Conquistadors: Conquerors of the New World/Agents of Apocalypse

By Megan Schillereff, Ball State University

Image via Google

In current conversation, the idea of apocalypse and the interconnected idea of the posthuman are usually presented as science fiction or fantasy. Despite its popularity within the fictional universes of both the page and the screen, apocalyptic events have occurred within the course of human history, traceable all the way back to the Age of Exploration and beyond. And, while most people wouldn’t immediately think of events that occurred that early in the course of human history as having any connection to the post-apocalypse or the posthuman, there are actually some fascinating examples in the historical record. One of the best examples of the posthuman working within a historical apocalypse can be seen through the armored Conquistadors’ genocidal conquest of the Americas.  By reading the Conquistadors as possessing an early type of posthuman body because of the superiority that their armor granted them, their power as agents of the apocalypse becomes more visible within the context of the Spanish conquest of the Incan empire.

This blog post presents an example of posthumans operating within apocalyptic historical events. Viewing these historical instances of cataclysm as examples of apocalypse is something that James Berger, in his book After the End (1999), discusses. He explains that “historical events are often portrayed apocalyptically—as absolute breaks with the past, as catastrophes bearing some enormous or ultimate meaning” (xii). Berger also lists a few historical cases of apocalyptic moments: “the Holocaust, for example, or Hirsohima, or American slavery, the American Civil War, the French Revolution, the war in Vietnam’” (xii).  In a similar way, the conquest of the Americas certainly contained a definitive break from the past, as life for the Native Americans was completely and permanently altered after the arrival of the Europeans. For this reason, I think that Berger’s list of historical apocalypses can be expanded to include instances such as the Spanish obliteration of the Incans.

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Immersion and the Social Aspect in Bungie’s Destiny

By Kaitlyn Bell, Ball State University      

In his study After the End, James Berger says “the post-apocalypse in fiction provides an occasion to go ‘back to basics’ and to reveal what the writer considers to be truly of value” (8).  I believe this is especially true in Bungie’s video game Destiny. The plot of this massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) is based around an alien entity known as the Traveler. The Traveler, an alien, mechanical orb with life giving powers, came to our solar system and brought with it what became known as the Golden Age. Human lifespans tripled under its influence, and technology advanced at an unprecedented rate. This couldn’t last forever, of course, and things eventually came crashing down. Agents of “the Darkness” found the Traveler and damaged it critically, but the specifics on how are left vague. Its last act was to create Guardians — superhumans who can wield energy called “the Light” — and Ghosts, incredibly complex little machines that act as a helper for their Guardian and bring him or her back from death.

The principle belief of Guardians is that they must work together to protect The City, where they and Lightless citizens make their home in the crippled Traveler’s limited protection. This is where I see proof of Berger’s concept. Bungie decided when they made this an online game that the most important thing would be cooperation, and I think that’s a strong statement given today’s common perception of what happens after the end. [BA1] Watching a show like The Walking Dead, it’s easy to believe that if civilization as we know it were to fall, we would all turn to killing each other. Instead, Destiny imagines that the strongest among us would emerge to protect the weak. Moreover, it places you in the shoes of the protector. It tasks you with driving back the Darkness, because Bungie believes that what’s most important in society is the human drive to support and protect each other. To get players to feel that drive, immersion was essential to Destiny’s development, and video games can accomplish that immersion in ways other forms of media simply can’t.

When you read a book, you know you’re not the hero in the story. You’re turning the pages for someone else to play out their own story. Of course, you relate to the character, and that is often unquestionable. The thing is, you can’t relate to the character in the book the same way you can relate to an avatar you made to look like yourself in a video game. Watching a movie creates an even more powerful divide, because you’re watching all these other people perform feats and have conversations, and you’re certain that none of them are you. By contrast, when you’re playing a video game, it can be easy to forget that the protagonist isn’t actually you. Not just because you can make your avatar look like you, but because you see through their own eyes, effectively making them your eyes. Playing a horror game, you might flinch or scream when you get scared, even though you know that you’re not actually in any physical danger. Playing RPGs (roleplaying games) driven by the player’s decisions, you will almost always play through making the decisions you feel you might make under those circumstances. It is because of this phenomenon that Destiny is able to not only suggest that the most important human quality is our ability to work together, but it can also reward and encourage that behavior.

