Sunday, 24 November 2013

Waiting for the apocalyse

I love apocalyptic stories. An imagined future comprising the end of civilisation, with extreme situations for characters to face, offers excellent dramatic possibilities. Also, stories of the apocalypse address themes that fit my interests perfectly - politics and craft.

When civilisation ends the crafters will rule the earth. That is, if we can wrest it from the hands of the power hungry. A post-apocalyptic world will require skills of self reliance that are not highly valued in our technological society, skills like hunting, scavenging, gardening, crafting and, yes, knitting.

In general there are two types of futuristic stories. The first is science fiction, where technology has triumphed. These are sometimes apocalyptic, but for the most part a future reliant on technology is not one which will require knitters. I enjoy a good sci fi story because they usually have strong political themes, but generally prefer a more rugged, back to basics future.

The second type of futuristic stories, the post-apocalyptic, follow some kind of devastating event that destroys our technological world. In the past this was more often than not a nuclear holocaust, but since the end of the cold war nuclear weapons seem to be less of a concern, and the disaster is often environmental, epidemic, or a combination of both.

My particularly favorite sub-genre, zombies, fits in this category.

This year I got into AMC's excellent zombie series The Walking Dead, and I have just found the perfect patterns to knit while watching the programme - Doomsday Knits, a collection inspired by post-apocalyptic fiction. This e-collection of 25 patterns, ranging from accessories to garments and even including a radiation symbol baby blanket, will be available from early December, just in time for your Christmas knitting.

Fingerless mitts always seem a great fashion accessory for the post-apocalyptic world - warming, yet fingers free to allow dexterity while collecting canned goods or fending off zombies. I've already gotten started on my Christmas knitting using the Camp Out fingerless mitts pattern, but I'll have to add Apocketmitts to my Ravelry queue. These long fingerless mitts include inside pockets, "perfect for storing water purification and anti-radiation tablets, weaponry, compasses, matches, or even a small phone".

Apocketmitts by Flossie Knits
image © Vivian Aubrey

The book is divided into sections: Global warming, Nuclear winter, Kill all humans, Dystopian dandies, etc. and features fashion shoots in post-apocalyptic landscapes and apocalypse-themed descriptions of the patterns. They are even running a Doomvember schedule of blog posts presenting the patterns during the month of November.

Sometimes I feel I need to defend my love of zombies, mainly because of the key feature of the genre: gore. A lot of people don't have the stomach for it, and I must admit I was thoroughly disgusted (and terrified) by the first zombie film I saw in my teens. This was Return of the Living Dead, which is a zombie comedy, so you can see how sensitive I was.

However, after years of watching horror and zombie films, I've become mostly desensitized to gore. In fact, gore is one of the main reasons we keep coming back to zombies - it is the only place we can get the visceral without ethical concern. Zombie films are less disturbing than the torture horror of the early 2000s (notably the Saw and Hostel franchises). At least most of the gore in zombie movies involves the dead, who can't feel it. They are meat without consciousness. And in a post-apocalyptic world you won't be able to get your nice clean cuts of meat from a supermarket, you'll have to kill and disembowel it.

The Walking Dead offers some excellent gore, and additionally a great apocalyptic landscape, particularly the first series' scenes set in Atlanta. Zombies in a pastoral setting are scary enough, but zombies in cities are the most disturbing - probably because we know that our densely packed cities are the perfect vectors for the transmission of disease.

A well made zombie film, like a well made sci fi, can present interesting critiques of political and ethical issues and entertain at the same time. Some people have even argued that zombie stories are at heart progressive liberal parables - because even though guns are useful, the only way people can really survive is by working together and creating a community.

What's not to love?