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End-of-the-world vampire blues

Last week, Roland Emmerich's end-of-the-world romp "2012" raked in more than $65 million at the box office.

Not bad for a flick showcasing the utter destruction of our entire world.

This coming weekend, "2012" surely will be supplanted from the box office summit by the next installment of the vampire angst series, "The Twilight Saga: New Moon."

(Before we go any further, former Washington Post movie critic Stephen Hunter once wrote you should never trust a film with a colon lodged somewhere in the title. I would argue "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World" is the exception — but it's still a bad title stapled onto a good film.)

What does this all mean?

Well, that Americans have absolutely no clue as to what they want.

For some reason, the idea that the world is going to come to some sort of end in 2012 has registered with our nation.

The other day I was at Barnes & Noble where I spotted an entire rack devoted to 2012 theories.

Bear with me, but there are those among us who believe that apocalypse will set upon us in approximately three years because 2012 signified the end of the Mayan calendar.

Never mind that notable Mayan scholars and actual Mayan descendants don't believe a word of it.

Scholars and descendants shrugging off a random date won't sell movies and books.

New Age dirtheads believe 2012 will find us amid some sort of galactic alignment and that the changes wrought will resemble more of a worldwide spiritual enlightenment than fiery apocalypse as shown in "2012."

Personally, if I had to choose between the two, I'd take the Earth-cracking-in-half-and-clouds-catching-fire scenario. I couldn't stand to live in a world where the hippies were proven correct.

I was talking with a friend about the 2012 hysteria that has taken up way too much of our popular discourse and we both agreed that the apocalyptic vision foreseen by the true believers actually is wishful thinking among millions of Americans at this point in history.

If every volcano on Earth erupts at once and the seas begin to boil, then worrying about finding a job in the current economic climate becomes negligible.

Got laid off and your kids are starving? Who cares? The world is gonna end soon, anyway.

Got creditors calling you 36 times a day wondering why you can't make your Macy's card payment? Eh, tell them where to stick their credit score.

So the banks own the government and the health care reform movement has become an international punchline. Screw it. You don't need health care and an economy built on fairness when the world is going to blow up in 2012, do ya?

I'd like to know how many hard-working folks drowning in a bogus mortgage sat in movie theaters across the country last weekend, watching as John Cusack scrambled across a globe literally ripping itself apart, and thought to themselves, "You know, that actually wouldn't be so bad."

When mankind's survival rate drops to zero in 2012, you can puff into dust along with the rest of humanity knowing that at least THEY didn't win. Not this final time.

Then on the other hand, there's "Twilight." The vampire phenomenon.

Full disclosure: I have not a clue what lies at the heart of "Twilight's" appeal. I made it through roughly 100 pages of the first novel and 45 minutes of the first film before I had to hang up my Dracula cape. Vampires are supposed to be dangerous and subversive, not sexless and sentimental.

What I do know is Stephanie Meyer has sold a billion books and this latest movie has the potential to break November box office records.

"Twilight" is a strange bookend to "2012" as one tale revels in the demise of our race and the other is a fantasy rooted in eternal life.

Such is the strange, schizophrenic zeitgeist that has enfolded us since the beginning of this new century.

One week we are eager to plunk down $10 to watch the world end, the next we line up to pine for undead teenagers as they angst their way through everlasting life.

Both have proven astronomically profitable and show no signs of falling into the dustbin of fads quite yet.

To me, it falls in line with the way we conduct political and cultural discourse in that there no longer exists middle ground in the way we interact with the world and each other.

Speak out against the current health care reform bills making their way through Congress and you are labeled a Nazi who enjoys watching others suffer and die. Voice your support for the president's economic reform plans and you are assumed a fascist who seeks to burn the Constitution.

There's no in-between at this point. The lines of demarcation have been drawn by partially informed pundits and their wealthy advertisers and you're either on board or you're not.

Armageddon. Everlasting life. Apparently, we can't get enough of either one. If only we could have both.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471; or e-mail cconrad@mailtribune.com.