Apocalypse 2012 Rhetoric: Why the Mayan Calendar is Affecting Your Life by Lindsay Webb
As you’ve probably heard before, the world supposedly is going to end on December 21, 2012. Even the University of Cincinnati is acknowledging this theory! Considering the current economic recession in the United States, it is not surprising that this belief has taken a firm root in society. Unemployment rates have been almost consistently rising over the past four years and the national debt is increasing to trillions of dollars, an amount so large that it is almost impossible to comprehend (North, 2012). However, the theory itself results from the ancient Mayan civilization, which, around 400 AD, was very advanced in mathematics and astronomy. Although the Mayans created an amazingly accurate calendar called the “Long Count” that measured time in “bak’tuns,” many people view the Mayan civilization as a group of barbarians due to their use of sacrifice. According to Mayan experts who have lined up the calendar with the modern Gregorian calendar, the Mayan calendar’s 13th bak’tun, a huge time period of 1,872,000 days (Jenkins), ends on precisely December 21, 2012, which has led many to state that the Mayans predicted that the world would end that day. Rumors for the cause of the apocalypse–a hidden planet called Nibiru, pole shifts, or rare planetary alignments–have run rampant throughout the United States. In addition to economic problems, the United States is second only to China in carbon dioxide emissions (“Top”). The environment is suffering and environmentalists lecture continuously about global warming and similar issues, concerns that could lead to forming some of these theories. However, the Mayans did not necessarily predict anything except for the alignment of the Milky Way with the December solstice sun.
In addition to the Mayan prophecy, there have been several other theories as to the date of the end of the world such as Y2K and prophecies from religious leaders but none have received as much widespread acknowledgement as the 2012 phenomenon. It is interesting in itself that December 21, 2012 is termed a ‘phenomenon’ by Wikipedia. Although modern day scientists and astronomers continue to be amazed at how precise the Mayans were in their calendar and astronomical theories, something to wonder about is why the American population is putting so much stock in the Mayan calendar and its apparently apocalyptic prediction. I believe that the economic crisis as well as environmental concerns in the United States play a role in the widespread popularity of this particular theory. However, there are varying perceptions of how severe the destruction will be or if it will even occur. While the more unconventional sources, such as apocalypse websites, maintain their beliefs and make themselves heard on national newscasts about a wide range of theories of physical destruction or spiritual transformation, discourses from NASA and other credible sources state that the world will in no way come to an end on December 21, 2012. Does the widespread belief have to do with respect for the achievements of the ancient Mayans or are there other factors that come into play that make Americans more susceptible to large scale belief in these apocalyptic predictions?
This apocalyptic prediction is somewhat helpful to businesses in times of financial stress, so they have a vested interest in keeping the theory alive. The 2012 movie trailer and Superbowl Chevy commercial can be viewed in this light. They depict an extreme version of the apocalyptic theories of physical destruction. Rather than coming from a fringe source, these mainstream texts were aimed at millions of American viewers. Both the movie trailer and the commercial depict dramatic destruction occurring around individuals as they try to avoid the end of the world. Buildings fall, the ground is caving in, and floods crash over the land. The movie trailer claims that the destruction is due to a pole shift predicted by the ancient Mayans (SonyPictures). As the world is in shambles, the Chevy commercial implies that only those who drove a Chevrolet truck survived as opposed to those who drove a Ford, underscored by the lyrics “looks like we made it” (Chevrolet). The 2012 movie trailer introduces the idea that the government will not tell the American people about the oncoming apocalypse: “How would the governments of our planet prepare six billion people for the end of the world? They wouldn’t” (SonyPictures). In the background, the movie trailer portrays floods crashing over mountains as a man rings a bell to warn his people, giving the text an even more ominous tone. This is significant because people are more likely to accept this message when the government appears weak and corrupt, as during a recession. However, the economic recession is most certainly taking a toll on these businesses as well as others. Therefore, the main purpose of these texts was not to increase public belief in the apocalypse but instead, to play on the general public’s curiosities about the possible end of the world in order to either make money through a popular movie in the case of the trailer or sell a car in the case of the Chevy commercial. Although neither of these texts is meant to be taken seriously, they greatly contribute to the misinformation of fearful individuals, introducing false apocalyptic theories.
