By: John Mink
November 21st, 2009
Part Five of Five - Mass Entertainment and The End
In this promotional poster from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
(2008), Harrison Ford's archaeologist Indiana Jones runs from a mob of scantily-clad Amazonian tribespeople while a giant crystal skull and a Maya-style step pyramid loom ominously in the background. The film is one of several in the first decade of the 21st century to incorporate aspects of ancient Maya culture to awe and entertain audiences; this has gone hand-in-hand with increasing public interest in the Maya generated by popular science books such as Jared Diamond's Collapse: How Societies choose to Fail or Succeed
phenomena such as the 2012 scare.
Promotional poster for the 1932 Boris Karloff film The Mummy. The film, widely-regarded as a classic, features a plot heavily-informed by Egyptian mythology, audience fascination with the concept of life after death, and what were perceived by the public to be cliff-hanging escapades by archaeologists in Egypt. The film was made a few years after archaeologist Howard Carter's discovery of the rich burial chamber of King Tut, an event chronicled for the New York World newspaper by journalist John L. Balderston - who wrote the script to The Mummy (Vieira 55-58).
In the 1986 film Clan of the Cave Bear, Darryl Hannah's Cro-Magnon character Ayla (shown in the movie poster here) is separated from her tribe and ends up living with Neandertals. The film attempted to tackle ambitious questions directly from paleoanthropology, including the question of whether Cro Magnon people (genetically the same as modern humans) and Neandertals (who were genetically distinct and went extinct around 22,000 years ago) could interbreed with each other.
In the prior chapters of this CyArk blog series, we have talked about the idea
of the year 2012: What it means to modern people, and what it may have meant to the Classic Period Maya of Central America. The Maya are a still-living people whose Long Count calendar (used between approximately 30 BCE and 900 AD/CE) forms the main basis for the current hysteria which links 2012 to a possible, world-changing event of a transformative or destructive nature. These episodes are as follows: Introduction
, Millenarianism (apocalyptic thought)
, New Age Predictions
, The Maya People
, The Maya Calendars
, and Maya Predictions
. Now, it is time for the elephant in the room: The feature film 2012 and all of its accompanying mass media spectacles, countless newspaper and magazine articles, blogs (including this one), and TV presentations. All of these feed the flames of public curiosity, hype, and a certain measure of hysteria about what has become a cultural phenomenon, one not dissimilar to the Y2k scare a decade ago but with the exotic, foreign twist implicit to discussions of ancient belief systems from cultures other than our own.
The highest profile manifestation of this particular cultural phenomenon is a new feature film titled, simply, 2012
. Its plot is partially based on data from the results of archaeological research, specifically breakthroughs in reading Classic Period Maya glyphic writing. These breakthroughs have given us great insight into their calendars, history, and beliefs. That this archaeological knowledge would undergo creative adaptation into entertainment should come as no surprise. Even if we don't count the incredibly popular Indiana Jones
series of films, Hollywood has for many decades had a relationship with the romantic aspects and sensational discoveries of the occasionally-stuffy academic discipline of archaeology. These films always combine a public fascination with the new
(old), and how it resonates with us
and our own perspectives; this resonance with the audience is a particularly vital element if a film is to find a wide viewership.
Egyptology in Film
Of course, the specific topics of films that incorporate aspects of knowledge produced from archaeology (sometimes called the archaeological narrative
) have changed over time as new discoveries are made. In the early years of film, Egyptology (particularly mummification) was a very hot topic as major discoveries were still being made in the Valley of the Kings. Though archaeological excavation of the largely-undisturbed tomb of King Tutankhamun in 1922 offered inspiration for the 1932 Boris Karloff film The Mummy
(re-made in 1999), it was not the first offering by Hollywood on this subject. A 1911 film also titled The Mummy
was presented as a comedy, wherein a young Egyptologist accidentally electrifies a female mummy back to life (a la Frankenstein) who promptly falls for him, much to the chagrin of his fiancee. A more reflective take on the physical remains of Egypt's famed past was created by the Egyptian writer/director Chadi Abdel Salam, whose 1973 film al-Mummia
depicts the discovery of a large cache of Royal Mummies at Luxor by a poor, 19th-century Egyptian family that makes a living by looting ancient sites; the family's need for subsistence conflicts with guilt over the exploitation of their country's heritage.
