McGinnis: Laughing at the apocalypseWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
So, what’s so funny the end of civilization?
“What else are you gonna do but laugh? You can cry and run and hide, but it’s gonna get you anyway,” said author Robert Brockway. “You might as well laugh at it.”
That’s the attitude Brockway brings to his first book, the optimistically titled “Everything is Going to Kill Everybody: The Terrifyingly Real Ways the World Wants You Dead.” While the subject of the tome is the many different faces of the apocalypse, the book itself is both funny and sobering, like a bucket of cold water to the face.
The non-fiction piece is a list of all the ways the end of the world has almost happened, could happen now, or could happen later. This isn’t some crackpot alarmist book spouting about 2012 or alien invasions, either. The situations detailed here all the scarier (and funnier) because they are rooted in reality.
Take Stanislav Petrov, for example. A Soviet lieutenant colonel who on September 26, 1983, was in charge of a satellite station monitoring the skies for a nuclear attack. Suddenly, the system asserted that five American missiles were headed for Russia. Petrov’s duty was to return fire, effectively triggering worldwide annihilation. But Petrov decided that it had to be a glitch, and held back from retaliating.
And what did Petrov get for his heroic decision which spared humanity? Anonymity for 15 years, then depressingly small acknowledgement. “He’s gotten a few little medals, and a thousand dollar prize and a trophy,” Brockway said. “And that’s what you get for saving the world. You get more money out of a shopping spree.”
Stories like these help make “Everything” so fascinating. Brockway said he’s been interested in the subject for years, blaming the “cultural devaluing of all humanity” in the 1980’s, as well as the glut of post-apocalyptic cinema which came out at that time.
“I just started kinda collecting things on it,” Brockway said. “And I realized that we have come so close to extinction so many times, and are about to do so again. And I had never really heard anybody talk about it.”
The number of laughs in the book is not surprising coming from Brockway, acclaimed for his humorous articles on websites like Cracked.com and his own site, IFightRobots.com.
Brockway said compared to those pieces, the book “was much more exhaustive. I’ve only written articles and columns before this, or little one-off comedy pieces. And I did do research for those, but usually not for more than a day or so. To have to dig into death and destruction for eight months before I even wrote a word about it was pretty daunting and depressing task at times.”
Brockway pointed out that laughter was crucial to the project, both for himself and his audience.
“Humor is a great coping mechanism. If this was not a humor book, I think everyone would be too depressed to read the rest of it. I had to make the jokes; I think they’re really an integral part of the whole experience. If I didn’t make them, I wouldn’t have gotten through it.”
As a new author, Brockway’s writing experience helped prepare him for the task of constructing “Everything,” though the structure of the project was different than anything he’d ever done before.
“It’s much more real,” he said. “In this, I tried to make the facts a much more integral part of the pieces, sometimes to the exclusion of comedy. Because even I’m at a loss as to how to make jokes about the death of mankind, sometimes.”
The phrase “blissful ignorance” comes to mind while you’re reading “Everything.” Is not knowing about these kinds of issues a blessing, or a curse?
“I think that’s a curse. I think that the less you know about it, the more you’re gonna react with fear and hatred of things…But if you’re aware of it, if you’re aware of the information behind it before it ever becomes a serious issue, then you can deal with it, you can dismiss it more easily. You can say, ‘Well, I read about it in this book and laughed about it. So it’s not that big a deal.’”
Email Jeff at PopGoesJeff@gmail.com.