Though the Official Website for 12/21/2012 Information is a more unconventional source, rather than mainstream media, this website has a similar purpose as the movie trailer and car commercial: taking advantage of people’s fears in order to make money. This website’s target is a small group of people, specifically those who are worried enough about the apocalypse to Google it. There are thousands of websites dedicated to the apocalypse on December 21, similar to this one, demonstrating how popular this idea has become and how profitable it can be. As seen above, this website includes articles about 2012 that were in the news, an official countdown to December 21, 2012, a “Celebrity Believers” section, a place to buy doomsday souvenirs and survival guides as well as a place where donations can be made (December). The specific audience of this website is more likely to spend the most amount of money on survival gear because they are the people who are the most fearful about the apocalyptic event. The founders of this website, and the many others like it, have found a way to improve their own financial situation in this time of economic crisis. One article included on this website is entitled “’Doomsday Preppers’ highlights extreme survival techniques” (December). “Doomsday Preppers” is a television show on the National Geographic channel that shows people describing the extreme measures they’ve taken in preparation for the oncoming apocalypse. These ‘preppers’ believe in a wide range of different apocalyptic scenarios including a huge financial crisis and an earthquake that would cut power and communications, splitting the country in two. They prepare by storing massive amounts of food and sometimes, stocking firearms. Although this particular website is not mainstream, the articles it displays
demonstrate how stout believers in the December 2012 apocalypse make themselves heard on national media, further instilling fear in the citizens of the United States. The 12/21/2012 website fosters people’s fears by twisting information into evidence that the apocalypse will occur. Such ‘evidence’ includes biblical prophecies, Einstein’s evidence, the Mayan prophecy and the possibility of a polar shift or galactic alignment (December). Similarly to the 2012 movie trailer, there is the perception of government deception through images, as the following example indicates: “2012 is real… and Mainstream Media doesn’t want you to know about it” (December). The image in Figure 3 was created by a conspiracy theorist, so it might not develop as much of a widespread audience as the 2012 movie, but the people who see the image are most likely already worried about the world ending and will no doubt become more paranoid. The “Celebrity Believers” section and the souvenirs and make-a-donation section make me believe that this website is a scam because the primary goal is clearly to make money from those who are desperate to stay alive in what they believe will be a horrific event.
The effects of the current economic and environmental crisis are made most obvious when a national news station feels the need to address people’s concern about the apocalypse. Geraldo Rivera, a Fox News reporter, makes it obvious that he is very skeptical of the 2012 apocalypse when he interviews Jim Durden, who works with a doomsday survivalist group. Rivera’s first question reveals his skepticism: “Do you really believe this, Jim?” (Durden). Durden answers by stating that he has been doing some reading, which has convinced him to believe that “the Egyptians and Mayans had the end times of 2012 as an apocalyptic event. And it’s based on a sunspot cycle theory” (Durden). This indicates an additional apocalyptic theory, different from the polar shift indicated in the 2012 movie trailer. Durden also specifies that he is preparing by “doing some traveling and looking for areas that may be able to sustain a civilization” (Durden). Rivera clearly does not believe in the apocalyptic theories, which is again made obvious when he states: “You know, Jim, I’m reminded of these apocalyptic cults I’ve covered over the years… they kill themselves and guess what, the world goes on and they’re dead. Uh, do you ever think about that?” (Durden). Although Rivera is not intentionally making fun of the survivalist, he clearly thinks that Durden is crazy for believing the world will end as he basically calls Durden’s survival group a cult. In the background of the entire video, scenes from the movie 2012 are being played, which, as mentioned previously, was not meant to be taken seriously. Although the survivalist takes the apocalypse very seriously, the background scenes of the newscast subtly imply that Fox news and Geraldo Rivera do not think that viewers should anticipate the apocalypse any time soon.