Paleoanthropology in Film
Egyptology is far from the only archaeological subfield interpreted by Hollywood, however. Paleoanthropology is the archaeological and biological study of early human development and prehistoric culture. The field strives to understand how the earliest people lived and what they looked like. Though cavemen had been depicted in films as far back as Buster Keaton's comedy Three Ages
(1923), paleoanthropology became a common subject for feature films in the 1960s-1970s, when major advances in excavation and fossil/lithic (stone) analysis were accompanied by the discovery of early hominids such as Lucy and Lake Turkana Boy (Lewin 120
). As with Egyptology, a wide range of paleoanthropology-themed films, from silly comedies to serious dramas, explored newly-formed ideas about the lives of prehistoric humans. While sex symbol Raquel Welch starred in One Million Years B.C.
(1967) wearing a fur bikini and Fred Flintstone used his own feet to power a stone-age car on The Flintstones (1960-1966), the Stanley Kubrick film 2001: A Space Odyssey
(1968) featured an introductory sequence that portrays early humans in a more Paleoanthropologically-informed manner - as animals evolving into a higher consciousness.
This more-serious evolutionary approach was further explored in the 1980s with the release of films such as Quest For Fire
and Clan of the Cave Bear
that dramatize the lives of our early ancestors, though the characters in these films occasionally display unquestionably modern behaviors that provide for a bit of unintentional comedy. This brand of unintentional prehistoric silliness was displayed most prominently (and recently) in 2012
-director Roland Emmerich's 10,000 B.C.
(2008); a fast-paced stone age adventure/drama in which noble Mammoth-hunting savages (speaking full English) must fight giant dinosaur-like birds, sabre-toothed tigers, and a slave-hunting new civilization in the desert that is building massive Egyptian-style pyramids using Wooly Mammoths as labor. An implausible scenario, to put it mildly, but one that entertains nonetheless.
The Ancient Maya in Film
Now, in the first decade of the 21st century, the narratives of Mayanist archaeology have become the subject of several feature films. Mel Gibson's highly-controversial epic Apocalypto
(2006) attempted to dramatize the lives of Maya people during the so-called Maya Collapse
around 900 CE. In an ambitious effort at archaeoogical-correctness, the filmmakers meticulously studied Classic Period Maya artwork to replicate styles of dress and even used the Yucatec Maya language for its dialogue, the first time a feature film was made in this language. The final film, however, was heavily criticized by archaeologists for a wide range of perceived inaccuracies. These included depictions of human sacrificial practices that were Aztec, not Maya, as well as historical inaccuracy in conflating the time frame of the Maya Collapse with that of the Spanish Conquest (for two excellent archaeological critiques by Mayanists on Apocalypto, go to Gerardo Aldana's article
and Zachary X. Hruby's article
). More light-heartedly, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
(2008) embellished Steven Spielberg's long-running Indiana Jones franchise with strongly Maya-themed pyramids, paintings, glyphic inscriptions, and language-references; this was despite the fact that the film was set mostly in the Amazon of South America, not in the Central American home of the Maya (past and present). In keeping with the fantastical nature of the Indiana Jones enterprise and in a direct homage to Chariots of the Gods?
author Erich Von Daniken
, it turns out Spielberg's ancient Maya were aliens all along, waiting for the right moment to turn their pyramids back into spaceships and zoom off into the cosmos.