I’ll speak from personal experience here. I’ve played Destiny alone and with my roommate. When I played alone, I thought it was the best game ever. I had fun, I loved it, but looking back I can see that was because I hadn’t become aware of my isolation. Now that I’ve played with someone else, I hate having to play alone. It is so much more rewarding to share the experiences of an MMORPG like Destiny with someone else. My roommate and I most enjoy playing in the Crucible, an arena that pits players against players. This is where cooperation is most rewarding for us. When we’re in the Crucible, we are an indomitable duo (not really, but it feels that way). If one of us sees a threat, she calls it out for the other. If one of us is in a losing fight, she falls back to the other so we can overcome it together. When we play games like Destiny, we fall into this cadence of teamwork that I don’t see replicated in any other aspect of our lives, and I know other gamers who have had the same sort of experience. Knowing what that feels like, I can’t imagine any other medium ever being able to compare to video games in the same way. Berger is absolutely right to say that content producers will bring the things they consider most important to the forefront of anything they make, and video games allow players to relate to those things on a deep, personal level. Being an online game, Destiny encourages its players to support and protect not only story aspects like the City and its citizens, but also the other, real, living people with whom you’re playing the game. In this way, Destiny is actually fostering camaraderie and empathy between players, encouraging relationships that can’t be found through other mediums.

     This is an important move for post-apocalyptic media to be taking, and one that seems to only be possible in video games. So far, there’s been no post-apocalyptic show or movie where every person is instinctively and unwaveringly allied against whatever brought about the apocalypse. However, we do see this behavior in Destiny. If more video game developers take this initiative, we could start to build a notion in our society that would encourage solidarity in the face of an apocalypse, rather than encouraging a divide-and-conquer mentality.

Works Cited

Berger, James. After the End: Representations of Post-Apocalypse. University of Minnesota

Press, 1999. Pp. XI-57.

Bungie. Destiny. Activision, 2014. PlayStation 4

“No Tomorrow” and the Uplifting Apocalyptic Narrative

By Abigail Gelopulos, Ball State University

Evie Covington, the main character of the Warner Bros. apocalyptic television show No Tomorrow, is a nervous perfectionist who lacks the confidence necessary to implement changes in her life that would make her feel more on track to who she wants to be.  Xavier Holliday, her male counterpart, is introduced as her crush from the Farmers’ Market.  As their relationship progresses, Xavier inspires in Evie the necessary confidence for her to go after what she wants in life.  The changes Evie makes to her own life inspire those around her to start changing their lives as well.  The direction this story takes deviates drastically from the traditional apocalyptic storyline because it encourages engagement with a flawed society in an attempt to fix it rather than forsaking the current society and starting over because it’s flawed.

When they meet, Xavier makes the offhand comment, “I’ve gotta live life while I can” (“Pilot” 00:08:23-00:08:28), which then leads to his overwhelming explanation of the asteroid 2000 WX 354 and its trajectory toward Earth. He finishes by explaining to Evie that “humankind only has twelve days and eight months left on earth” (“Pilot” 00:08:37-00:08:38).  His reaction to the impending apocalypse is to try to live life as limitlessly and fearlessly as possible—  and to encourage others to do the same before it’s too late.  He explains that he has an “Apocalyst” (“Pilot” 00:11:54) where he has written down “every fantasy [he’s] ever had.  Every regret [he wants] to fix, every wrong [he wants] to right. Every last thing [he wants] to do before things go kaput” (“Pilot” 00:11:59-00:12:09).  He inspires and encourages Evie to make a similar list, and they spend the majority of the show crossing items off their lists.  Continue reading

Nothing Happens in Ohio: A Short Story

By Audrey Bowers, Ball State University

2028 – The Change  

Nothing can stop me. I’m a survivor of the zombie apocalypse.

“Come along Toby,” I say to my dog. My eyes squint to see what this abandoned city might offer me.

Toby, my corgi, trails after me through the brick streets of what I think was once Kent, Ohio. Kent was nothing like New York, where I’m from before the apocalypse. Now the entire Earth is in ruins and the cities all look just about the same, although Ohio has proven itself to be less chaotic. This place is not anything like the old New York, but I thought that this place could provide me with what I needed: food, water, and safety. I miss the days when I had sparkling water at my fingertips and fresh vegan food at the market around the corner. Now I’m lucky to be eating anything.

Five years ago, I would be binge watching Gilmore Girls. There isn’t time for that now. Netflix is long gone. I’m not the same person I was back then and Toby isn’t the same happy pup I met a few years ago when I adopted him. We no longer live in that world, the one I took for granted. I used to be a writer, and the worst thing to happen was my barista messing up by order.

At this moment, I’d be totally fine with non-soy milk in my latte if it meant not fighting zombies every day.  I just live my life, without trying to impress anyone. I scavenge for food, kick zombie ass, and take care of my corgi. I assume that I’m one of the only humans left. I don’t believe I have seen another living human being since 2026, a few months after the apocalypse began. Most beings even resembling humans were flesh eaters.

