By Bill Tressler
Photo courtesy of Stephen McCulloch.
With the recent resurgence of zombie media, the rampant speculation prior to the Mayan calendar’s 2012 doomsday prediction, and the constant specter of global disease that dominates news broadcasts, it is no wonder that people have apocalypse fever.
Of course, there have long been the overly prepared and extra-careful folks out there who are ready to squirrel away in their homemade bomb shelters at a moment’s notice. Nevertheless, it certainly seems that the idea of doomsday preparation has become an increasingly large part of the popular culture in recent years.
Doomsday preparation enthusiasts, dubbed as “preppers,” have been enjoying increased exposure in the last decade or so, largely thanks to media that examines their efforts to survive whatever cataclysm might arrive. Popular films like The Day After Tomorrow, Children of Men, The Book of Eli, or Contagion lay out scenarios where disease, nuclear winter, or society-obliterating natural disasters wipe out all but the most hardened and prepared of humanity. Additionally, television shows like Doomsday Preppers and The Colony shine a light on both the preparations that go into readying for a global catastrophe, as well as what the efforts to survive in this world would look like.
While many people are fascinated with the process behind preparing for a cataclysmic event, they may not openly admit it. The apprehension is understandable; many of the figures featured on these shows, while not impractical, nonetheless come across as a bit whacky.
That personality connotation is the biggest stigma to plague the prepper community: the idea that anyone who takes time to stock up on non-perishable foods, purchase multiple firearms, or train themselves in outdoor survival is a paranoid eccentric who thinks that the end of the world is lurking around every corner.
“I used to be a part of a prepper community, but they became cultish,” says Johnathon Granger, a self-professed prepper (he prefers survivalist) from Newfoundland, Canada. “When you start taking these kinds of precautions, you do encounter groups of people who are essentially doomsday cults. They’re to be avoided; my mentality now is to prepare individually and simply roll with the social majority as best I can.”
Unlike many of his counterparts, Granger came into his habits due not to a fear of any kind of apocalypse, but out of a curiosity about biology and the outdoors.
“I started down the road towards ‘prepping’ when I first started reading and learning about the flora and fauna of the world,” he explains. “It was a fascination with biology and science. But moreover, it was a deep interest in what’s actually out there and how it could be utilized.”
Granger finds his efforts to be not overly cautious, but necessary.
“Some people consider what I do a ‘behavior,’ but I just consider it to be day-to-day survival,” he assesses. “I think we are at a period in history where a large number of people have very suddenly forgotten about survival on an individual basis.”
Granger, like many others in the survivalist community, believes that western society as a whole has gone soft. Deeming our contemporary culture as an age where Google has become a stand-in for retained knowledge and walking sticks have been replaced by selfie sticks, survivalists feel the need to keep their skills sharp and be prepared to help themselves.
Survivalist practices and interests can come conditionally. A Time article reported that during an Ebola scare in Dallas, Texas, survival guides and gas masks rapidly ascended the ranks of popular consumer items. The sales of a particular type of hazmat suit rose by 131,000 percent.
A National Geographic Channel poll, taken while profiling the Southwick’s, a family of eight who have been making doomsday preparations for years, indicated that 28 percent of people knew someone they’d consider a prepper. With each passing year, preppers move from the fringes closer to the mainstream.
Thanks to the internet, preppers have outlets to find each other online and join forces. Like-minded individuals organize meet ups where they share survival tips and show off their most useful gear. A popular New York City prepper group has 310 members and is consistently growing. The group’s organizer, Jason Charles, was featured on Doomsday Preppers and profiled by numerous news outlets, including The New York Times and Business Insider.
At these meetings, survivalists share their strategies and concerns. Many bring along their “bug-out bags,” or backpacks that are loaded to the brim with all of the essential tools for survival: food, water, compasses, multi-tools, tarps, raincoats, rope, fire starters, and countless other items.
For a prepper, the gathering of supplies, the building of shelters, and the meticulous planning are never-ending–all in preparation for one out of a series of terrible events that may never occur.
Granger seems to think this is the case. He acknowledges that many of the catastrophes that preppers fear the most are unlikely to ever happen. However, there are a few scenarios that aren’t outside the realm of possibility.
“War would be the most likely culprit,” he reasons. “We’re kind of far removed from that here in the West, but that’s a reality for many places in the world. For some third-world countries, they’re already living in a ‘post-apocalyptic’ world of sorts.”
Ultimately, Granger considers himself a realist.
“As for an actual apocalyptic event which wipes out all civilization and causes near-extinction, I don’t foresee that happening, at least not in our lifetime,” he states. “Either way, I’m prepared, and there’s no harm in that.”