Growing up in the ’70’s, I eagerly ingested a steady diet of post-apocalyptic films and books.
Nothing set my heart a-twittter more than a film featuring the then-hunky Charlton Heston (pre-gun nut). I would beg my father to take us to the drive-in to see The Omega Man, Soylent Green (is people!) and of course, the iconic Planet of the Apes series.
What I was too young to realize at the time, was that these science-fictiony movies where man had taken a serious wrong turn and wrecked the planet and decimated millions of people, was in direct response to the Vietnam War and the emotional and divided climate of that time.
What Heston represented to me (even more so than as Moses) was a character who thumbed his nose at the evil present in a new world order where everything was shit. In The Omega Man, an unattractive underground-living mutant race fought the few good-looking militants who were still able to live above-ground. (And Heston’s response once captured? You’re full of crap!)
In the dystopian Soylent Green, the overpopulated planet has run out of food and guess what? The human race finds a way to provide survivors with an enjoyable euthanization process and “food” for the remainder of the human race (a two-fer).
But the Planet of the Apes series was the best. Man’s cruelty and hubris regarding the planet and its four-legged animals finally catches up in a future state where simians are running the show. It was such a popular concept that sequels were made and it even branched out into a television series.
So it was a short leap to bridge this fiction fascination to books. My father and I shared a mutual love for writers like Issac Asimov, Ray Bradbury and Frank Herbert. The Dune series has always been a personal favorite. Good versus evil in space and on distant planets still works well. When friends would stop over to see if I would come out to play in the bright sunshine, my mother would say “She’s got her nose in a book – not today.” I have always preferred the dark escapism of a good read or a huddle in front of the TV to watch Creature Feature to the real world.
That led me on a natural path in my teens to horror writer, Stephen King. He could create characters, believable characters in unbelievable circumstances, like nobody’s business. My favorite King novel is The Stand. The story centers around a virus, nicknamed Captain Trips, that decimates a good chunk of the population. A classic good versus evil battle ensues.
I’m not saying that King or any other horror writer have been prescient. It’s not the first time we have faced such a crisis as we see today (The Black Plague, HIV/AIDS, SARS), but it does give you pause. So now I ask myself this: What Would Stephen Do, given today’s state of panic and concern? Well, he’s likely taken out his Corona typewriter or laptop and continued to create. It’s what countless house-bound people are doing in their own way – making memories with bored kids, creating art, taking part in online yoga practices.
So my mantra in the coming weeks will remain WWSD. I’ll continue to watch as many post-apocalyptic movies as I wish, read as many books on all subjects as I please – and write on.