The End is Always Near, and Hell is the History Channel
As the end of January approaches, and New Year’s Day shrinks in the rearview, a question lingers in my mind. What is it about holidays that inspires “educational” cable channel producers to air every apocalyptic documentary in their catalog? Even if you think you don’t know what I’m talking about, you probably do. Flip through the channel line-up around the holidays, and I guarantee you won’t go far before you find something related to the hypothetical end of the world.
It started a few years back, in the days of yore when A&E’s programming changed from arts and entertainment to ex-rock stars, bayou-dwelling people with enormous beards, and folks who fancy living in tiny houses. That was also when the History Channel did away with historical programming in favor of chronicling the escapades of ancient aliens, and Animal Planet stopped focusing on actual animals and became obsessed with Bigfoot.
In those days, the Countdown to the Apocalypse usually began sometime around the second week of December, right about the time people were stamping their Christmas cards and resigning themselves to the idea of lodging every living relative inside their houses. As the year’s end approached, two things were certain: The SyFy Channel would show every Twilight Zone episode known to mankind, and the History Channel would air every documentary related to hell or a conceivable version of the apocalypse.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not above binge-watching wide-eyed apocalypticists, barely-hinged conspiracy buffs, and actual scientists and theologians who somehow got fooled into taking part in these things, all of them torturing logic to within a sliver of its hard-fought little life. But this whole thing is becoming a little one-note.
There’s something else worth mentioning here, too. No matter what the official topic of a show happens to be—asteroids, zombies, nuclear war, earthquakes, floods—it’s only a few degrees from talking about Hell.
World War III? Hell.
Redneck Nazi Snakehunters? Believe it or not, hell.
Nazis vs. Valkyrie? Somehow, hell.
Here are a few titles to consider: “The History of Hell,” “Hell Throughout the Ages,” “Nazis in Hell,” “A Beginner’s Guide to Hell,” “Nostradamus on Hell,” “Hell’s Hell,” “Gates of Hell,” “Hell on Earth?” (Full disclosure: I made two of those titles up. Two of them.)
The obsession with hell makes sense, though, if you think about it, and it explains the appeal. For years, I’ve suspected that the average person gets a little thrill at the idea of other people being relegated to hell. The problem with that, of course, is that in most of these apocalyptic scenarios, everyone is blown to bits, pulverized, or drowned. Maybe those hell-wishers believe they’ll be rescued at the last minute. Okay, they definitely think they’ll be spared. (I have this on good authority.)
Now it’s not just New Year’s. It’s every holiday that comes down the pike. And if the past is a reliable guide, eventually it’s going to be happening every day, a continuous stream of panic inducing shows about suffering and dying. That said, I’ve decided to embrace the new hellscape and pitch a few ideas to the cable powers that be.
Here’s my sample holiday lineup.
President’s Day – Check out this show on a volcano some people believe to be the literal gateway to Hell. (Get used to the word “literal,” by the way. We literally use it all the literal time.) Seriously, though, people have believed this for thousands of years, and it’s hot and smoky, a lot like Hell, so it’s, you know, plausible? Greenlight this project, please.
Independence Day – Consider this: Many of the U.S. founding fathers were Freemasons, and Freemasons are well-known for possibly believing in Hell. Also, many Christians believe Freemasons are secretly devil-worshippers. (I have this on good authority as well.) Guess where the devil lives? Hell. This is a win-win, guys. Let’s say six hours’ worth, minimum.
Labor Day – Remember when you were a kid and that preacher came to your church to talk about Hell? You know the guy. He had crazy eyes and smelled like aftershave and carpet cleaner, and it seemed like he enjoyed the thought of people roasting in Hell just a bit more than a normal person should. Remember how badly he scared you and your friends?
Well, we found that guy and a lot of others just like him, and now they’re here to haunt your adult dreams, talking about Hell all day long. And if it seems he can actually see you through the television screen, well, we’re not going to crush that idea. (Spoiler Alert: These guys are still certain you’re going to Hell.)
Halloween – Halloween? It’s almost got the word “Hell” right in there. Settle in, folks. We’ll get you through to November.
Thanksgiving – As long as you’re stranded on that sofa, here’s a battery of programs on plagues and pestilence, both of which just happen to be in the bailiwicks of two of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. And you know that when those guys show up, we’re only a step or two away from total Hell.
Hang on, television fans, we’re almost there.
Christmas – Forget that loser marathon of The Twilight Zone over on SyFy. Remember Nostradamus? No? Well, you will after (literally) twelve full hours of programming detailing his prophecies, none of which were vague in any way and all of which bore some relationship to Hell. Bonus: These Nostradamus-y programs are all narrated by that authoritative sounding guy whose voice you can’t quite place.
New Year’s Day – Let’s get down to the nitty gritty here, shall we? It’s a brand new year, which means it would be the perfect time for the earth to open up and swallow us all. So the earth opens, and guess what you literally see? Apart from all that scientific stuff.
The correct answer is Hell.