21st Century America According to This is the End
Let’s imagine for a second that a Chinese-Russian alliance takes over the world sometime in the next few years, and out of sheer spite, destroys every Western cultural artifact that they can get their hands on. Imagine that in the smoking ruins of our culture only one remnant survives. Only one cultural text through which we will be judged by all the ages to come. Now, it’s probably more than likely that we’d get stuck with Piranha 3DD, but let’s consider a reality in which last month’s, This is the End, becomes the West’s sole message to all the ages to come.
In Biblical scholarship there is a hypothesized book of “Q.” The idea is that the shared ideas between the Gospels were taken from a common source (known as “Q”) that has since been lost to humanity. On its own, Q probably would not make a whole lot of sense. It might be disjointed – referencing things that only make sense in the context of the Gospels themselves. I would like to say that to future historians, This is the End could be just as fascinating a key to our culture as Q hypothetically is to the Gospels.
What would a future historian learn from This is the End? For one, they could surmise that toward the end of its existence, America was in a state of paranoia about the end of the world (a paranoia, which is fairness, would have been entirely validated). A look across the entertainment landscape today will show you that they would not be too far from the truth – The Walking Dead, Falling Skies, The Avengers, and dare I say, After Earth, spring to mind as pertinent examples an apocalypse obsessed culture. We get to see the world being destroyed in about a million different ways on our screens. And even non-apocalyptic media – Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, The Hunger Games, Mad Men, Arrested Development, largely present a pretty bleak take on human nature.
The next thing that historians could get from This is the End is a picture of the bizarre place that theology came to inhabit in America. The impressive thing about This is the End is that it doesn’t stray far at all from the Revelation storyline as understood by many Evangelicals today. If that fact is not sobering to any Rapture-minded Christian who happened to see the film, I would be disappointed (actually, a sweep of conservative Christian reviews of This is the End shows that outrage over the moral content of the film has superseded most any kind of deeper reflection). The characters in the film end up using the Bible as a kind of handbook to avoiding hell-fire, and that seems a pretty accurate reflection of the Bible’s role in society these days. Indeed, it’s going to be hilarious how closely This is the End mirrors Nic Cage’s Left Behind reboot next year.
Next, historians would get a complex web of references which they could spend years trying to sort out. This is the End would probably be hilarious regardless of whether you knew a thing Seth Rogen or any of his co-stars. But little riffs on How I Met Your Mother, Your Highness, Green Hornet, Moneyball, Freaks and Geeks, and Spiderman 3, to name a few, certainly add a layer of humor and smugness for those who are “in” on the jokes. If This is the End were the last remaining piece of American culture, then Franco’s Green Goblin cutout would be our last connection to the Spiderman mythos, Seth Rogan’s pipe-lighting reference to Gandalf might be all we have left of Lord of the Rings, Craig Robinson’s Take Yo Panties Off (feat. Rihanna) would be the only remaining pop single from our era, “The Exorcism of Jonah Hill” would be our last link to iconic horror, and those are just a few examples. What I’m trying to say is that from this movie, historians could probably piece together a pretty impressive map of American cultural touchstones. And hey, we would even get the Backstreet Boys in there!
Some might have qualms about having sex-addled, drug-obsessed bumblers like Michael Cera (poor, poor, Michael Cera) and Danny McBride as our lasting representatives, but I think that for all their flaws, Rogan’s gang also brings out the best that we have to offer. Ultimately, what we get is a story of self-sacrifice, forgiveness and friendship. And even if The Artist or The King’s Speech might be “better” films, don’t try to tell me that they hold half of the value of This is the End.