Another mainstream media source, Suzan Clarke from ABC News, uses sarcasm in her article “2012 End-Of-The-World Countdown Based on Mayan Calendar Starts Today” to illustrate the point that the world will not end on December 21. She opens her article with the profound statement: “The countdown to the apocalypse is on” (Clarke), misleading readers into believing that she supports the apocalyptic predictions. However, the rest of her article is mostly spent arguing against that exact point. Clarke mentions other failed apocalyptic prophecies including Y2K and “Chrisitian radio talk show host [who] faced widespread ridicule when his predictions that the world would end twice this year…failed to materialize” (Clarke). However, Clarke insists that the Mayans must be right. She goes on to offer evidence that the conversion factor between the Mayan and modern calendar could be incorrect and utilizes facts from NASA’s frequently asked questions about 2012 to make her point (Clarke). Even though she feigns belief in the apocalypse, Clarke uses sarcasm to effectively make a joke out of the December 2012 phenomenon. Interestingly, Clarke of ABC News and Rivera of Fox treat the apocalyptic theories very similarly, expressing skepticism about the concept. Both indicate previous theories that never came to fruition. However, Clarke uses very blunt sarcasm, purposefully making a joke out of apocalyptic theories, while Rivera does not intentionally ridicule the survivalist he interviews.
This allows those who view these texts and are also skeptical about the apocalypse to laugh off the various rumors they have heard and not worry about the world ending. Even though Rivera and Clarke do not take the apocalypse seriously, the very fact that the discourse occurred demonstrates the prevalence of worries about the well-being of the nation.
During times of crisis, many individuals will turn to a spiritual source to relieve their fears, even if they are not particularly religious. A peripheral source from Astrology Weekly, “A transition to the New Energy of 2012,” gives a completely different outlook on the apocalypse, actually looking at December 21, 2012 as a positive day in the future. Sabian Symbols, a Middle Eastern idea that the ‘ancients’ divided the sky into 360 degrees, are the basis for this article’s claims. These symbols are a set of 360 phrases of words that correspond with each of the degrees of the Zodiac (“Sabian”). According to the article, the symbol, “Pluto: An Angel with a Harp,” corresponds with the date, December 21, 2012. This means that people should “expect for a step to another level of overall spiritual vibration, a higher angelic one. Different for every one of us, though” (“Transition”). This emphasizes the positive tone of the article, indicating that there will be a transition, but a good one. Each individual will have to correct his or her moral or spiritual wrongs, which is why the transition is specific for each person. Also, this astrology chart indicates a “very special configuration called Yod, the Finger of God… [that’s] pointing to the New Energy to which we should adjust” (“Transition”). The “New Energy of 2012” represents the positive transformation that will occur in 2012 to which we must adapt by correcting our spirituality.
A New Dawn Magazine article, “The Mayan Calendar and 2012: Why Should We Care?” by Mayan expert John Major Jenkins, also views December 21, 2012 as a spiritual transformation of some kind, but while the previous article was abstract, Jenkins provides researched information to back his argument. Jenkins has extensively studied the Mayan calendar and astronomy as well as their culture. He states that the Mayans have predicted with astonishing accuracy an astronomical phenomenon called a galactic alignment, which is the alignment of the December solstice sun with the dark rift of the Milky Way (Jenkins). The alignment of the dark rift of the Milky Way is the main point of significance in this case because this only occurs every 26,000 years. Jenkins makes his purpose clear when he states: “If we honor [the prediction] only as a profound galactic cosmovision, whether or not we believe in its transformational power or correctness, that would be enough to shatter the continuing stereotypes of the ancient Maya as barbaric savages” (Jenkins). As a Mayan expert, he respects the Maya civilization’s achievements, while others stereotype the Mayans as savages due to their use of sacrifice. His extensive research creates an appreciation for the Mayan achievements that he believes they do not get enough credit for. After his attempt to clear the Mayan name, Jenkins’s article takes a huge turn to a spiritual perspective that articulates his beliefs about the transformation that will take place on December 21: “2012 bodes a challenge and an opportunity for humanity to rebirth itself” (Jenkins). Although the Mayans did not predict for the world to end, they did believe, and it has come to pass, that world leaders are false and deceiving. Jenkins asserts that December 21 “is about our free will choice to open up and reconnect with the eternal wisdom, or hunker down in defeatism” (Jenkins). In the Mayan philosophy, the solution is sacrifice, but Jenkins turns sacrifice into a more abstract concept about the state of our current world. Basically, this is our time to reveal and fix all of the wrongs in the world such as environmental destruction and pollution, governmental corruption, violence and wars. Finding the insight to correct these problems is what I believe Jenkins refers to as “eternal wisdom.” This wisdom could improve the economy as well as restore our environment. In contrast, we could also just give up and let all of the bad circumstances consume our world, which will eventually make this planet uninhabitable. Interestingly, the Sabian symbols and Jenkins came to about the same conclusion for December 21 even though the two are very far removed from one another. Different from the physical destruction suggested in the movie trailer, Chevy commercial and 12/21/2012 website, these two articles found that there will be a spiritual transformation on this date in which people will right their wrongs. However, while the “New Energy” article looked on the event in a solely positive manner, Jenkins foresees a possible outlook of despair.
