TECHNICALLY SPEAKING

The End of the World, Part One
Written by Denis Faye


WHERE TO LOOK

Before you hit the farm, there is some research you can do online and in print. Your first stop should be Rawles’ site, Survival Blog. It’s hard to imagine a destination with a more comprehensive view of the survivalist’s way, from gear reviews (Chiappa Rhino Revolver anyone?) to observations on society’s pending collapse.  

There’s also a detailed links page connecting you to hundreds of other bloggers, suppliers, and anything else you can think of.  

If the printed word suits your fancy, in addition to Rawles’ how-to manual, How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It, check out The Encyclopedia of Country Living by Carla Emery. As Rawles puts it, this book is “chock-full of real, folksy, down-to-earth, how-to-do it advice, everything from how to hang a gate, to butcher a hog, to plant corn. It’s an excellent book.”  

I, personally, am also quite partial to the hard-to-find Dare to Prepare by Holly Drennan Deyo, based largely on her decision to include chapter 38: Pet Preparedness.  

In terms of accurate fiction, there are several great properties out there, including several that, according to Rawles, Hollywood has passed by, including Earth Abides by George Stewart; Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank; Lucifer’s Hammer, a book about a comet strike by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle; and Some Will Not Die by Algis Budrys, about a total societal collapse following a pandemic. “Those would be some of the very best,” Rawles insists. “If anyone could do a good adaptation of one of those books, it would be a blockbuster.” 

Oftentimes, experts can’t really walk the walk when it comes to their chosen field. For example, you can read every book ever written on ancient Rome, but you’ll never actually see it; the window of experiential opportunity is closed.

Survivalist James Rawles, however, is living the life. While it was easy to track cyber-Rawles down via his comprehensive Survival Blog, that’s about where his accessibility ends. Rawles lives with his family off the grid, “somewhere west of the Rockies,” almost entirely self sufficiently, save a few store-bought provisions such as salt and tea. The only hints as to his location he’ll provide are that he’s 25 miles from the nearest town and his backyard features “hot and cold running elk.”

Why all the secrecy? When the big one hits, Rawles is just making sure his extensive provisions go to his family. “I don’t want to wake up some morning and see five teepees, a couple yurts, and four RVs in my yard,” says the author of Patriots: Surviving the Coming Collapse and How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It. “I also don’t want to end up on some biker gang’s shopping list when the world ends.”

This might strike you as rather isolationist, but Rawles is actually a warm, embracing person when you talk to him, which explains the effort he puts into helping others via his blog and his books. He took the time recently to chat with Technically Speaking about how Hollywood portrays survivalists on screen and how they might go about improving things.

What does Hollywood get right about surviving the end of the world?  

What they get right is that there is the potential for a total societal collapse. I’m not saying it’s going to be as bad as something like they’re portraying in The Road [Screenplay by Joe Penhall], where you have people eating each other, but one of the things that I try to stress in my writings is that there’s just a thin veneer of civilization on our society and even though we like to think we’re very civilized and very dainty about things, it doesn’t take a lot to peel back that veneer. What’s underneath is not very good smelling. Human nature is pretty brutal. When people feel cornered, they will do whatever they think is necessary to survive. If that includes taking food out of someone else’s hands, they’re going to do it.

I’m a Christian, and I’m a big believer in Christian charity. I cover that in my writings, but I also stress that people need to be quiet about their preparations because if you’re sitting on a year or two years supply of food and your neighbors find out about it, they’re not going to come take part of it, they’re going to take all of it and leave you with nothing.

But still, you don’t usually see a lot of Christian charity in Hollywood survival films. They tend to emphasize either outdoor survival or the cutthroat, me-first attitude towards survival. I do believe in charity. A lot of people think of survivalists as rugged, me-first kinds of people, but I don’t look at the three-year supply I’ve put away for my family as a three-year supply. I look at it as a one-year supply for three families.

What does Hollywood get wrong?  

Lots of things. They intentionally make some things wrong. I don’t know if it’s a liability issue, but they tend to what I call “MacGyverize” things. They’ll show people taking harmless household chemicals and making a bomb. That doesn’t happen. The other thing they tend to get wrong is weight and space. Look at a movie like Blast from the Past [Screenplay by Bill Kelly and Hugh Wilson], where they show a family that made a very elaborate fallout shelter and supposedly buttoned up for 30 years. If you look at the size of the room where their pantry is, granted they showed the wife going through aisles of shelves with a shopping cart, but that might have been two or three years of supplies, not 30 years! The space requirements for food storage are huge.

