Ours is a time of crises it seems: the financial crisis, the Greek crisis, the refugee crisis, the ecological crisis. We can add a crisis of trust and a sense of disempowerment, in particular when it comes to the interaction between individuals and institutions. In particular media seem to thrive on these narratives labeling these so-called crises as quasi-apocalyptic events.
In pop culture, too, the fascination with the apocalyptic continues to flourish in documentaries about the end of history, in TV series, and films. “I saw the end of the world” from the X-Men: Apocalypse trailer suggests that the apocalypse is more than a label we ascribe to express a sense of urgency with which we ought to deal with certain social phenomena. It continues to be, it seems, a mysterium tremendum et fascinans, something we want, indeed must see with our own eyes.
At the same time, culture seems to be concerned with authenticity, or lack thereof: authenticity in politics, authentic identities, authentic nationhood, authentic religion, in reality TV, or docudramas. Social media seem to inhabit an ambivalent space when it comes to authenticity. They are often perceived as more spontaneous, immediate, and therefore more authentic than traditional forms of media and communication. Yet, text and image based communication often allows for the careful crafting of the communication flow and communicators can zoom in and out of a conversation in an instant.
This concern with authenticity manifests itself in the celebration of the inauthentic, the artificial, the fake, or the (artificial) construction of authenticity. A number of media and film narratives propagate a sense of nostalgia and the idea that society needs to return to an (idealized) past if it wants to rediscover its authentic self and renew an authentic way of life. The popularity of such narratives seems to suggest that we long for things we experience as lost, and this experience might indeed drive apocalyptic imaginations: a desire for renewal and return to a nostalgic past that can only be achieved through an apocalyptic event and the collapse of established power structures and economic forces of oppression.
Religion is deeply intertwined with ideas of the apocalypse and the question of authenticity in popular culture. At the same time, the biblical and early Christian understanding of the apocalypse has been transformed through popular culture. In religious terms, the apocalyptic event uncovers and reveals the truth. As such, authenticity can be seen as a blessing of the apocalypse. As transformative event, it is something to hope for and look forward to. It seems that this – original – religious meaning of apocalypse grips the popular imagination and current affairs. It is not the catastrophe itself that is most scary, but the individual who acts to realise their authentic freedom in catastrophe, not for catastrophe’s sake, but to bring about change and transformation, e.g., the terrorist, the religious fundamentalist, etc.
Popular media, then, draw on the rich pool of religious language, symbols, and meanings and repurpose them. Through leaving out and adding to the traditional texts, they create a new apocalyptic tradition. Religious believers participate and engage with this transformative process and often create their own popular media narratives of the apocalyptic.
The aim of this conference is to explore the themes of the apocalypse and authenticity – either separately or jointly – in popular culture, their theological and religious roots, as well as their socio-cultural, political, and economic relevance.
This conference is part of the conference series of the Theology, Religion and Popular Culture Network.
Conference Organization Team
Dr Alexander Darius Ornella, Senior Lecturer in Religion
Paul Dearey, Lecturer in Religion