I wander into the remnants of what I imagine to be Kent, Ohio. I think there was a college here at one point and an Applebees or something perhaps. Around the corner I see a zombie that seems stranger than usual. The thing gnaws and yawns and groans at me while half of its face hangs dutifully above its shoulder.

“Gnaaaaaah”

This isn’t good, I think. My stomach twists and turns, but there is still fresh ammunition in my gun. I should just kill it but then it starts speaking to me. I can’t believe what I am hearing, feeling befuddled by it all. What happened to the zombie slayer I once was?

Then all of a sudden, the groaning stops and a real, human voice comes out of this undead body.

“Hello…” The creature says to me.

“He…Hell…Hey.” I say. Talking was hard in this moment. If the zombie wasn’t speaking to me, it would already be dead.

I turn around and a mirror image of that creature appears, similar but not exactly the same as the other one.

“Hello…” This creature says to me, in the same voice.

In this moment, I feel really afraid. Two talking zombies? Part of me wants to shoot them. The other part of me longs for conversation.

“Um hi?” I ask, knowing that I should have been pulling the trigger.

Then another talking zombie appears on my left and another one appears on my right. Their voices are like a sweet song, calling me home, yet they are also harsh enough to remind me that this is really the end. I fire my gun into the air because I feel desperate for a way out. The zombies don’t back off. They continue closing in on me, pulling me into a warm embrace while ripping the skin off of my arms and legs. I won’t lie, it hurts like hell and I scream out, but eventually the pain subsides and I am still alive, but in a different way, perhaps even more alive than I was before.

My throat closes up and I see a thin lens of blood coating the outer layer of my eyes. My thoughts become muddied and incoherent, leaving me to lose sense of who I am and what I am even doing, yet I find comfort in this strange community for whatever reason.

We go searching for our next victim, singing a bitter but somehow sweet song.

2030 – Life After the Change

It’s been two years of wandering around with these people. While we may not be alive anymore, we are still very much people, just functioning in a different way.  Nothing much happens here in Ohio, but it’s okay because I don’t have to worry about dying anymore. All I do is sing and eat flesh. It’s a pretty rad life. I remember how I used to be consumed by the weight of the demands of life, and now I’m just kind of here. There’s something nice about that.

The “real” humans are dying out and they aren’t breeding. I worry that we will run out of food, but we can’t seem to control our appetites. Each and every day goes by and I feel my cognitive functions muddied by the weight of hunger. We’ve survived this far; however, I’m sure that we will figure something out or maybe we will die once and for all. Maybe we deserve that.

Being a zombie doesn’t completely fit with the stereotype that the media used to have. I am nothing like Romero’s zombies. I’m pretty much the same, except for the flesh-eating thing. Us zombies still have smart conversations sometimes, and we keep on singing our songs because they’re beautiful yet dead in a certain way.

My friend Julia says, “Alice, we met this nice human and we think we don’t want to eat her yet!” She has this unwavering enthusiasm and optimism that makes me want to punch her in the throat, but I don’t because she’s my friend.

“But I’m so hungry!” I snarl back.

“Gah, Alice, just listen to her voice,” Julia practically whines.

So I try to restrain myself as I stumble with Julia on over to the human, “Okay, but I can’t promise that I won’t try to eat her.”

Julia just rolls her eyes at me.

Samantha is nice, I guess. She seems tired and weak, and, if I had a heart, it would be hurting for her. She sings this song, and it pours out of her mouth like a fine wine.

“Fine, we’ll keep you,” I say to her, “but I can’t promise that we won’t try to eat you and if you try to kill us, you’re done. Kapeesh?”

“Uh, okay,” Samantha says, “I really like your singing and I hope that you’ll let me live, you know, the way that I am.”

“No promises,” I smirk. Even if I didn’t eat her, that wouldn’t stop the rest of us from trying.

A look of horror flashes on her cold, tired face. If you didn’t know any better, you’d say that she’s one of us. I imagine that all she did before the apocalypse was work and after the apocalypse hit, she probably wondered around aimlessly looking for food and shelter. Now, she’s joined us: wondering around aimlessly, finding food to eat, and singing because well, there’s nothing else to do.

