By SCOTT SHELTERS
Special to the OBSERVER
New Year's Eve provides a much-needed excuse to visit friends and head out on the town. After a night of fun, folks around the nation will replace their 2011 Justin Bieber calendars with 2012 Adele editions. They'll start the new year with their resolutions in mind, looking to better themselves and hoping for a better 12 months than those they just went through.
Ryan Johnson and Dylan Freedman’s locally created film “Winter Kill” follows the stories of survivors living in the city of Jamestown following a nuclear EMP blast in 2012. Johnson hopes to complete the film by late May and thinks he’ll draw interest from an audience of people interested in the Mayan calendar and the end of days. Experts believe that interest may stem from a cross-cultural misunderstanding.
Others won't concern themselves with end-of-year cocktails or New Year's traditions. Instead, they'll continue to prepare for mass casualties and chaos, which they believe will come our way on Dec. 21.
At december212012.com, known as "The Official Website for 122112 Information," users have discussed preparative survival tactics in case of catastrophes related to the upcoming death of the Mayan calendar.
In their online conversations, users have discussed their preparative purchases, which have included gasoline, non-perishable foods, propane bottles, masks, gloves, batteries, vitamins, toilet paper, guns and medical supplies. Some have created disaster-related survival shelters.
They'd rather prepare for devastation than take Britney Spears' advice and dance till the world ends.
ARE THEY WASTING THEIR TIME?
According to Shannon Bessette, associate professor of anthropology at Jamestown Community College, their beliefs may have resulted from a cross-cultural misunderstanding.
"I think what the Mayans were actually talking about was their belief that time was more cyclical in nature. For them, these long periods of time on the calendar periodically came to an end. That meant it was a time of renewal and rebirth in their society," she said. "What's interesting is our nation, which has a Judeo-Christian background, has kind of gotten a hold of this idea. We've translated it into an apocalyptic vision because Christianity believes that time is linear; that there's a beginning and an end. End times are apocalyptic. They're scary; they're the end of everything. For most of these American cultures, for the Mayans in particular, they just thought that time would begin again."
For those in the field of anthropology, interest in the Mayan calendar hasn't come as a surprise, particularly considering the current economic environment, recent natural disasters and worldwide violence.
"When people are stressed, during economic uncertainty, they tend to turn to these apocalyptic visions. They look for supernatural explanations of these things," Bessette said. "Keep in mind, we're unearthing this very ancient Mayan stuff and having to interpret it as best we can. The problem with interpreting things is we have an agenda. We want to find things in them that explain our current situations. These are very broad and vague predictions."
According to an Associated Press report, the end of days theory resulted from the discovery of two tablets at an archaeological site in the Gulf of Mexico state of Tabasco in the 1960s. The tablets describe the coming of a Mayan god at the end of the 13th Baktun, or period, which will conclude on Dec. 21.
The Mayan civilization's Long Count calendar began in 3114 B.C., marking time in near-400-year periods known as Baktuns, the report states.
"The Mayan calendar is interesting because, when we say 'calendar,' we're talking about an instrument that measures how long it takes for the earth to travel around the sun," said New York Times bestselling author Steve Alten, during an interview with the newspaper. "Somehow, the jungle-dwelling Mayans, who never mastered the wheel, created a calendar that is 1/10,000 of a day more accurate than our modern-day calendar is, which is basically just a Gregorian calendar. That's a feat in itself, and something that makes you pay attention. The fact that the Mayans were able to accomplish things that were pretty mysterious and had been warning about this for 2,000 years is a little cause for concern."
Particularly of note, according to Alten, is that the calendar ends on the Winter Solstice of 2012, which adds to its preciseness.
In his most recent novel, "PHOBOS: Mayan Fear," Alten provides insight on a potentially catastrophic science experiment - the Large Hadron Collider - through what he calls "faction," a combination of fiction and fact. Alten mixes the two in hopes of creating a more interesting, frightening read.
"With 'PHOBOS: Mayan Fear,' it was a question of what could happen on Dec. 21 (2012) that could lead to the end of humanity or even worse. The collider is basically this $10 billion science experiment. They're looking for this missing particle that they hope will unify physics," he said. "They nicknamed it the 'God Particle.' It deals with giving mass to atoms. What they're trying to do is recreate the Big Bang by smashing protons together at near light speed. In the process of doing that, they're creating miniature black holes. One particular type of black hole, which is theoretical, is called a strangelet. It's a stable miniature black hole which can grow. The physicists tell everyone that's not going to happen, but how can you know when you've never done this before?"
