END OF THE WORLD: "21" December 2012?????!?!?!?
So asked the spelling-challenged and punctuationally inventive teenager on Yahoo! Answers — that freewheeling forum of desperate questions, dumb advice, and comically wrong-headed misinformation. The "Mayan calender aparently said that," she continued, "but I'm only 15. I don't want to die early! Shall I just give up on all my school work 'cos theres no point!"
Sorry to say, "saskia," but you're right. You've got just three years, eight months, and 25 days left: enough time to get your driver's license, maybe, but forget about reaching drinking age. The end times do indeed commence on December 21, 2012. That's the "end date" of the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar that's been ticking away silently for five millennia.
On that date, this fragile blue orb of ours will suddenly cease to be a very fun place to live. Interloping planets will victimize our solar system with gravitational chaos. The Earth's magnetic poles will go on the fritz. Our life-giving verdure will be baked to a crisp by the sun's violent radiation. Gargantuan tsunamis will flood the high Himalayas with crushing walls of cosmically sloshing seawater, earthquakes will cleave the ground, and six billion terrified earthlings will teem the streets and riot, driven mad with fear. And then . . . nothingness.
Actually, not really.
Every once in a while, Yahoo! Answers does offer up a grain of truth. Wrote one wise user in response to saskia's tremulous query: "It's not true. Relax and do your homework."
Many other people, however, have yet to get the message. Google "2012" and there are 233,000,000 hits. Try "2012 doomsday" or "2012 prophecy" or "2012 predictions" or "2012 end of the world" and you're flooded with results. On more than 600,000 Web sites — survive2012.com, 2012endofdays.org, december212012.com, etc. — discussion both eager and fearful rages about the astronomical, astrological, and religio-historic ramifications of the coming eschaton supposedly foreseen by Mayan mystics.
The fervor is pumped by ceaseless specials on the History Channel exploring the "disturbing prophecies" set to come true just three years hence. On YouTube, amateur documentaries of dubious scientific rigor proliferate. On Amazon, one can purchase dozens of books like 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl and The Complete Idiot's Guide to 2012.
This coming November, 2012 — a big-budget popcorn flick directed by master of disaster Roland Emmerich — will open in theaters. Watch the trailer, in which those awesome tidal waves lay waste to a Buddhist monastery high on a Himalayan peak, at whowillsurvive2012.com. Or lose yourself in the film's spin-off promo sites: home page for the bogus Institute for Human Continuity or thisistheend.com, at which Woody Harrelson's crackpot survivalist character posts videos proffering his theories on pole reversal, Kukulcan, and the "Doomsday Vault" seed bank.
It's all a lot of fun. It just doesn't happen to be true.
There's no mystery as to why so many are flogging the 2012 apocalypse. After all, says Marc Zender, a Mayan expert who lectures in Harvard's archaeology department, "There's a lot more cash to be made with 2012, or end of the world, or 'harmonic convergence,' than with the more dry analysis."