1980s Nostalgia in “Turbo Kid” (2015)

by Nick Smith, Ball State University

Image via Netflix

“The world as we know it is gone…. Scarred by endless wars, humanity struggles to survive in the ruins of the old world. Frozen in an everlasting nuclear winter. This is the future. This is the year 1997” (00:01:17-00:01:34). These are among the first words of the 2015 film, Turbo Kid, spoken offscreen by Frederic, an important character in the film. This, along with a cover of John Farnham’s 1986 song “Thunder in Your Heart,” are the first things heard in the film. These elements quickly establish the setting of the film, giving it its ‘80s wasteland feel. The film’s main character, The Kid, wants nothing more than for the world to return to the way that it was. He looks through old comic books and decides he wants to be like his hero, Turbo Rider. That’s why he sees it as his responsibility to take up the superhero mantle himself and put a stop to the tyrannical villain who rules over the civilians, Zeus. While most post-apocalyptic narratives portray looking back as a weakness, Turbo Kid modifies this, presenting it as a strength via The Kid’s nostalgia for the 1980s.

To be nostalgic and long for the past in a post-apocalyptic environment is not unreasonable – the arrival of an apocalypse is sure to disrupt time and instantly cause some to desire to be back in the time before the apocalypse. This representation of the apocalypse as a disruption to the temporal sequence is not uncommon. James Berger, an expert on apocalyptic theory, writes, “[Apocalypses] function as definitive historical divides, as ruptures, pivots, fulcrums separating what came before from what came after” (Berger 5). The divide in this film is very clear. Before we get to the wasteland that is the year 1997, there was the prosperous 1980s – which is why we see many items from this era in the film. During the introductory sequence of the movie, The Kid returns to his dwelling, an underground bunker. This bunker is filled with items The Kid found necessary to keep, most notably a Rubik’s cube, a Walkman, a View-Master, and some gum that bears a resemblance to Hubba Bubba. These items serve next to no practical purpose for survival. Rather, they serve as a method of entertainment, a way of forgetting the way things are and remembering the way they used to be, before the end.   Continue reading

Ocean Erasure: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

by Tynan Drake, Ball State University

An erasure poem is a “poem that sculpts itself out of another larger text” in order to commentate on or derive new meaning from the original text (Brewer, “Erasure and Blackout Poems”). Erasure poems are created by taking choice words or phrases from the source text and deleting everything else in between. This technique can influence the interpretation of the reading by changing the context or be used to enhance the impact of the story by highlighting the most striking components.

 

This erasure poem was created from the text of Kiara Alfonseca’s article “The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, full of ocean plastic, keeps growing” in order to emphasize the growing problem of plastic waste in our oceans. Please read the full article at: https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/great-pacific-garbage-patch-full-ocean-plastic-keeps-growing-n859276

 

Ocean Erasure: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

 

monster          lurking

between Hawaii and California

vast dump   plastic waste   ocean

growing rapidly        a study        warned

Ocean Cleanup    a problem    to understand

non-profit            led the            initiative

more          we thought          not too late

Trash Free Seas      he sees      opportunity

stop          plastic          waterways

monitor    consumption    disposal

think about                 living

end        day        a people problem

far away     foreign     always downstream

power               changes               outflow

stop              the course              discarded

improve          cleanup          capture, concentrate

ship            the patch back to land            debris

meant to kill         lost and discarded         oceans

damaged ecosystems         deadly to         life

humans    great strides    turning    around

waste      stopping      our waterways

awareness                  is growing

people          make          an impact

 

Works Cited

Alfonseca, Kiara. “The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, full of ocean plastic, keeps growing.” NBC News, 25 Mar. 2018, www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/great-pacific-garbage-patch-full-ocean-plastic-keeps-growing-n859276. Accessed 27 Mar. 2018.

Brewer, Robert Lee. “Erasure and Blackout Poems: Poetic Forms.” Writer’s Digest, 21 Nov. 2014, www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/erasure-and-blackout-poems-poetic-forms. Accessed 10 Apr. 2018.

Carol Peletier: Redefining Gender Roles in AMC’s “The Walking Dead”

Olivia Hershman, Ball State University

Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier – The Walking Dead, Season 5, Episode 13 – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

The Walking Dead and its representation of post-apocalyptic humanity has made it popular since its 2010 premiere. With each new season, the writers of this zombified survival narrative push the boundaries of audience comfort and force their viewers to confront questions about humanity, gender roles, and the quest for survival. One of the show’s main characters, Carol Peletier, often works as the agent to raise such questions and blur the lines between the expected roles that women take before and after the apocalypse.

