Doomsday fails to fire - for now

By Peter Popham

Chinese 3-tonne escape pods stranded.

Even in the event of a no-show, one might have expected some fireworks, some apocalypse-grade hallucinations, as the credulous coaxed their fevered brains to provide what the universe had so signally failed to.

But as 11.12am on the last day of the Long Count Mayan calendar came and went - and all the predictions of collapse, mayhem, kaboooooms and extinction disappeared down the cosmic pan, it was all a bit lame.

"Screeching gargoyles fly over the Maas river of blood!" came one excited message. But it was far outnumbered by those who thought it a great joke to pretend to be a solitary survivor, seeking out others. A new online dating gambit, perhaps?

Over in Zhejiang Province, several wealthy Chinese were left gazing at the three-tonne, radiation-proof, spherical Atlantis pods in which they had each sunk €500,000 ($800,000), wondering what to do with them now.

China offered the ripest manifestations of Doomsday folly. The Church of Almighty God, a pseudo-Christian outfit founded in 1989, which claims that a Chinese woman is the reincarnation of Christ, succeeded in signing up thousands of new members with its end-of-the-world predictions, persuading them to give up all their worldly goods.

But as the deadline came and went, Chinese authorities arrested dozens of cult members and raided its offices.

As nothing happened at 11.12 there was no catharsis, except for the hapless inhabitants of Bugarach in southwest France. In recent days they had found their population of 200 doubled by international media crews bent on filming New Agers streaming towards the village's mountain that is supposed to contain a coven of aliens and thus to be spared come the End of Things.

But the mountain was blocked off by mounted policemen. So the TV crews had to make do with filming a few locals dressed up as extra-terrestrials, another couple who had hiked from Lille wrapped in tinfoil, and a chap playing pan pipes.

Once the globe had failed to do whatever people were expecting, Bugarach was able to heave a sigh of baffled relief and get back to normality.

Of course, that would be premature. Even the Russian President Vladimir Putin conceded that it was inevitable that the world would end, though he placed that event 4 billion years away.

In our Barnum and Bailey world, the Mayan Armageddon was more than anything else a brilliant if fleeting business opportunity. Every #endoftheworld Twitter entry was crowned by a tweet sponsored by Dominos, insisting that there was still time for a last pizza.

Professional doom-sayers are accustomed to ducking and diving as their predictions fail, and a new bunch are already telling us to be on our guard for that freaky geo-magnetic reversal in 2016, or maybe 2020.

On Radio Four, Professor James Fox of Stanford University cautioned that, while 21 December was one possible correlation for the end of the Mayan calendar, Christmas Eve was another. That means two more days to bite your nails. And best still buy a turkey, just in case.


- The Independent

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