Entertainment vs. Archaeological Narrative
In every single one of these films, the stories have been carefully crafted to address the dreams, concerns, and sense of humor of the modern-day audiences that view them. Simultaneously serving as art (however bad) and entertainment, all of these films use some version of archaeological narrative as an initial jumping-off point for a director and writer's onscreen vision that resonates both with them and the audience. This task necessitates taking frequent liberties with the narratives of archaeologists, whose methodical and evidence-based approaches don't often make for a fast-moving story with unambiguous conclusions. As a result, the path from field research to feature film can thus result in a peculiar archaeological version of the Game of Telephone: First, field archaeologists publish their findings and speculations in journals and scholarly books, which are then presented in a slightly-altered (simplified) version in popular science media such as National Geographic, Archaeology Magazine, and CyArk. Both the scholarly books and popular science media are then used as sources for books and other media outside of academic circles, such as those by New Age spiritualists
; these present a more heavily-altered version of the original narrative, replete with new conclusions and speculations. Then, all of these sources trickle down and combine in the echo chamber of the internet, that vast storehouse of information which allows the individual to prove or disprove anything he or she desires - assuming this individual ignores the question of how valid their sources are. After picking up steam on the internet and the other aforementioned popularizing media, the greatly-altered narrative bursts into mass consciousness on television and film. The ubiquitousness of TV and movies act in turn like steroids on the internet echo chamber, where growing numbers of newly-minted "experts" endlessly debate different aspects of fact and fiction pertaining to a story that often retains only the most superficial resemblance to the archaeological narrative it was originally drawn from. The producers of television and film spectaculars, however, are far more concerned with how their final product resonates with (sells to) a mass audience than they are with any questions as to how realistic or plausible their storyline is - or what version of a particular narrative it is drawn from.
2012: The CyArk Review
This concern with audience resonance (ticket sales) defines the final cut of the film 2012 itself - Chock-full of spectacular special effects and clocking in at two and a half hours, the film's editors seem to have cut a majority of the backstory that is heavily alluded-to on the film's promotional website
. This website, which includes details on decades of preparation by the fictional IHC
(Institute for Human Continuity) for the End Of The World
, is far more influenced by millenarianist
and New Age spiritualist
ideas about 2012 than the archaeological narrative source material by Mayanist scholars. Regardless, very few of these details appear in the final film, which only refers a couple of times to the Maya calendars and their purported predictions of a "Galactic Alignment" (clearly modeled after John Major Jenkins' ideas in Maya Cosmosis 2012
) that brings about the end of the world. Indeed, the main proponent of these ideas in the film is the character Charlie Frost
, entertainingly portrayed as a burned-out hippie [millenarianist] by legendary loose-cannon actor Woody Harrelson; a character that reviewer Manohla Dargis, writing in the New York Times
, humorously suggested might be modeled after New Age psychedelic journeyman Daniel Pinchbeck, author of 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl
. Harrelson's fringe element turns out to be correct in the film, of course, but the intent seems at least as comedic as it is contemplative. In fact, the film's portrayal of The End of The World
presents itself as almost an apocalyptic version of slapstick, in which seemingly-indestructible, wisecracking lead actor John Cusack speeds his family to safety in a series of high-speed vehicles as the earth's crust collapses in their wake.
In this promotional still frame from the Sony Pictures film 2012, family man Jackson Curtis (John Cusack) confronts millenarianist pirate radio broadcaster Charlie Frost as the Yellowstone supervolcano explodes right next to them. Charlie Frost's fictional radio show, This is the End, contains the film's only direct references to the Maya Calendar's supposed "end date" in 2012.
2012 is relentlessly entertaining, a little exhausting at 2.5 hours in length, and utterly ridiculous. It plays shamelessly to our anxieties and intense curiosity about total apocalypse, a subject
people have been fascinated by across countless cultures and vast spans of time. The film has practically nothing to do with the Maya calendar, which is relegated to a footnote in this piece of Hollywood showmanship. In this, the film 2012 is similar to and perhaps even more honest than other mass entertainment spectacles which involve stories and data adapted from archaeological narratives - it aims to be pure entertainment, and little more, feeding, exciting, and echoing our modern desires and fears while the year/date itself and its exotic origins serve as simple window dressing to a story about us
- well, the Hollywood version of us
Worries about The End
More worrisome than the film itself is public hysteria around the actual date of December 21 (or 23), 2012, which has generated a great deal of fear and, for some people who are a bit more emotionally fragile, threats of suicide (see this article from National Geographic
for more examples and information). This hysteria has been fed by the makers of the film for the purpose of hyping it, and it is growing increasingly difficult (particularly on the internet) to find voices of reason in an often-sinister wilderness of open speculation on the subject.
