Cashing in on doomsday

  • Article by: JILL BURCUM , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 20, 2012 - 9:26 PM

Many so-called end-of-the-world prophets are really all about profit.

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Peruvian shamans perform a ritual against the alleged 2012 apocalyptic Mayan prediction in Lima, Peru, Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012. The supposed 5 a.m. Friday doomsday hour had already arrived in several parts of the world with no sign of the apocalypse.

Photo: Martin Mejia, Associated Press

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If you're reading this, the much-ballyhooed Mayan apocalypse has proven to be yet another end-of-times bust -- though hard-core believers might argue there's still time today for planet-destroying forces to be set in motion.

In the United States, we mostly had pop-culture fun with the doomsday predictions that accompanied the end of a Mayan calendar time block, a date that corresponded to today. There was a movie a few years back called "2012" that let imaginations and the special-effects wizards run wild with the possibilities.

This week, pranksters put out a weather forecast -- widely shared on Facebook -- that showed temperatures spiking up over 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit today, with a big blank for tomorrow.

But elsewhere, the 2012 doomsday belief sparked real fear. The Russian government recently tried to tamp down concerns that the world really would end today.

In China, the Communist government wielded its might to smack down an in-country cult promoting the supposed cataclysm. According to a recent news story, Chinese entrepreneurs were making big bucks selling floating shelters designed to survive the coming flood, famine and chaos.

That last little bit of information doesn't answer why so many people are ready to believe end times are near. (My take: It gives "survivalists" a reason to feel superior to us nonpreparers.)

But it does suggest why so many people are willing to encourage others to act on these fears. It's because there's money to be made.

A 2007 book called "Have A Nice Doomsday" by Nicholas Guyatt offered an eye-opening tour through what can only be called America's apocalyptic-industrial complex. Basically, everyone from Christian publishers to companies selling "survival seed kits" have made millions by fanning apocalyptic fears. The Chinese survival shelter entrepreneurs suggest that America doesn't have a monopoly on such schemes -- nor on people willing to fall for them.

Guyatt points out that history is filled with various end-times prophesies. The Mayan calendar doomsday was the latest, but it certainly won't be the last. Predicting the apocalypse is just too profitable.

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Jill Burcum is a Star Tribune editorial writer.

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