T.S. Eliot once wrote that the world would end not with a bang, but with a whimper. However, this weekend, the only person whimpering was Harold Camping. He's the 89-year-old radio broadcaster who's spent years pumping millions of dollars into an advertising campaign to convince the easily manipulated that Armageddon was due on May 21st, 2011.
It's easy for a secular nation like ours to scoff at the idiocy of people who walk the streets with a sandwich board proclaiming that 'the end of the world is nigh'. But in the U.S., Camping had developed a considerable following who genuinely believed that their time was almost up. They didn't even seem to care that he'd already announced the world's end in 1994, although he was at least smart enough to caveat his declaration with a question mark.
This time around, Camping was taking no chances. Despite predicting a happy finish for 200 million people, his vision of the rapture held less promising outcomes for the rest of the world's seven billion-strong population. Those that didn't enjoy a triumphant ascension to the kingdom of heaven would be left behind to endure 153 days of torture and torment. Like being stuck in a lift with Edna from The Apprentice.
The threats were sufficiently compelling to drive one woman in California to slit her daughters' throats and attempt suicide, in the hope that she might prevent them suffering through the world's end. Thankfully, the children survived their injuries and have been released to the custody of the Department of Children's Services.
There are all kinds of emergencies out there that we can prepare for. Take a zombie apocalypse for example
Poor old Harold is now facing double disappointment. Not only was he not called to greatness, his once-prospering radio business is likely to meet its maker quicker than he will. The International Business Times speculates that its $72 million value is going to be decimated: "In all likelihood, his ministry will be destroyed...there is no escaping his failed 2011 'Doomsday' prediction. He painted himself into a corner by using words like 'guaranteed' and 'without any shadow of doubt.' His massive publicity campaign just made it worse." If only he'd taken a tip from Carlsberg and hedged his bets. He's probably kicking himself right now.
Even so, it's interesting that the Centers for Disease, Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a new survival guide recently, to teach Americans about how to cope in an Armageddon scenario. Titled Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse, the guide presents all the usual advice - bottled water, food, sanitation and hygiene clothing and bedding, important documents - but in the context of a societal breakdown that would give George Romero a shit-fit.
Rather than just shouting "Shoot 'em in the head" or hiding out in a shopping mall until the bikers attack, the guide recommends more practical solutions. With tongue poking through a gruesome hole torn in its cheek, it reads "There are all kinds of emergencies out there that we can prepare for. Take a zombie apocalypse for example. That’s right, I said z-o-m-b-i-e a-p-o-c-a-l-y-p-s-e. You may laugh now, but when it happens you’ll be happy you read this, and hey, maybe you’ll even learn a thing or two about how to prepare for a real emergency."
It's actually a pretty smart way of encouraging people to read useful information about how to prepare for an emergency, especially in a country that's recently endured more than its fair share of natural disasters. But as the rapture debacle clearly illustrated, some people will believe anything they read. Look out Barbara, maybe they're coming to get you after all...
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