Hopefully, this hysteria will subside as calmer heads prevail and make their voices heard. Though we have a more-than-excellent chance of waking up on December 22 (or 24), 2012, in the same shape as we were when we went to sleep, we might want to keep an eye on those of us who are a bit more impressionable than others. Take a moment to let these worriers know they should take all the scary things they are reading on the internet about 2012
with a grain of salt - or twenty. After all, the ancient Maya didn't seem concerned enough to really write much of anything
about it. Should we?
Vieira, Mark A. (2003). Hollywood Horror: From Gothic to Cosmic
. New York: Harry N. Abrams
Lewin, Roger (2005). Human evolution: an illustrated introduction
January 4th, 2010 Bre said:
alot of scientist and other people have said that the ent of the world was supposed to happen in 2000 and plenty of other times how will we ever know for shure. I think that it's wrong to get millions of people upset for nothing. thats just wrong. Eveyone knows the world isn't going to end. however in the bible i beleive it says that the world will end when vilolence starts and when children start disobaying their parents i think thats what it says that is a problem in the world today considering all the murders and other things going on. I hope the world doesn't end probualy won't happen anyways but i just had to blog lolz=}
January 6th, 2010 Faisal abdullahi said:
No one that can pridict the end of the world,no body know what the future hold excetp ALLAH who created earth, and rest.The end of the world is not reveal even to the prophet of ALLAH,ALLAH has only revealed the sign of the end of the world in the holly qur'an,no matter how we keep researching we will end up with a negetive result he who claim to predict the future is mong the sign of the world,so dont be deceive by human theories.
January 10th, 2010 Justiss said:
I dont know what to believe but i do know that the movie has alot of people worried and they better try to fix it other wise people are going to start not caring anymore and there will be alot of problems with people not caring anymore cause they think they are going to die anyways breaking in evereywhere killings evereywhere and alot more stuff is going to happen if they dont try and fix what they started making people think they will die in 2012 for me im scared cause i have 2 lil ones thay i couldnt emagine anything happening to them and i dont ant theirs lives to end or get hrt by crazy people out there that dont care anymore cause of the movie trust me im scared to death that it will happen
January 29th, 2010 Ladyoz said:
Thank you for the perspective - much appreciated :)
February 8th, 2010 Midare said:
Oye, thank you for this detailed blog, Mr. Mink. I just hope many of the people leaving comments are the minority... and that most people actually understood what you were saying. I mean, seriously, a lot of Abahamic kooks on here.
August 17th, 2010 2012hoax said:
Thank you for the excellent series of articles. Your analysis parallels ours, and you reach pretty much the same conclusions.
We have made it our mission to find, chase down, and beat to death every 2012 rumor we can find. Interested people can find us at 2012hoax.org (free, no fees, no signup required, etc).
September 8th, 2010 Female Human said:
Thank you for a very well written and informative set of articles! Seeing this topic discussed in a rational and non-inflammatory way was much preferable to the hype and hysteria spewing from people whose primary mission is to get rich selling books, arms or survival \"equipment\".
While I consider myself well educated and moderately well informed, I am also a spiritual person and have faith and insight that cannot be explained using DNA sequencers or periodic tables. While I do not buy into any of the \"end of the world\" scenarios, I DO have an building uneasy feeling regarding these next few years. (The same could be said for the folks who lived through the Cold War.)
My college education and rational mind tell me this is the insidious psychological impact of all the media bombardment, but... there is a small spot deep in my gut that disregards the hype and yet still tells me that something really IS \"up\". Something not so good. The single other premonition I’ve had in my life was very intense and proved to be quite accurate, so I’m not ignoring this one. That being said, it's not like I'm hoarding rice in my crawl space or stocking up on ammo.
So... How do I prepare for the hysteria of theY2 holdovers who think they won’t see Christmas day in 2012?
