Paul Cantor, Mises Inst. Associated Scholar and author of The Invisible Hand in Popular Culture, and Literature and the Economics of Liberty, is featured in the Summer 2013 issue of The Hedgehog Review. His article, The Apocalyptic Strain in Popular Culture: The American Nightmare Becomes the American Dream, asks why modern popular culture has taken to repeatedly envisioning the reduction of modern society to a primitive subsistence level.
Film and television today are more likely to present images of the American nightmare: our entire civilization reduced to rubble and the few survivors forced to live a primitive existence in terror of monstrous forces unleashed throughout the land. Has the American nightmare paradoxically become the new American dream? Is there some weird kind of wish-fulfillment at work in all these visions of near-universal death and destruction?
Cantor suggests that the answer lies in viewing the apocalyptic narrative as a sort of modernized Western that expresses a desire to experiment with “an image of frontier existence, of living on the edge, of seeing what it is like to manage without a settled government, of facing the challenge of protecting oneself and one’s family on one’s own, of learning the meaning of independence and self-reliance.”