Although the previous two articles have a spiritual basis, organized religion posits a very different view of the pending apocalypse. The economic and environmental climate of the United States does worry many Christian individuals and could be a cause for belief in the so-called Mayan prediction. However, these people turn to religious sources like The Voice Magazine, a Christian magazine, which published an online blog, “Is the world going to end on December 21, 2012?,” stating that no man, only God, can know when the world will end. According to this article, although many biblical prophecies have come true, “the world cannot end in 2012 since many other biblical prophesies have yet to be fulfilled including a unified world, the rise of the anti-christ, the battle of Armageddon and the collapse of the world’s economic system” (“Is the world”). The rhetor purposefully asserts that although times seem bad, there are much worse events to come that will eventually lead to the end of the world (“Is”). Because only God knows the date of the apocalypse, only a false prophet would attempt to place a date on it. Up until the very end of the article, the tone is very disheartening as the writer insists that the world’s economic and political state will only get worse. However, the rhetor uplifts the mood with the final sentence: “Indeed, the world as we know it will end, but not in 2012. So fear not, Jesus Christ is the King of Glory, trust and believe Him” (“Is”). This echoes the Christian belief that when the world ends, Christ will take all saved individuals to heaven where they can live forever. Therefore, although the apocalypse will occur at some unknown point in the future, Christians have nothing to fear because they will live eternally.
Ultimately, nationally respected organizations were brought into the apocalyptic argument as a result of the crises in our modern world. NASA devoted an entire webpage of “Frequently Asked Questions—2012: Beginning of the End or Why the World Won’t End?” in order to address and dispel fears about the alleged 2012 apocalypse. NASA uses direct language to completely deny that there is any truth to many apocalyptic theories. To the question “Are there any threats to the Earth in 2012?, NASA asserts, “Nothing bad will happen to the Earth in 2012. Our planet has been getting along just fine for more than 4 billion years, and credible sources worldwide know of no threat associated with 2012” (NASA). Through this statement, NASA discredits any scientist who proposes that the world will end in December 2012. Coming from a respected, government-sanctioned institution, this could help dispel the fears of many. However, those who are exposed to sources such as The Official 12/21/2012 Information site could distrust the government and not believe NASA’s claims. NASA also addresses the rumor that a planet called Planet X or Nibiru is approaching and threatening Earth by stating, “If Nibiru or Planet X were real and headed for an encounter with the Earth in 2012, astronomers would have been tracking it for at least the past decade and it would be visible by now to the naked eye. Obviously, it does not exist” (NASA). Again, NASA completely rejects the claims of apocalyptic predictions without giving a high level of detail for their reasoning. All of NASA’s statements are brief and brusque, denying all claims without extensive explanation, causing some to react suspiciously. However, in a way, NASA, a large, credible scientific institution, did participate in what they probably believe is a trivial argument, something it has never done before. This demonstrates how significant and widespread the discourse about the 2012 phenomenon has become. NASA mailboxes were so overflowing with questions from worried individuals about December 21, 2012, that they had to create a specific section in their website to address them.