I stay informed and read articles like this one. Knowledge is power. But, just in case the billion-to-one odds of a meteorite strike do coincidently come to pass and I somehow survive the impact, I hedged my bet and planted fruit trees. I have rain barrels and a big organic vegetable garden. I make jelly and pickles, can my own vegetables, grow herbs and keep a few chickens hidden out of sight of the homeowners association. If it all turns out to be a bunch of media crappola, then at least I have had the pleasure to dig in the earth and smell roses on a warm summer afternoon. My neighbors love the amazing fresh eggs and ignore the contented clucking they hear from the other side of the fence. (*Ahem* QUAIL make a clucking sound don’t they?) Fresh zucchini and tomatoes inspire conversations at the gang mailbox and we all know each other. Unfortunately, whatever future the Creator has in store for us is not something I've been consulted on. In the meantime, I’m eating well!!
September 8th, 2010 Marie said:
People have the right to worry about it if they wish but factually there is not a whole lot supporting this end of the world date. While there as "warnings" or "predictions" it was best addressed as take it with a grain of salt because the "end of the world" has been predicted like 100 times. This one is no different
September 14th, 2010 Andrea said:
I enjoyed this well-written, informative piece. Your writing style is excellent- I always enjoy a piece that reads easily, but still leaves me feeling acquainted with new knowledge. Finding this piece online really helped me, as I have been trying to find an article that made a point to understand the Mayan culture, rather than the new-age our world sucks therefore it must change soon bit. Thank you again! It was an excellent read!
November 24th, 2010 GWhitney said:
Watching archaeological research on Easter Island on TV and found your blog postings on the topic. Good research and write-up.
Thanks for putting it out.
December 7th, 2010 Colin said:
Awesome blog.It is amazing how as a culture we hunger for the threat of doom to line pockets. This as i have always thought is of numbers and when my calendar ends i'll go buy another one!
December 23rd, 2010 James said:
Very Intriguing, I'm glad there are some people out there such as yourself taking the countless amounts of time researching and analyzing this amazing coulntless amounts of data and putting it basically in lamens terms for those of us who have either an open/faith leading life. Reading material such as this V part blog allows the majority of us really add an intelligent perspective about the whole 2012 speculation. I myself am open minded and I may not understand all I have read on your V part blog, but I must say everything said and posted seemed very accurate. At least to my opinion. Regardless of this galactic alignment I'm sure as a intelligent species as we are, our wheels will continue to spin and society as we know it will continue. But who knows maybe for the first time ever Hollywood may be right... lolz As Iffff..... Great work CyArk
December 30th, 2010 Aimee said:
I am 13 years old and i was very intertained with your blog. And your very right mayas dint seemed bother by it so why sould we. I very much appreciated it.
January 4th, 2011 Jason said:
Thanks for clearing that up. I guess I won't just \"Party like its 1999\" for the next two years. lol
January 6th, 2011 Jill said:
Thank you for your post I found it very informative and I appreciate the time you put into it. I don't think anyone can predict the "end of the world" and I can't live my life in fear of this. All I know is this. I must live everyday of my life to the fullest with respect, love, and kindness for all. If the world ends there is nothing I can do about it. I can only live in the present to the best of who I am.
January 17th, 2011 john said:
good job dude!regardless of what happens,jesus said to many that we are to love god w/all our hearts,minds +souls and to love our fellow man as we love ourselves-and that's pretty much the nut-good enough fer me!!life'spretty much taught me that faith and forgiveness will go a long way towards perssonal peace(or"enlightenment")-johngalt56-peaceout dude!
January 27th, 2011 Alexis said:
Thanks. Im 17 and Ive been concerened about the whole "2012" theory and i couldnt understand anything, but i understood this, and it kept me entertained. Nice work and Great job.
February 5th, 2011 Buck said:
You should be praised for you even handed method of dealing with so many varied and different beliefs which are interwoven into this subject. I hope you plan to continue or even begin a new series while we are approaching 2012. One subject matter which you only lighted upon in your series involves how so many divergent beliefs attempt to predict how and when the world (as we know it) will end. Encased within so many of our present day societies is the belief, or desire, that this world will change. I have no doubt, whether it will be caused by things external, but more likely internal, be it forces or movements, that 2012 will be memorable.
