Tea Krulos takes another look at eccentric Americans in Apocalypse Any Day Now. As he did in Heroes in the Night: Inside the Real Life Superhero Movement (2013) and Monster Hunters (2015), Krulos lets his oddball subjects speak for themselves without rendering overt comment on their beliefs. In this case, though, the book’s title seems to suggest the ridiculousness of doomsday preppers’ obsession with preparing themselves for one version of the Apocalypse or another. The title was the publisher’s idea, so Krulos’ nonjudgmental streak remains intact.
I personally love post-apocalyptic fiction, whether it be “realistic” like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (2006) or Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake (2003) or undead a la George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) or The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore (2003— ). And I will even admit to the occasional fantasy about just what I would do in the event civilization collapses (be a total badass, naturally).
But the fact is, the Apocalypse is extremely unlikely. Indeed, Krulos devotes a chapter to the many, many, many instances in which someone has predicted the end of the world as we know it (which is never as peppy as the REM song), from the Millerites of the 19th Century to the so-called Mayan Prophecy to the slightly-more-grounded Y2K panic. All of these predictions, of course, were wrong.
Krulos spends another chapter on some more plausible catastrophic scenarios, such as a meteor strike, artificial intelligence run amok, or nuclear war. The problem of all these scenarios, from a prepper standpoint, is that they are likely to cause the immediate extinction of all of humanity. Preppers are preparing for an event that is serious enough to cause civilization to collapse, but not serious enough to cause a total extinction. It’s hard to imagine a plausible scenario that falls within this range.
This is not to say a survivable mini-Apocalypse isn’t possible. Just ask the ghosts of Easter Island or the original Jamestown colony, not to mention those who perished in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina or in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. In fact, Krulos’ subjects frequently bring up the failed government response to Katrina as justification for their need to “prep”for a major catastrophe.
Krulos has identified a political dimension to the prepper ethos. Those who cite Katrina as justification for their lifestyle come from a libertarian or conservative suspicion of the government’s ability to protect its citizens. These preppers take the safety of their families into their own hands because they don’t trust the government to keep them safe. Not surprisingly, these preppers show great admiration for President Donald Trump.
Interestingly, Trump is also a great motivator for “homesteaders,” those who embrace a survivalist lifestyle based on a liberal or anarchist worldview. Homesteaders want to go back to the land, in part due to fears that the current commander-in-chief will either blunder or willingly steer us into the Apocalypse. Right wing preppers are far more interested in guns to help them fend off hordes of the unprepared, while left wing homesteaders are into organic farming and other means of self-sufficiency that will allow them to live “off the grid” even without the Apocalypse.
Krulos also profiles an apolitical group of semi-preppers who share my love for zombie apocalypse fiction. The Zombie Squad began as a small group of zombie film buffs that now supports chapters in cities around the country. They host a booze-filled Zombie Con in the remote wilds near Irondale, Missouri, in conditions so rugged one attendee lost two fingers to frostbite (the group later named him “Ocho” in honor of his eight remaining digits).
While Krulos never holds up his subjects to ridicule, he is tougher on himself. He attends prepper workshops and retreats, trying his hand at survival activities like building a fire, axe-throwing and stitching a wound (thankfully on a pig carcass). He is invariably much worse at these tasks than his subjects and not afraid to admit it.
His self-deprecation charms both the reader and his often-paranoid subjects, who seem to appreciate his willingness to engage with their world as well as his admission that he would fare far worse than them when, as they repeatedly say, the shit hits the fan. Indeed, Krulos’ engagement with this world helps his subjects open up to him and also makes for a more entertaining book than a more conventional, arms-length journalistic exercise. Apocalypse Any Day Now is a fun and funny, but never mocking, dive into the bizarre world of doomsday preppers.