Mardyks sees his current mission as “macheteing a pathway through the jungle of stupidity” around 2012. That jungle has grown thicker than any rainforest.
For example: One nine-part YouTube film claims “The Illuminati Freemasons” have conspired over centuries to erect the new tower of Babel, aka the Freedom Tower, over the World Trade Center site in 2012. (“Anti-Semitism tends to float behind some of the conspiracy theories,” Hoopes says.) The sublimely paranoid film also claims that since the 1970s, this cabal has “conveniently conditioned you to accept that global warming is all your fault,” when actually “Your SUV’s have little to do with it.. THEY.. conditioned you to become AFRAID of the SUN and CO2.”
Another production—by a man whose résumé boasts a few years’ work long ago as a CNN field producer—makes the exact opposite argument, assailing “global warming deniers” for hiding evidence of the coming catastrophe.
“In 2012, Americans will be burying their dead as their forefathers did during the Civil War—by the thousands. By the tens of thousands,” the narrator says solemnly. (He goes on to pitch a “2012 Survival Guide,” $34.90 plus shipping.)
This is the kind of stuff Google churns up when you search for 2012, which is exactly what Sony Pictures encouraged millions of people to do with its movie-marketing campaign. The studio also ran bogus public service announcements from the “Institute for Human Continuity,” which is holding a lottery to see who gets to escape Armageddon in Noah’s Ark-like floating cities.
Though he’s participated in marketing junkets for the film, another 2012 author, John Major Jenkins, feels uneasy about the ad campaign.
“I think it’s irresponsible they had this Institute for Human Continuity thing. That fooled a lot of people,” Jenkins tells SFR. “It was almost like War of the Worlds,” the 1938 radio drama about an alien invasion, disguised as a news report.
Conspiracy, prophecy, doom: Crazy as all this sounds, it’s not too different from what’s on the ostensibly educational History Channel. A typical 2006 show, Decoding the Past: Mayan Doomsday Prophecy, juxtaposes pseudo-academic speculation with footage of natural disasters, wars, Hitler and the 9.11 attacks—all supposedly foretold by the ancient Maya.
“In 2012, will the Earth be destroyed in a great flood? Will we bask in the dawn of a new age? Or will it be just another uneventful day?” the narrator asks, before concluding, “Time will tell.”
The Texas-based production company behind this show, 1080, labels it “entertainment.” For obvious reasons, it couldn’t be called “history.” Jenkins, who appears in the program, says his words were “microedited” to make it sound as though he endorses doomsday theories he actually rejects. Producer Don White did not return SFR’s message.
While networks and film studios profit from the hysteria, the job of clearing up public confusion falls to others. David Morrison, senior scientist at the NASA Astrobiology Institute, sent SFR excerpts from worried emails people sent him in the last two weeks of October:
“I am 15, an iv been told that in 2012 there are supposed to be meteorite showers, earthquakes, tsunamis, tornados, and everything. Iv been so worried for the last year, that i have started eating half of what i used to and I dont sleep and i just worry.”
And: “Yesterday I was considering killing myself, the baby in my stomach and my beloved 2 year old daughter before December 2012 for fear of having to experience the earth’s destruction. Please tell me the truth. I am very scared.”
And: “My only friend is my little dog, and I worry about when I should put her to sleep so she won’t suffer during the 2012 catastrophe.”
Sure, these people may be mentally ill. But plenty of otherwise sane people have 2012 anxieties. In his Ask an Astrobiologist column on NASA’s website, Morrison patiently addresses those fears with elementary science. “The only important force that acts on the Earth is gravitation, and that is dominated by the Sun and Moon…But the con-men and snake-oil salesmen who are trying to scare you have decided to use these meaningless phrases about ‘alignments’ and the ‘dark rift’ and ‘photon belt’ precisely because they are not understood by the public,” Morrison writes.
NASA is fighting uphill. Even basic astronomy flies over people’s heads. According to a March poll commissioned by the California Academy of Sciences, only 53 percent of US adults know how long it takes for the Earth to orbit the Sun.