February 11th, 2011 reader said:
Thank you for the informative blog, I enjoyed it very much.
I think that nature (higher power, God, universe - whatever you want to call it) has a renewal power. Maybe, just maybe, 2012 is the time our planet renews itself so that all this global warming, resource shortage, etc, etc, is somehow fixed. Just a 10 degrees shift in Earth's positioning would make the climate in every continent stable - no extremities that is. Wouldn't that fix our imminent natural disasters?
Another food for thought: have you consulted the Bahai teachings? Among other beliefs and principles, BAhais believe that Messiah whom everyone is waiting for has already come back in 1844. By the way, the Maya believe that God's twin sons will come out of under the earth and save the dawn. Somehow it shows some similarity with the twin manifestations in the Bahai faith.
Anyhow, I thought it could give you some different perspectives too.
February 27th, 2011 Rick said:
Very interesting indead, you have a very clear way of helping us to understand. Just came back from Mexico and our lives are deffinitly different than theirs in general as our beliefs, if by calander or spiritally. All we can do is wait as we have in the past when we were told the world will end and as it is we can't stop it or effect it anyway just keep what faith we believe in and also our witts.
March 26th, 2011 Derek said:
There Is A Very High Chance That Mr.Mink's Research Is Correct.I Believe It,The Only Problem Is Producers In HollyWood Like To Do This Kind Of Stuff To Get Entertainment, But Don't Realize That They're Causing Mass Hysteria Along With The Other Fake Bloggers In This World.
April 11th, 2011 chad said:
This was very informative and I enjoyed reading every sentence. Thank you for keeping your own opinions and interpretations out of this blog and sticking to the facts. Although, I'm probably not as intelligent as you or the guys who "decoded" the Mayan language, I do often wonder, how do they know they have interpreted these drawings/engravings correctly, when there is no modern day peoples using them currently?
June 26th, 2011 Rae said:
All I can say is thank you for giving people a brain when they read this.
Faisal abdullahi: using Allah in every sentance is just plain sad.
September 11th, 2011 doug said:
This article should be used as a teaching tool in schools. Its amazing how world media and opinion can destroy the truth and facts of something and the masses buy into it causing social distress. This article provides the facts and sources I have to give A+++++++ on this. The end of the world will be causes buy the corporate machine controlled dishonest media, causing mass social disorder. Thank you for the hard work and time and please continue this.
November 25th, 2011 Ailsa P said:
Aww I'm sad it's over. My son has had a particular interest in this topic and we were able to sit together and share the readings. I appreciate it as a mother being able to have an informed discussion with a 10yr old son and we are both better informed and are still able to individually formulate an educated opinion that leaves dialogue open and that's a good thing. Thanks heaps from me and Navarre. Hey any chance on doing some research on where Maori (our culture) originated and the relationship with the land from whence we came?
December 6th, 2011 Corina said:
Oh thank god I found your Blog. I got caught up in "factual" novels filled with unrelated scientific data that bombarded my brain into thinking it was all true. The 26,000 year cycle, planetary alignment, geographical pole shift, CIA experimenting with lasers into the ionsophere, artifiacl control of weather storms...jeeeepers. I was becoming a complete mess. So i started searching for more info and there you were. Thank you for regrounding me and to Female Human for reminding me of the simpler pleasures in life.
January 2nd, 2012 Marc said:
Thank you for a factual, truthful blog! I can stop digging that bunker in my back garden now! Lol
January 9th, 2012 Day said:
Thank you for this. I am going to be forcing my ammo hoarding, bob bag creating, bunker building paranoid husband read this as soon as he gets home from work! Same as my father. We even have a safe place which is a secleded 100acres with a look out tower. Thank you media for making us spend thousands on guns and hundreds on rice! Thank you Mr. Blogger maybe now I can get a new kichten instead of an AR!
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