At the start of the show, Carol joins a group of apocalypse survivors from Atlanta, Georgia, along with her abusive husband and their young daughter. Carol is easily recognizable by her shaved head and skittish behavior typical of any battered woman. When her husband is bitten in a zombie attack, Carol is the one who delivers the blow to his brain, assuring that he does not come back as a zombie. From this point on, the audience sees Carol gain confidence and strength, becoming the independent and savvy post-apocalyptic woman she needs to be to survive. Continue reading

“Then, Everything Changed”: The Post-apocalypse of “Avatar the Last Airbender”

by Bethany Benkert, Ball State University

 

Avatar the Last Airbender is a fantastic television show (which is much better than the live-action movie) that ran on Nickelodeon from 2005 to 2008. It features a world where some people can control, or “bend,” water, earth, fire, and air. It also features a world under siege where the only hope from the oppression of the Fire Nation is the Avatar. A waterbender, Katara and her brother discover Aang, the fated Avatar, frozen in ice one hundred years after the start of the war and help him prepare to face the Fire Nation.

Avatar the Last Airbender logo in mountains

Image via Avatar Music

I am going to show how Avatar the Last Airbender engages with post-apocalyptic themes, especially through the distortion of time, to create sympathy for the characters, thus creating a connection with the audience.

One line from the opening is: “Long ago, the four nations lived together in harmony. Then, everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked” (“The Southern Air Temple”, 00:00:13-00:00:16). I would like to draw attention to that phrase, “Then everything changed.”  In James Berger’s book After the End: Representations of Post-Apocalypse he says that, “A post-apocalyptic theory of trauma discovers that events happen and, to borrow Yeats’s apocalyptic rhetoric, ‘things fall apart’ and ‘change utterly’—but that remainders and reminders, signs and symptoms survive” (26). After the Fire Nation attacked the world, everything changed; it did “change utterly.” There are still signs of this trauma, even one hundred years later. It is through this trauma that the audience is able to connect with the characters and recognize the impact of the apocalypse. The show portrays this trauma through the use of temporal sequencing. Continue reading

“The Girl With All the Gifts”: A Posthuman novel vs. A Pro-human Film

by Hannah Partridge, Ball State University

Image result for the girl with all the gifts book cover

Image via Amazon.com

M. R. Carey’s 2014 novel The Girl With All the Gifts presents a new twist to the genre of post-apocalyptic zombie novels by making the protagonist of the story a zombie herself. Melanie, who believes she is an ordinary young girl and knows no other life than living in a cell on a military base and being led at gunpoint to her daily lessons with Miss Justineau, is in fact a child infected by the zombie fungus, but in a way that allows her to maintain conscious thought. Melanie’s ability to think for herself eventually leads her to make a decision that destroys all living humans, giving the novel a dramatic post-human ending. M. R. Carey uses the post-apocalyptic zombie genre to create what appears to be a progressive narrative, including diverse characters representing often-ignored intersections of gender and race. However, Carey then turns this on its head by ultimately condemning all humans as corrupt and immoral, forcing his readers to reconsider our own humanity and question our supposed superiority as a species.

While the film version of The Girl With All the Gifts stays true to its source material in many ways, there are some significant differences. Interestingly, most of these differences work to undermine Carey’s original intent of presenting a posthuman narrative. The concept of the posthuman literally means “beyond human,” and it envisions a future earth without the existence of humans. Although they are telling the same story, I argue that the film version of The Girl With All the Gifts presents an anti-posthuman stance, which diminishes the powerful and cautionary message found in the novel. Continue reading

Ad Out: A Short Story

by Leah Heim, Ball State University

And to think that we complained about that Fort Wayne tournament.

© Photo by Cynthiamcastro of Pixabay.com

None of the parents went. Pendleton to Fort Wayne on a Thursday night? Give me a break. Parents had a hard time going to home matches. Overtime isn’t optional when the droughts last summer exploded food prices, or when the tornado last January ripped the shingles off your house, or when your kid has to have a suspicious mole hacked off. My parents could buy me a new tennis racket, and I was lucky: most girls used rackets their grandmas had kept in sheds to swat at carpenter bees, back in the day when bees had existed. Regripping a racket meant wrapping it with duct tape. Our school hadn’t gotten new tennis skorts since my mom played in the 2010s, and getting the skort with only one, discreet stitch in the crotch was the incentive to be number one singles.

God, imagine! We were all worried about tennis: about whether or not we’d make varsity, whether or not we’d finally whip those brats from Elwood High at county. But what else were we supposed to worry about? It had been our grandparents’ job to worry, and since they hadn’t, we didn’t have to, either; we just had to have a good time, make the best of it. And we were high-schoolers, after all. We couldn’t even vote to comfort ourselves with the delusion that we’d tried. At this point, the politicians could hardly even do that.

The truth is that the world was already over. We were just in free fall, waiting for the ground to hit.

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