because he sees how the events of the day have very likely set in motion the end of the world. Of course, he’s also supposed to be insane. The doomsayer in “When a Bird” seems fully aware of the futility of his life’s work. At the end, his vindication is little comfort for the pile of regrets his life has become.
There are other songs on Our Time Has Come that deal with similar small scenarios: people looting because they have only a day left, and if nothing else they’re going to get what they deserve; a couple of lovers contemplating suicide together instead of waiting for the world to end; a raucous party going on because there’s nothing else to do; people asking, “Do we deserve this fate?” Each instance deals with the apocalypse in a very human way, and they’re all tinged with the fatalism that you would expect if you had only a day left to live. It’s far better than anything portrayed in Seeking a Friend.
But then there’s a twist in the last third of the album. This is the near future, so we’ve colonized Mars. A transport ship that was en route to the Mars colony with supplies has found itself in the path of the asteroid (or meteoroid or whatever) and unable to get out of the way. The two objects collide, and the ship is destroyed, but the asteroid is broken up into small enough pieces that when it reaches Earth, it rains down as harmless meteors burning up in the atmosphere.
The album ends with a song asking what should be done now. The entire world has just faced its mortality, and everyone has to ask if how things have been is how they should be. It’s quite hopeful. We’re suddenly in a world where our actions matter again, and the only question we have left to answer is, “What should those actions be?”
Well, what should they be?