The world is not ending in Europe tomorrow.
At least, not if you look at the Google searches.
No, the worst thing that was scheduled to take place overseas this week was — Eurovision.
Are Europeans blase? Have they decided that they don’t care if the world ends, so long as they get to watch people dressed as mirror-ball-soldiers sing to a techno beat about “Lasha Tumbai”?
Could we blame them?
I love Eurovision. I’ve watched it for years.
It’s grotesquely, deliriously, insanely awful. It’s what happens if you apply politics to song. The Balkans tend to vote as a bloc, and the result is that songs like “Molitva” — which means “prayer” or “frequently misspelled white flower of the hillsides,” depending on whom you ask — wind up winning. Two years ago, there was a song called “Vampires Are Alive,” which included such lyrics as “Vampires are alive!” and “Vampires. Get alive!” These songs are unpronounceable to English speakers and have lots of crashing drums in the background, and after you hear them you wish briefly that the End would come.
It’s mindless. It’s silly. And it’s ultimately harmless. It gets people excited for a few weeks, and then life goes on until next year.
America does not have Eurovision. We would prefer an Apocalypse.
This isn’t even the Mayan Apocalypse we’ve been waiting for so long. Harold Camping has gotten the jump on it with his billboards and his vans and his oddly specific dates.
The corner of the public mind that, in Europe this week, has been reserved for Google searches into the mystery of the Song of European Songs, here has been dedicated to things like “Who will care for my pets when God seizes me?” and “Let’s not talk about the Millerites, the memory is too painful.”
Apocalypse is a Greek word loosely meaning ”unveiling.” It’s the curtain raiser, when everything becomes clear. It’s entertainment.
But unless you’re watching Eurovision, all the curtain is likely to reveal is the pitiful old Man Behind The Curtain, the huckster with the magnified voice.
As everyone has been quick to point out, there is precedent for this frenzy — and for this probable let-down. It was called the Great Disappointment. It came in 1843, after a group led by William Miller gathered and made ready for the End, and it unobligingly failed to appear. It was, in theatrical terms, something of a flop.
And this was to be expected.
There’s a palpable absurdity to the application of time zones to the Apocalypse, which is why those who are sensible make a point of not predicting it. “Oh, at teatime,” people hem and haw. “At dusk-ish.” And it makes for good theater. In Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee’s “ Inherit the Wind ,” a theatrical retelling of the Scopes trial, the lawyers Drummond and Brady are wrangling over the start date of creation in similarly ludicrous fashion:
Brady: The exact date and hour of the Creation . . . is not an opinion. It is literal fact, which the good Bishop arrived at through careful computation of the ages of the prophets as set down in the Old Testament. In fact, he determined that the Lord began the Creation on the 23rd of October in the year 4004 B.C. at — uh, 9 am!
Drummond: That Eastern Standard Time? Or Rocky Mountain Time? It wasn’t daylight-saving time, was it? Because the Lord didn’t make the sun until the fourth day.
Some say the world will end in fire. Some say in ice. Some say on May 21, 2011, at “six-ish.”
It sounds so absurd when you say it out loud. Then again, matters of belief often do. That’s why Stephen Hawking seemed so ridiculous when he suggested that heaven was a fairy story. “You’re just a theoretical physicist!” the world shot back. “What do you know about it?”
No more than anyone. That’s why we’ll believe Harold Camping. In the oddly democratic world of belief, there are no bonus points for Actual Knowledge. To those accustomed to approaching our problems through logic, this can be irksome. In “Inherit the Wind,” Brady exclaims: “We must not abandon faith! Faith is the most important thing!”
“Then why did God plague us with the capacity to think?” Drummond shoots back.
Thinking is a plague all right.
And this has been a week of aggressively, almost wishfully teleological thinking. It seems as if the horsemen are all gathering. There’s fog, disease, famine and war. Admittedly, those things have existed — and have seemed equally dire — since the earliest Biblical times. The world as it is always seems a bit out of whack. That’s why some dream of the Apocalypse. But it’s why others invented entertainment.
The desire to escape from the flawed world and the normal flow of time? There’s a word for that. Heck, there’s hundreds of channels. Eurovision, television. The Apocalypse is just another curtain-raiser, another of those shows we watch fanatically, so that we can be mildly annoyed when it’s canceled.
But if you are reading this after 6 p.m. on May 21, the world did not end.
Unless I was wrong. In which case, by now, I’m probably in some sort of non-metaphorical zone of bad lighting, unintelligible sounds and cries of unbelievable pain.
Then again, that could just be Eurovision.