Furnishing the Apocalypse: The 21st Century Fallout Shelter
Roughly 15% of people believe the world will soon end in catastrophe, whether it be global warming, zombie apocalypse, the Rapture, the prophecies of the Mayan calendar or I Ching, electromagnetic pulses, economic collapse, or any other number of End-Time scenarios detailed on late-night radio shows and web pages. In 2007 the New York Times recognized that apocalypse is a surprisingly “appealing idea because it promises salvation to a select group — all of whom share secret knowledge — and a world redeemed and delivered from evil.” Many of our neighbors are wary of the State, creeping liberalism, environmental decline, and a variety of other signs that portend an approaching end and cannot be fully explained outside mythical narratives, and at least some of them believe they can ride out the apocalypse and perhaps even improve on the contemporary world afterward.
These prophets of Doom often deplore worldly materialism, yet many amongst them have begun planning for their accommodation after the endtimes. In the wake of Armageddon, about 70 people plan to hunker down in a renovated missile silo in Kansas that has been exceptionally well-appointed with a movie theater, exercise spaces, and tastefully furnished rooms (and similar places in Indiana and more unidentified spots being built by construction firms focused on fortified shelters) that are a far cry from the spartan fallout shelters that sprang up in American backyards during the Cold War. The real estate firm 20th Century Castles specializes in Cold War missile bases including a former Nike Missile base in southeastern Indiana with one residential missile magazine including a pool and jacuzzi (price reduced to $1.3 million).
The best-known of these firms may be the Vivos shelters that include hardened bunker condo’s in Indiana, the Rockies, and Nebraska, all holding between 50 and 1000 people and their genetic material as the apocalypse goes on overhead (their YouTube page includes a host of videos and interviews about the shelters and the reasons people might seek them out). Most of these firms cast their accommodations as places people will wait until it is safe to go out, and in the meantime they plan to make us comfortable and safe.
One Vivos video of a planned shelter space is eerily like a Sims house, outfitted in wood grains, paintings of nature, and earthtones and fake plants rather than the cool steel, barrels of supplies, and scratchy wool blankets that awaited us in Cold War fallout shelters. A tour of an Indiana shelter under construction requires some imagination to envision it as a bourgeois space, but it is fitted with fabulous appliances and tasteful bathroom fittings. The material landscape promised by these upscale shelters is vastly different than the Armageddon aesthetic most people envision in the wake of various apocalypses. Though some of these firms indicate that people will eventually come to the surface to hunt and gather and re-populate the earth, their promises revolve around indefinitely providing a modest community snugly held in an Ikea-outfitted steel tube without any natural light.
Spike TV recognized the fascination many of us have with doomsday prophecy and those people who openly if somewhat neurotically warn the rest of us about the dangers awaiting us, so they have turned that fascination into the reality series “Last Family on Earth.” The winner of Last Family will secure a share of a Vivos shelter space for up to six of their family members based on games in which contestants are tested in the face of “a variety of annihilation scenarios, including a pandemic, global government or economic collapse, nuclear war, reactor meltdown, solar flares, massive asteroids, lethal climate change, a pole shift, calamitous earthquakes — even widespread anarchy.” The casting company is in its last days of casting, so there is still time for a couple archaeologists to make an appeal for the skills we will bring to End Times.