It's the end of the world (and they feel fine)
- Scott R. Garceau (The Philippine Star) - September 12, 2012 - 12:00am

Doomsday seems kind of passé now. With the failure of the Mayans to accurately predict the end of the world, and a certain American minister miscalling the world’s end twice, you’ve gotta wonder: what happened to good old-fashioned, reliable doomsday prophets?

You can’t blame people for getting jaded.

On the other hand, a lot of people in Manila are working their worry beads, expecting the next big earthquake or storm to hit anytime now. They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, but some people do tend to overdo it. Like the people in Doomsday Preppers, a new National Geographic Channel series that looks at how people prepare for impending doom.

Set to premiere here Sept. 17, 9 p.m., Doomsday Preppers looks at a group of seemingly ordinary people who “believe that this year could be our last.” Looking at the frightening climate change leading to natural disasters, the failing banks and tough economic times, and the periodic terrorist attacks, they’ve decided to head for the hills, or underground. Sometimes literally. They’ve opted to live “off the grid” and lay in supplies for the long haul, a time in the near future whenwho knows?zombies might be prowling the streets of Atlanta and a guy named Eli may be wandering around kicking people’s butts.

At a press event heldwith a certain grim humoron Sept. 11 in Fort Bonifacio Global City, local journalists got a glimpse of the future. And it’s not a pretty sight.

The National Geo show focuses on the day-to-day lives of Americans convinced the end is nigh. Mostly it’s the fear-filled media that seems to promote this unease. “There’s so much more uncertainty in the world now, because we know so much more,” says Wendy Rogers, whose family has built an underground bunker in preparation for when the doo-doo hits the fan bigtime. “Maybe it was easier when we didn’t know so much.”

In the Rogers home, there’s a bunker in the basement. They practice survival drills with their 10-year-old daughter; they prepare “dash kits” with food and water supplies they can grab in a panic run to the cellar. “If we need to stay down there for an extended period of time, we have everything we need… down there,” says Wendy with a straight face. She doesn’t mention how they plan to fend off the many neighbors and strangers who will no doubt see them on Doomsday Preppers and decide to come by for a “pop-in” visit when the Big One drops.

Another prepper shows off his hand-built “spider hole,” an underground one-man pit similar to what the Viet Cong favored and certainly an abode that Saddam Hussein would be proud to call home. And in case you’re wondering what fashion rules will apply when the world ends, Doomsday Preppers offers numerous visual examples: khaki and army surplus duds; baseball caps; shotguns optional.

One woman, preparing for a flu “pandemic” that could kill millions, shows off her family and friends: a group dressed in hospital garb, rubber gloves and face masks. She keeps tons of these supplies in a special facility, ready for action. While the fear of a contagion is real (the WHO says such a pandemic is “inevitable”), such extreme levels of preparation can seem more like a kneejerk reaction to our mass entertainmentmovies like Steve Soderbergh’s Contagion or shows like The Walking Deadrather than something most people would embrace as a lifestyle choice. Then again, you never know what the government is not telling you.

Another intrepid prepper is Bruce Beach, a white-bearded old gent who calls his 10,000-square-foot underground complex of interconnected school buses encased in concrete “Ark 2.” He designed it to preserve children in the event of nuclear attack, because, he says, “children are the future,” which is admirable. Why school buses? They are designed to withstand up to 1.5 times their weight, and Bruce sees them as the ideal shelter in the event of a nuclear conflict.

One man prepares for possible food supply disruption by training his family to eat bugs. “My family gets a kick out of trying the bugs,” says John Major, who fears a “dirty bomb” will contaminate the country’s food. “I am trying out a new recipe on my crickets with onion, probably covered with parmesan cheese.” He stores thousands of these “snacks” in the family’s ref. Mmm, mmm, good! While such survival tactics may seem a little wacko, they do seem to offer these people something that mere fatalism does not: peace of mind.

Yet the serious nature of Doomsday Preppers is often undermined by its theme music, which turns comical at times (the presence of oboes is a giveaway), as though all this preparation is worthy of our attention, yet so are the chuckles. It’s an odd approach by National Geographic, which usually doesn’t straddle the line between presenting the facts and offering “reality” as a source of amusement.

What would also be helpful is a bit more geographical information. In the version I watched, at least, it was hard to tell if all these concerned citizens of the US were living on separate coasts or just down the block from one another.

Still, it’s an eye-opening panorama of America’s “off-gridders”: people who refuse to believe they’re getting the “whole truth” from mainstream media. To more sober observers, their preparations may seem a little extreme. But that’s what they said about Chicken Little, and look what happened to him. (He ended up as a McNugget.)

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