The Large Hadron Collider, a 38,000-metric ton machine, runs for 16.5 miles in a tunnel beneath the Swiss/French border at Geneva. Through the project, scientists hope to discover how the world came to be the way it is. In Alten's book, it all goes wrong.
"We know if you split an atom, you get a nuclear explosion. When you collide an atom, you get a miniature Big Bang," Alten said. "We're dealing with some pretty dangerous things right now. That was the basis of this particular book, linking it to the things that are going on with the Mayan calendar."
Alten did not write "PHOBOS: Mayan Fear" to convince others the world will end. He wrote the novel to entertain his millions of readers. He worked with a particle physicist when writing the book for scientific accuracy.
Alten's recently released book wasn't the first doomsday novel he wrote. It's the third in the 2012 Domain trilogy and followed the release of "The Grim Reaper: End of Days," a novel on the unleashing of a man-made plague.
For that particular novel, Alten worked with a source who investigated the Anthrax attacks following Sept. 11, which brings back Alten's literary idea of "faction."
"Even though I'm writing a fictional story about The Grim Reaper, I'm also putting in factual things, some of which has never been exposed before," he said. "I always write books that are like the things I like to read: the things that are thought-provoking; the things that you read that you can't put down and think about after you've read it. You're talking about doomsday, potential end-of-the-world stuff, so that's not exactly, 'Hey, how's the weather?' conversation. It's pretty serious stuff."
As the author of several doomsday novels, Alten knows well the vast amount of interest in the end of the world. Some of his biggest fans have entered character contests to have their names featured in future Alten novels.
Those who have paid any attention to the news over the past dozen years have heard several tales of potential end-of-the-world chaos, including those that were to be brought about by Y2K.
Earlier this year, radio host Harold Camping became a household name for twice predicting the end of the world. His doomsday dates - May 21 and Oct. 21 - came and went without incident. Most Americans didn't take him seriously, and they likely also believe they'll be finishing Christmas shopping and watching the Bills lose on the weekend of Dec. 22 and 23 next year.
Alten believes regardless of what happens in 2012, people will still be fascinated with the end of times.
"Once the 2012 date passes, then it doesn't mean the book ceases to become entertainment," he said. "I'm writing a book now that will be my next release. Part of the storyline deals with an asteroid that is said to come pretty close to Earth in 2028. There's always something coming down the block."
Sherman native Ryan Johnson knew there was a lively 2012, end of days audience when he began writing the script for the locally created film "Winter Kill" with JCC student Dylan Freedman in early 2011. He doesn't think the audience will cease to exist either following Dec. 21.
"I think there's an audience because a lot of people believe that something drastic is about to change. I don't think everybody knows exactly what it is. The idea of something dramatically shifting is definitely on some people's minds," said Johnson, who plans to complete his film in late May. "I think the market will get even bigger for films like mine. I think there's going to be a certain sense of paranoia after Dec. 21 passes, regardless of what happens. I think it will be something that's still on people's minds. It's almost like a terrorist threat; there's like a looming paranoia."
Johnson, an associate professor at JCC, drew most of the film's cast and crew from the Jamestown area, where filming has taken place.
While researching for the film, Johnson asked 75 area residents what they would do if a nuclear EMP blast wiped out power. He used the responses while crafting the story for "Winter Kill."
"The responses were startling to me. For example, some people said to me that they wouldn't be afraid to go rob other people's houses. They'd break into windows and take whatever they wanted. Other people said they would try to go to the nearest grocery store, and they'd kill anybody in their way if it came down to it," Johnson said. "I had other people say they would gather in a group with other people who had similar interests. That's actually something that I think would be a real thing. I think people would gravitate to a sort of tribal mentality, which is good and also bad. It's a more primitive mentality. If somebody stands in their way, I don't think they'd be afraid to do whatever it takes."
Johnson said most of the film's crew believes something like a nuclear EMP blast could cause a serious threat to life as we know it about a year from now.
He believes that's what drew many of them together.
"It seems like every other person I talk to in Western New York has some sort of idea of something like this happening. I can't tell you how many people I've talked to who have dream teams of people they would contact in a situation like this," he said. "Part of my draw to the idea is just the number of other people talking about it. They don't really have an outlet for it, and I think a lot of them are afraid of what people think about what they think about it."
Just like the users on www.december212012.com, Jamestown-area citizens have been preparing for the worst. Johnson knows people who have stockpiled resources they believe will help them survive life-threatening scenarios late next year.
"There's kind of an underground movement in this area to be prepared," he said, "which is a good thing."
No one knows exactly what will happen on Dec. 21; however, one thing is certain: one group of people will look like a bunch of fools. It will either be those who have spent time and money preparing for devastation that never comes or the people who keep on dancing till the world ends.