Rupert Cornwell: Wars, disasters, pestilence – and zombies. Is the end of the world nigh?

Out of America: A slew of gruesome murders, depressing world affairs and weird weather – it's no wonder the mood is sombre


I've got Apocalypse on the brain right now. Maybe that's because last week they opened a new rollercoaster of that name at the Six Flags America theme park in Washington's eastern suburbs. You hurtle along a stomach-detaching half-mile track, festooned with skulls and other end-of-civilisation paraphernalia amid exploding plumes of flame. Aficionados love these things. Me, I'm terrified just reading about them.

But it's not just the rollercoaster called Apocalypse. These days, surely, there are other good reasons for such eschatological musings. Take the "serious" news. We're presently submerged in the dreary middle game of the interminable 2012 election campaign, from which, at times, it feels that even the end of the world would be a welcome release. Then there's all the "declinism" talk, how the best days of the US are behind it, and all that remains for the 99 per cent of us is gradual descent into acrimonious poverty.

Tidings from the rest of the world are little better. Vlad the Bad is back in charge of Russia, while Europe's economy is going to hell in a handbasket. Then there's the ghastly mess in Syria that could plunge the entire Middle East into sectarian civil war – oh yes, just as Israel attacks Iran.

If the politicians seem to have lost control, then so too has Mother Nature. Maybe it's just the instantly transmitted images of the digital age, but aren't natural disasters – floods and heatwaves, tsunamis and tornadoes – getting more frequent and more disastrous than ever?

All of which only reinforces one's fears about global warming, rising sea levels and the rest. The problem is probably now irreversible, even if the politicians were brave enough to impose the draconian measures that alone might make a difference.

Here in Washington, this last winter was the warmest on record and spring came and left a month ahead of schedule. As a result we're promised a biblical infestation of summer mosquitos on the East Coast, thanks to a shortage of frosts that normally kill the larvae.

I'm not sure about the exact moment of final judgement – Meso-american scholars now have doubts about whether a Mayan calendar really does identify 21 December 2012 as the big day. But one's confidence that it's coming hasn't been diminished by a spate of recent astronomical phenomena, and Nasa's estimate last month that 4,700 "potentially hazardous" asteroids are out there waiting to hit us.

And what about the menace of our own species, the so-called "Zombie Apocalypse"? The zombies in question are not of the relatively benign Haitian variety, corpses brought back from the dead, their flesh continuing to decay even as they "live" on. No, these are the fearsome creatures of George Romero's 1968 cult film The Night of the Living Dead and its sequels, that feast on human flesh. And to judge by the headlines of late, they may already be among us.

First came that gruesome incident in Miami, in which "Naked Man Killed by Police was Eating Victim's Face". A day or two later we were treated to "Maryland Suspect accused of Eating Man's Brain, Heart". And now we recoil in horror at the tale of Luka Magnotta, the Canadian "Porn Actor Held in Mailed Body Parts Case", who is suspected of murdering and chopping up his victim before mailing off pieces of the body to political parties in Ottawa.

An interest here in zombies is nothing new. Like the ghouls and witches of Hallowe'en, they've been a growth industry for years, to the point that Americans today apparently spend $5bn a year on zombie-related products, from garden gnomes to guns.

And even the government's Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta jumped on to the undead bandwagon last year with a tongue-in-cheek "Zombie Pandemic" campaign, to promote emergency preparedness. But after Magnotta et al, the joke's worn thin. A few days ago the CDC felt constrained to issue an earnest statement saying it "does not know of a virus or condition that would re-animate the dead, or would present zombie-like symptoms". No, I haven't made that up.

All the above of course are crimes of an other-worldly awfulness, and stories of beheadings and cannibalism always exert a special mix of repulsion and fascination. But the attention may reflect something more: the sense that the proliferation of these unnatural deeds, like the seeming proliferation of economic, political and natural disasters, reflects unnatural times.

If so, then let's all take a deep breath. Yes, the weather's been freakish, and the news is pretty depressing. But like riders of the Apocalypse roller coaster, we'll come through the flames and live to tell the tale. And who knows? England may even win Euro 2012.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month  

General Election 2015: Politics is the messy art of compromise, unpopular as it may be

David Blunkett
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012  

Vote Tory and you’re voting for the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer

Mark Steel
General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'