2012: Is it more than a movie?

Doomsday. The apocalypse. Armageddon. The end of days. Most people would agree that somehow, life as we know it on Earth will eventually end – the key words being “somehow” and “eventually.”

Maybe nuclear bombs will do us all in tomorrow; maybe global warming will keep melting the icecaps and drown us all in the resulting floods; maybe the sun will die out in a million years and we’ll freeze to death.

But for now, all of these theories seem to be taking a backseat to a theory far more hazy and, surprisingly, less gruesome: the Mayan’s ancient, supposedly apocalyptic predictions for Dec. 21, 2012.

Many different versions of these predictions have begun to percolate within our society. “I heard the whole planet’s gonna explode,” said senior Brandi Timm.

Senior Trey Miller has a somewhat similar take on the matter. “I heard we’re all going to die,” he said. Miller then mentioned a theory relating to the position of the Earth’s axis and made a flipping motion with his arm, demonstrating what is apparently supposed to happen to Earth’s axis on Dec. 21, 2012. Timm listened and nodded.

“Yeah, so I guess we’re all just going to get flipped off into space,” said Timm.

The Mayans didn’t quite predict that anyone would be flipped off into space. The buzz about 2012 lies in one of their methods of keeping time and their ancient creation legends.

What’s with the Mayans?

The Mayans, a Mesoamerican civilization who hit their prime in the Classic period (250-900 A.D.), kept track of time in a slightly different manner than we do today. One of their time-keeping methods, the Long Count calendar, used a measure called a b’ak’tun, which translates to about 394 years, give or take a few months.

According to Mayan creation legend, we currently inhabit the fourth world. The gods failed in creating the first three worlds, but the fourth time was the charm. The third world ended as its thirteenth b’ak’tun came to a close, and then our current world began, and the count started over. This was in September of 3114 B.C. Ever since then, the Long Count has been climbing. And Dec. 21, 2012, marks the end of the thirteenth b’ak’tun – again.

However, nothing in any accounts of Mayan history says specifically that there can’t be a fourteenth b’ak’tun, or that we’re all doomed. The Mayan calendar doesn’t end in 2012 any more than our calendar ended in 1999, at the turn of a new millennium.

“It’s been said many times before that the world was going to end,” said senior Heather Gordon. “It’s just going to be the same as any other day.”

NASA tackles doomsday theories

NASA seems to agree with Gordon. David Morrison, a senior space scientist at NASA, has created a page on the organization’s web site called “Ask an Astrobiologist.” As of June 2009, Morrison had received close to a thousand questions from concerned and curious citizens about the various catastrophic theories of 2012. He continues to answer these questions today, and he posts his answers on the “Ask an Astrobiologist” site.

“There is no threat to Earth in 2012,” says Morrison in a video introduction to his web page. “All of the talk about a doomsday is a big hoax, perpetuated on the Internet and with people trying to make money, so please, don’t worry about it.”

Morrison goes on to dissect several of the most talked-about theories. One of these theories says that a mysterious planet called Nibiru (or Planet X) is currently barreling forward on a crash-course with Earth, and that a collision is set to occur on Dec. 21, 2012. However, Morrison says this theory lacks substance, as no such planet has been detected. “To an astronomer, persistent claims about a planet that is ‘nearby’ but ‘invisible’ are just plain silly,” he said.

Morrison even tackles the polar shift theory casually mentioned by Miller. “A reversal in the rotation of Earth is impossible,” said Morrison. He says that many online conspiracy theorists “pull a bait-and-shift” by associating a reversal of Earth’s rotation with a reversal of Earth’s magnetic polarity.

Earth’s magnetic polarity does, in fact, irregularly reverse every 400,000 years or so. However, Morrison states that there is no correlation between a magnetic reversal and damage to life on Earth. “A magnetic reversal is very unlikely to happen in the next few millennia anyway,” Morrison said.

Media boosts the public’s fear

Fairmont Sociology teacher Tina Kurtz says most of the blame for creating this panic should be placed on the media for reinforcing and glamorizing these apocalyptic theories. Indeed, the media – especially television and film – has taken quite a liking to the strong emotions that these theories can evoke in viewers.

The History Channel deemed the first full week of January 2010 “Armageddon Week.” Its primetime schedule for the week included shows such as “Nostradamus Effect: 2012 Extinction,” “The Bible Code II: Apocalypse and Beyond” and “Life After People: Bodies Left.”

And, of course, there is also last year’s blockbuster movie 2012. Throwing all previous theories out the window, 2012 features world destruction via radiation caused by solar storms, and a healthy dose of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions caused by the cracking of the Earth’s crust.

The movie’s first trailer caused a stir by encouraging its viewers to “find out the truth” by searching “2012” on Internet search engines. Later in the marketing campaign, a web site was launched for the Institute for Human Continuity, a fictional organization created to promote the movie. The site offered visitors an opportunity to register for a lottery, the winners of which would be saved from the 2012 catastrophe. “The Mayans prophesized it. Science has confirmed it. And yet, the government won’t tell you a word about it,” read the IHC’s web site upon its launch. “The odds of global destruction in 2012 have been confirmed at 94 per cent. Specific preparations are being made to ensure the survival of a small population. To ensure your chance of survival, register for the lottery.”

Morrison received quite a few questions about the IHC through his “Ask an Astrobiologist” feature. “I’ve even had cases of teenagers writing to me saying they are contemplating suicide because they don’t want to see the world end,” said Morrison. “I think when you lie on the Internet and scare children in order to make a buck, that is ethically wrong.”

But for Kurtz, her biggest fear isn’t whether the world will end on Dec. 21, 2012 – rather, it’s how the people of the world will react as the date approaches. “What is the world going to be doing from Dec. 1st to the 21st?” asked Kurtz. “That’s what scares me the most.”

As for the prospect of doomsday in 2012, Kurtz is trying to be realistic. She recalls her studies of world history. “There have been so many cultures over so many years that have come to these types of conclusions,” she said. She’s trying to ignore the idea of impending doom, and for one simple reason:  “If it’s going to come, then it’s going to come.”