Do you remember how, in the movies or a cheap novel, the hero drifts into town but innocently gets into deep trouble with the locals and then, at the critical moment, looks into the almanac in his hip pocket – handy! – and realizes a total eclipse of the sun is due in 15 minutes?
Now, anyone can Music Man their way into 15 extra minutes of grace, even as the locals are tying you to the stake and pulling matches from their pockets.
You know how this goes: The sun disappears, the local rubes are awed and frightened, and they let the hero go, assuming he has mystical – perhaps malevolent – powers even though we know his trickery is based on nothing more than simple science and rudimentary journalism. Better hope he doesn’t have to do this trick twice.
We, of course, are far more sophisticated. The modern flow of information, the relentless spread of knowledge and our ever faster, smaller, smarter communication devices mean we could not possibly be the village rubes.
Would the 2012 Mayan calendar doomsday industry be possible in that ancient era now known as Pre-Google? Actually, yes. Recall the stir caused by Hal Lindsey’s “The Late, Great Planet Earth” 40 years ago. Then there was the “harmonic convergence” in the late ’80s and the Y2K. Amazingly, the Earth is still here, and so is the end-of-times nonsense. The planet’s demise is always three to seven years off, and yet it survives.
Still, there’s no denying the Internet compounds the problem. More information means more to twist and distort. The website 2012doomsday.com – no, I didn’t make that up – claims a “magnetic polar shift” on the sun 10 years ago and that more could be on the way next year.
We are left to speculate darkly about what that means, but I’d like to suggest that the sun may very well have been flipping its poles around as Hannibal crossed the Alps, as Caesar crossed the Rubicon, as Armstrong landed on the moon – throughout recorded history – and we the dim villagers have been none the wiser. We didn’t fret about it, and nothing bad happened.
Being in my particular line of work, I am loathe to admit that ignorance is bliss, exactly, but I have to allow that a little knowledge and a dose of ill intent have been the source of much destructive mischief throughout the ages. These days we can do all that as quickly as a human can think and type.
Now comes the 2012 mischief. The date 12/21/12 looms large in these discussions, as do equinoxes, the same things that intrigued the ancient druids who were so much less evolved than we are. The kicker this time, we are told, is that 2012 brings an alignment of our planet, the sun and the center of the Milky Way itself into a “gravitational cosmic tsunami” – note the use of the buzzwords of the moment – that ends with the sun scorching the Earth. (That would be us.)
They go on. This is not “just another Y2K hoax,” the website says, because “the astronomy makes it believable.”
There must be marketing wizards lurking about, too. Not fact. Not plausible prediction. Just “believable.”
Sophisticated as we are, “believable” still sells.