I also get emails from a lot of newbies saying, “Where am I going to store water?” I say, “You’re not going to store water. You’re going to find sources of water and you’re going to treat that water.”

People have a lot of unrealistic expectations about weight and space and a lot of that gets reflected in Hollywood movies.

What are some of your favorite post-apocalyptic movies and shows?  

I do like Jericho, although there’s some stuff they got wrong. The British television series Survivors was quite well done. That’s pretty much it from television.

In terms of movies, the ones I liked the best would probably include The Postman [Screenplay by Eric Roth and Brian Helgeland], if you can get past Kevin Costner’s posturing. I enjoyed Terminator 2 [Written by James Cameron and William Wisher Jr.] I enjoyed Red Dawn [Screenplay by John Milius and Kevin Reynolds], but that was more of an invasion scenario. Most of the other ones are horribly flawed. The Road was realistic, but horribly depressing. I wouldn’t recommend it, especially to anyone who suffers from bouts of depression.

There are a lot of war movies that I enjoy that have a lot of survivalist themes to them, such as The River on the River Kwai [Screenplay by Michael Wilson and Carl Foreman] or Defiance [Screenplay by Clayton Frohman and Edward Zwick], or Black Hawk Down [Screenplay by Ken Nolan].

There are some science fiction movies that I enjoy, the Firefly television series and the Serenity [Written by Joss Whedon] movie that followed it were quite good. They captured the libertarian survivalist mindset.

And the movie Enemy at the Gates [Written by Jean-Jacques Annaud and Alain Godard], which was about the siege of Stalingrad was excellent. That gave you the whole urban warfare aspect of infrastructure breaking down.

So you’re not too concerned about our pending doom in 2012?  

While I have to say, I’m glad there are plenty of 2012 preppers out there, because that many more people are getting prepared, but in terms of what they think is going to happen, they’re incredibly naive. There’s no real historical or even biblical support for what they’re doing. The 2012 rollover in the Mayan calendar was just the end of a long calendar. It wasn’t the end of the whole calendar. It’s not the end of the world.

It was kind of fun watching John Cusack save his kids and get reunited in the movie, but I don’t think it had any grounding in reality.

No giant ark ships?  

No. No giant ark ships in the Himalayas. No. But there are a few hidden underground bases used by our government and others. There’s a huge one in Russia. Some are secret; some are semi-secret. There are a surprising number of square feet developed underground.

What would you like to see in a movie about survivalists?  

I would like to see a true survivalist movie made some day, because when you come right down to it, Hollywood has never captured the full concept of either a rural family or a rural community pulling through a long-term scenario. They do fine with short-term disaster movies, but most Hollywood writers, directors, and producers just don’t have a clue of what would really be involved in being truly self-sufficient. Their idea of a full garden or a few cows and chickens – that’s what they usually show – just doesn’t cut it.

When you’re self-sufficient, you’re burning a lot of calories. If you’re doing a lot of manual labor, if you don’t have running water, if you don’t have a thermostat where you just go click and turn the dial and magically have heat, you’re going to be burning a ton of calories. People say, “You must have a really cool gym in your house.” No, I split firewood. I’m in good shape because I do things like hunting, and fishing, and going out in the garden and all the things that are required. I’m lucky to keep weight on.

People in Hollywood really don’t have a clue about all the different things that go into being self-sufficient because we live in a culture where we’re so dependent on so many other people and so much infrastructure and rapid transfer of data. People don’t really think through the full implications of a full societal collapse and a disruption of the infrastructure. As I often point out to journalists in interviews, the real lynchpins are the power grids. If the grids go down, all bets are off. We have built up, especially in first world countries, such a dependence on the grid for every aspect of our lives, that if the grid were interrupted for more than a few days, we could see a massive die-off. Not just hardship but a die-off of population.

Depending on the climate and time of year, it could be enormous.

What advice do you have for a writer embarking on a script about the end of days?  

I’d say for your average Joe, WGA guy, get out of your suburban house and go live on a farm, preferably an Amish or Mennonite farm, for a couple of months. Or go work on a Kibbutz in Israel. Until you get your hands dirty, you can’t really fire up your copy of Final Draft and start spitting out this wonderful, 118-page long screenplay that describes how someone is going to survive and live self-sufficiently.