Smell You Later, Jesus

<i>Life After People</i> on the History Channel

Life After People on the History Channel

Sometimes odd things cheer me up. Sometimes I get into moods, OK? Maybe sometimes I get into certifiable mood disorders which may or may not be detailed in the DSM-IV? Maybe sometimes I get in the car in said moods and have odd accidents? Maybe for this reason my husband has named the worst of said moods the “Climbing in a 15-Year-Old Tercel with Bald Tires and Heading out into the Snow?” Maybe. I’m not saying one way or the other.

During my pregnancy I spent a lot of time listening to the bummer-rock of the 1970s: Neil Young’s Rust Never Sleeps and Zuma albums were not exactly palliative, per se, but suited to my mood, which was a little weepy, a little blue, a little bit of the oh-shit-why-on-earth-would-I-will-anyone-into-this-life-on-purpose-given-how-utterly-miserable-I-have-been? The only thing that really cheered me up was a viewing of Deliverance, which I had never seen. I remember sitting, watching, eating an entire pineapple with my gray and orange-striped pregnancy tank top on (which I called ‘Yo, Antony’) chuckling away. Deliverance really isn’t a funny film, and I haven’t seen it since. But in that mood, it cracked me up something fierce. My husband had to endure lots of remarks like “You got a real purty mouth, boy,” and “I bet you can squeal like a pig” and “Now let’s you just drop them pants” for weeks afterwards. For some unknown reason, the man sticks around. Friends, miracles are real!

As of late, I’ve really been enjoying the History Channel series Life After People, which I became acquainted with as a result of being married to a lifelong lover of the apocalypse. We also own an aged videotape of Thundarr the Barbarian, which I also find surprisingly enjoyable. No trip to New York will ever be the same now that the whole family can quote liberally from the episode where the wasteland-roaming Thundarr (the barbarian), Princess Ariel (a magical lady) and Ookla the Mok (a Mok) come upon “the ruins of Manhatt.” We enjoy saying, in a Thundarrish baritone, “Humans lived here? They must have had wings.”

And in subway stations, we like to do this whole scene:

THUNDARR: Could this be a marker to the humans’ hideaway?
ARIEL: It’s a movie poster.
THUNDARR: Moo…vee?
ARIEL: They were shows. Moving pictures on a big, white wall. Forget it.

Life After People, which is colloquially known as The Collapsing Buildings Show, is based on a special that was based on a book. It’s a fairly thin gruel of only tangentially connected things, and what might happen to them in a Life Without People. It’s strangely thrilling. Because even though you always know what’s going to happen, eventually, the payoff is always satisfying. I absentmindedly looked up from my reading one night (I shit you not: Sistercelebrations) when my husband was watching it and by the end of the show I was cheering and shouting “Smell you later, Name of Landmark!” with glee each time something came crashing down.

Down is the direction that everything will fall, be it Big Ben or the Liberty Bell or the Lincoln Memorial. Ships will sink. Climate-controlled depositories of cherished documents will fail, as will the seed bank in Norway. Some joker put human DNA on a satellite but guess what? Without maintenance: failure. It will take about five minutes for Chicago to be completely flooded and for Atlanta to be covered in kudzu. Shoddy showbiz monuments like the Chinese Theater will take approximately one minute to collapse (as a native Southern Californian, I particularly enjoyed this episode, however, I wished there could have been a montage of all the Vons, Jons, Rons, Dons, Lons etc. supermarkets crashing to the ground. Because nothing says Southern California to me like supermarkets for some reason.)

My favorite part of the show is when they visit places that are already After People. The “People” thing is nice and inclusive, but I wish they had just had the balls, so to speak, to call it Life After Man. Because women aren’t the ones who built fields of bomber planes, aircraft carriers, skyscrapers and other monuments to penile greatness. Nope: That was Man.

You get to see real places where People once thrived; now deserted, some for only a few decades, they are laid to waste. I live in a city (Baltimore) where you can see whole city blocks of this, but to see entire islands and towns just blown off the map is exhilarating: It’s already happening! You can see a cathedral in Gary, Indiana in ruins! Centralia, PA: forced evacuation due to toxic tire fire in the early ’80s, now mere shards of itself! A whole island off the coast of Japan that was occupied by a mining company which closed; everyone moved off it in the early 1970s: The apartment buildings are mere skeletons! Like many liberals, I suppose that I believe humans are just bad seeds at heart, and the fewer of us, the better. My question about opposition to abortion: is there some human shortage that I’m not aware of? I love the idea of animals and plants taking back over, burying our folly with nary a look back in our direction.

They never really address what might happen to the planet’s human population (or our bodies) but it seems fairly plausible, nonetheless. Monoculture, viruses, chemicals…we’re more fragile than we think. They show a fabulous picture of the construction of the Saarinen-designed St. Louis Arch. The triangular keystone was blessed by a priest and a rabbi before its placement perfectly in the center. Guess what happens to the arch?

From the episodes I’ve seen so far, it seems that the only manmade things that will survive are the envaulted pile of gold in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York; bumps of the Great Pyramids; and bones. It’s hard to imagine what, in the distant future, might be made of what was our civilization, except that maybe we worshiped metal bricks. Hmm. Maybe the Bible-beaters are right about Babel, after all. I wonder: Am I, as a Catholic, technically Rapture-proof? I honestly don’t know. Must check on that. On the other hand, if all of our holy books, relics and shrines disappear, so, too, will our Gods, which some think are products of Man’s imagination and not the other way around. Life After People hasn’t done a special religion episode, but we have seen what happened to that cathedral in Gary. I won’t be around to find out, but if I were, I would only offer a hearty (but teeny bit wistful) Smell you later, Jesus!

Mary Valle lives in Baltimore and is the author of Cancer Doesn't Give a Shit About Your Stupid Attitude: Reflections on Cancer and Catholicism. She blogs on KtB as The Communicant. For more Mary, check out her blog or follow her on Twitter.