BREAKING NEWS! BREAKING NEWS!
This just in. Santa Claus has announced that this will be the last year he is based at the North Pole. The shrinking ice cap has made it impossible for him to maintain his worldwide operation at that location. Increasingly he is in competition with polar bears for the dwindling food supply. As a result, he is relocating toy production to mainland China to take advantage of the cheap wages and superb surveillance system. They know what you want even before you tell Santa! Santa himself will be moving to Mar-a-Lago to be with the world’s most charitable human being who would donate even more if the courts ordered him to do so.
Human beings have experienced global catastrophes before. The stories of worldwide disasters (based on the storyteller’s knowledge of the extent of the world) date back to ancient times. The oldest version is the Sumerian story known as “Eridu Genesis.” In that story, the King Ziusudra of Shuruppak hears directly from Enki that the gods have decided to destroy humanity in a flood after seven days and seven nights of an evil and stormy winds. Ziusudra builds a big boat to save the small animals and seed of humankind. Thus the human race is saved.
The next great global disaster story is the Epic of Atrahasis. In this story the gods had created human beings to be workers who serve them. The humans toil on behalf of their creators. They also make a lot of noise. They make so much noise that the god Enlil cannot sleep at night. He is in a position to do something about it. He vows to destroy these disrupters in a flood. The god Enki interprets a dream of Atrahasis as instructions to build a boat. Once again humanity is saved.
The third of this trio of Mesopotamian stories is lodged in the larger epic story of Gilgamesh. According to museum lore, when George Smith translated Tablet XI in the British Museum back in 1872, he was so overcome with emotion he tore off his clothes and began running around the museum naked. His excitement no doubt was real and he well may have run around to spread the good news. As for the rest…
The story itself tells of another king of Shuruppak named Utnaspishtim. He informs Gilgamesh, the king of Uruk, as to how he survived a flood and became an immortal in a land far far away from Mesopotamia. Once again, the gods had decided to destroy humanity and once again a divine voice from the other side of a wall had informed the king how he can save everyone. Utnapishtim builds a boat. There is a fierce and frightening storm. On the seventh day, Utnapishtim sends forth a dove to see if the waters have receded. Then he sends a swallow. Finally he sends a raven. At last it is safe to leave the boat.
Obviously the most famous disaster story of all time is the biblical story of Noah. His ark and the boarding of the animals two-by-two is one of the most well-known images from biblical traditions. In the story, Noah is not designated as king. The Lord has decided to destroy humanity. Noah has found favor in His eyes for unspecified reasons. Noah is told directly what he must do: no dreams or voice from the other side of a wall. He does what he is told and his family and the animals are safe in the ark for forty days and forty nights of rain. Then Noah sends out a raven. Then he sends out a dove. He waits a week and then sends out a dove again. This time there is land and the sojourn is over.
Our apocalyptic stories of global destruction tend to be more science-fiction based. Consider for example the appropriately named Armageddon (1998). In this Hollywood planet-buster, the guilty party is an asteroid (not that asteroids actually know right from wrong!). The asteroid means doomsday for life on the planet and humanity will vanish into oblivion like the dinosaurs the last time something similar happened. This time there is no king to save us nor will anything we do or build on earth save us. Instead humanity takes a proactive role: we will destroy what would destroy us before it can do so. This effort is led by the United States but not by the President. A rag-tag bunch of misfits is called upon to do what needs to be done if humanity is to survive. They succeed.
That very same year another cosmic threat from space threatened to obliterate earth. Deep Impact (1998) is the story of a comet which is on course to smash the earth to pieces. This time, humanity becomes aware of the looming catastrophe due to a high school student, another American touch where misfits and high school students become saviors whereas kings were in ancient times. In keeping with the apocalyptic tradition of Armageddon, the President of the United States Morgan Freeman who also plays God, authorizes the construction of a savior rocket ship to be called Messiah. Once again humanity will blast into smithereens that which threatens blast us to kingdom come. The annihilation will be avoided.
A reporter for MSNBC discovers the truth that has not been revealed to the public. Fox denounces it as FAKE NEWS. Republicans dismiss the science as a mainland Chinese hoax and refuse to authorize any money for. As a result nothing is done and human life on this planet ceases. Actually even Hollywood would never produce a movie so stupid. Instead the reporter leverages this exposure to become Secretary of State and then President. Truth is stranger than fiction.
The final in this series of three science fiction movies of global disaster is Independence Day (1996). What was going on that all these end-of the-world movies were being made? This time a cable technician who just happens to know the President of the United States discovers that not asteroids and not comets but really illegal aliens are about to wreak havoc on humanity. In a stirring Top Gun battle with an illegal alien pilot, Will Smith wins but not before saying the immortal lines: “Welcome to Earth!! Get of my planet!!” Disaster is averted because ordinary Americans Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith triumph in the heavens while President Bill Pullman leads a rag-tag bunch of misfits in air-to-air combat. Before doing so, President Pullman, who does not have bonespurs, gives a rousing speech about America first, America alone, and the importance of transactional relationships that alienate our allies and comfort our enemies. Trumpicans in the audience have been known to cry upon hearing this.
In the original movie, the American President leads a worldwide resistance to this threat. In fact, when people around the world hear the American plan, the response is an eager thanks for America taking the lead. Times have changed.
First, mainland China would never permit Hollywood to produce a movie where Americans are the lead saviors of the world.
Second, Americans no longer believe that America is a City-on-a-Hill that the eyes of the world are on because We the People are the last best hope of humanity. Instead we are scared timid weenies that want to crawl into our walled shell and listen to echoes and reverberations of USA! USA! USA! while others take the lead.
What does all this mean for the Global Deluge – This Time It Is Not Rain? Where is Noah when you need him? Where is American leadership? This time, the rest of the world will have to proceed without American leadership. This time, the rest of the world will have to proceed without even American involvement. This time, the rest of the world will have to proceed on its own because American lacks the right stuff to go into the arena. All we can do is unleash demeaning hissy fit tweets against a small sixteen year girl who really does want to save the world. But as long as America does not want to be the world’s Noah, saving the world will be difficult to do. And that boys and girls is why Santa Claus has been forced to leave the North Pole before it ceases to exist.