While NASA outright rejects any 2012 claims, Brian Handwerk, a National Geographic writer, in his article, “2012: Six End-of-the-World Myths Debunked,” refutes several common theories and carefully explains why they cannot be true, referencing several experts along the way. First of all, Handwerk dispels the myth that the Mayans predicted the end of the world in 2012: “The Mayan calendar doesn’t end in 2012, as some have said, and the ancients never viewed that year as the time of the end of the world.” Citing Mayan expert, Anthony Aveni, Handwerk notes, “’The idea is that time gets renewed… often after a period of stress—the same way we renew time on New Year’s Day, or even on Monday morning” (Handwerk). Basically, for the Mayans, the end of a bak’tun was like the end of a year, not the end of the world. The idea is a simple one demonstrated by the modern calendar. At the end of the Gregorian calendar year, December 31, we don’t worry that the world will end because it resets back to January 1 and a new year begins. Similarly, the Mayan calendar also will reset to day 1 of the next bak’tun. Handwerk also addresses the concept of a pole shift, which NASA merely describes as impossible and the movie, 2012, depicts on screen. The pole shift theory would result in Earth’s crust suddenly shifting, which would dump cities into the sea. Handwerk indicates that “scientists dismiss such drastic scenarios, but some researchers have speculated that a subtler shift could occur—for example, if the distribution of mass…changed radically, due to, say, the melting of ice caps” (Handwerk). This appears to be a subtle warning about global warming, demonstrating a common environmental concern. As an environment-oriented organization, it is not surprising that National Geographic uses people’s fears of the apocalypse in an attempt to promote eco-friendly habits. In addition to dispensing environmental warnings, Handwerk references geologist Adam Maloof, who has studied pole shifts: “magnetic evidence in rocks confirm that continents have undergone such drastic rearrangement but the process took millions of years—slow enough that humanity wouldn’t have felt the motion” (Handwerk). Again, Handwerk brings in an expert in order to adequately explain the common myths. Unlike NASA’s method of completely disregarding the claims, ignoring any grain of truth that the theories might have, discrediting myths patiently and thoroughly is useful because these explanations help people to understand the situation, which they then will be able to evaluate more clearly. When informed, people are less likely to let their fears get the best of them.
The underlying theme of the belief in the 2012 apocalypse is the wealth of misinformation available to everyone on the internet. The varying perceptions about the apparent oncoming apocalypse also contribute to growing confusion and anxiety about the event because each side claims that the other is lying. For example, supporters of the apocalypse introduce conspiracy theories of governmental deception, and governmental factions outright deny that any apocalypse theories have any grain of truth. Those who seem to back the extreme view of the apocalypse with physical destruction mostly are taking advantage of people’s fears in order to make a profit through survival guides, movie tickets or car sales. Those texts that espouse a spiritual transformation on December 21 have very differing purposes but interestingly, come to similar conclusions that do not include any physical destruction such as natural disasters. The texts that reject the apocalyptic ideas are typically mainstream media sources that would be available to most people. Although mainstream media sources generally deny the apocalypse, the idea has caught the attention of many people in the United States, making its way onto several television shows, commercials and newscasts. The term “2012 phenomenon” does not necessarily refer to the truth of the predictions. The reason why December 21, 2012 is called a phenomenon is that the event has gathered so much widespread acknowledgement beyond conspirators and cults, making its way into mainstream media and national television unlike so many other similar prophecies.
The question that remains is why these apocalyptic theories and rumors have become so prevalent. I believe that several contributing factors include the respect people have for the advances of the ancient Mayan civilization, devout believers on national media, and increasing weather extremities. However, the national interest level in the topic suggests a more universal explanation that applies to all US citizens. The main reasons I believe that the December 21, 2012 apocalypse idea has become so popular are the current economic recession in the United States and the continuous environmental destruction and pollution. If we were in a state of prosperity and wealth, an apocalyptic theory would not have taken so deep of a hold; people would have scoffed at it. They would not worry about the government completely collapsing. Similarly, if environmentalists were not concerned enough to about global warming and other problems due to pollution, no one would be worried about extreme weather destroying the entire world. However, because we are in a recession and because the environment is continuously destroyed, people are already fearful about their financial future and the increasing prevalence of natural disasters. It becomes less of a stretch to assume that the world could end soon. In people’s minds, times are bad so they can only get worse. But you never know what could happen. The day keeps getting closer and closer. I guess we will find out on December 21, 2012. Do you think the world will end?
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Lindsay Webb is a second year biology and biochemistry double major at the University of Cincinnati. She says that unlike many science majors, she has always loved writing and as a child she even considered becoming an author. She was intrigued by the increasing media recognition of the 2012 apocalypse prediction and says, “Also, my friends and I were dorks; we used to discuss our plans to survive the apocalypse together.”