What if there were no tomorrow? Gus:
No tomorrow? That would mean there would be no consequences, there would be no hangovers. We could do whatever we wanted! Phil:
[thinking] That's true. We could do...whatever we wanted.
An asteroid is falling to Earth. A tentacular monstrosity has risen from the depths and is unstoppably destroying everything and spawning horrors. Satan has successfully copulated and his spawn will doom us all.
Regardless, it's The End of the World as We Know It
, which means it's time to party
. Or Freak Out
. Or run. Whatever. There's no tomorrow, which means all bets are off. This usually crops up in Just Before the End
settings. Either the hero takes part in the orgiastic excesses before the start of The Hero's Journey
or he holds himself above it all to show nobility, or maybe he has no clue what's
going on and just gets caught up in the action
This comes in two forms:
- The world is currently ending. Everyone is freaking out and going crazy, drinking, looting, and having an evil time.
- The world has ended, and civilization is gone. All that's left are survivalist compounds, roving bands of brutal raiders, chaos and despair, and a lone anti-hero with a cool car.
What it boils down to is the author's optimism or pessimism. It's an extended exploration of Hobbes Was Right
(with a small chance of Rousseau Was Right
For when the heroes are breaking the rules because they need to avert the apocalypse, that's Screw The Rules, It's The Apocalypse
. Occurs Just Before the End
and often segues into After the End
. Contrast The Apocalypse Brings Out the Best in People
Anime & Manga
- An ad for Pepsi Max has a group of guys invoking this trope by staging a fake newscast announcing that the earth is about to be hit by an asteroid to enable their friend to score with a woman in a bar.
- Fist of the North Star is one of the prime examples of this trope. After the world gets devastated by nuclear war, practically all forms of government have been abandoned. The highest sort of organization the villages have are little communities headed by an elder. Meanwhile, there are either random gangs of mohawked thugs or armies organized under one very powerful individual, and both are more than willing to take what they want from the villages without remorse.
- Go Nagai's Violence Jack, from which Fist of the North Star took inspiration, is even worse about this trope than that series, and its villains sink to depths of utter depravity that would provide inspiration for the darker manga that would follow.
- Shouran Academy during the zombie outbreak in Apocalypse no Toride.
- Dragon Ball Z: Trigger Happy lunatic Van Zant decides to go on a killing spree when Majin Buu goes on his rampage, apparently with the rationale that, since Buu was going to destroy the world either way, he wants to go out with a bang. However, he soon drops this and decides to kill Majin Buu so he would be able to go on killing people himself, which doesn't end well for him.
- Christopher Titus' 2000 routine "Norman Rockwell Is Bleeding" closes with a bit that evokes this trope. According to Titus, when the apocalypse does happen, the "normal people" of the world will run around screaming "OH MY GOD! THE WORLD IS ENDING!" while the "screwed-up people" of the world will merely stand by thinking, "Hey... there's nobody watching the Lexus dealership!"
- Inverted and invoked by V in V for Vendetta (both film and comic). He's trying to bring about the end of a fascist system by increasing the amount of disorder. He inspires the population to more acts of violence and vandalism, which causes the government to crack down, which leads to more uprising, and so on. The inversion comes from the fact that, for V, the anarchy was a means to an end; the fascist government was bad, the anarchy was worse, but was a necessary step to achieve a truly happy ending with a "proper" government. It's telling that, as an agent of said anarchy, he didn't feel (in the comic at least) that he was even worthy of said happy ending.
- The Conversion Bureau: The Other Side of the Spectrum has this in its background, marking it as a much Darker and Edgier The Conversion Bureau story. The few nations that still exist untouched and unconsumed by the Barrier aren't exactly in good shape.
- China: By the time of the main story, it's devolved into a lawless hellhole, with "reports of mass public executions, mass suicides, riots and God knows what else in whatever's left of the place."
- Brazil: We don't see much outside of Rio De Janeiro. However, it's become an almost Cyberpunk Wretched Hive reminiscent of Elysium, full of starving War Refugees, incredibly overpopulated, and so short on food that some jobs actually pay in food rations instead of money. The narrator describes the city as "damn near a warzone" and considers it a terrible idea to walk outside his apartment without body armor. He also alludes to race riots and food riots, and there's apparently lost newfoals in the city.
- America: It's not in good shape either. Despite the fact that the PHL/UN taskforce has rather good publicity, there's growing anti-pony movements affiliated with the HLF, which has become a frighteningly hate-filled movement of Right Wing Militia Fanatics with enough firepower and/or rage to attempt a takeover of a military base. Not to mention, like the people in Rio, most civilians are going hungry a lot of the time.
- Before and during the Alien Invasion in Worldwar: War of Equals, several examples pop up:
- According to Chapter 5: Interlude to War 2 when The Race's existence was announced in Brazil, preachers in the street became common and there were rumors of cults abducting tourist.
- Two months before the invasion, UFO and Mayan Doomsday cults spring up and attack military installations in San Francisco. They end up getting hunted down by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security.
- Los Angeles has been reduced to a hellhole reminiscent of the Rodney King riots thanks to lack of power and drinking water.
- After The Day in Alas, Babylon, a not insignificant fraction of the town get dead drunk. A smaller fraction just gets dead. In the months that follow, the citizens of Fort Repose have to learn that "highwayman" wasn't always a romantic figure...
- On the Beach - at the end, people were just taking stuff from stores. Also, hosting a lethal car race.
- Moon Crash Series: "the dead and the gone" - stealing from corpses on the street to get food on the black market.
- In Isaac Asimov's Nightfall a planet with six suns periodically goes through an eclipse producing one night of total darkness every couple of thousand years, which freaks everyone on the planet out. They basically burn down their entire civilization in the freakout; then the survivors start over from scratch. By the time of the next eclipse, the only record of the previous one is in mythology.
- Newsflesh The novella Countdown has some of the major figures killing themselves as the rising begin. And San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats has people going to San Diego determined to go to San Diego Comic Con despite rumors of the zombie apocalypse...rumors which turn out to be true.
- In The Road the world has descended into chaos. It's the law of the jungle.
- The Last Policeman has this as a framing device: A comet has been detected that will hit Earth and wipe out all life, without any possibility of survival. Society continues for about a month before people start to realize the futility, and subsequently everything starts breaking down. Jobs are abandoned, food starts to get scarce, and people start partying like it's the end of the world. In the midst of all this, someone is killed, and the protagonist, the titular last policeman, takes it upon himself to find the murderer, even as all his colleagues ask why he even bothers when everyone is going to die anyway.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for all that it treated apocalypse as routine, didn't often show the effect on the general public because the public almost never knew. Only thrice did they show how the public would respond to a world-ending threat.
- The season three finale: the students of Sunnydale High band together to take on an attack of vampires and snake. Averted.
- Season four, "Hush": The Gentlemen steal everyone's voices. Everyone freaks out, gets drunk, goes to church, resorts to violence in the streets.
- Season seven finale: Everyone knows the end is entirely nigh, and they all leave town. With a minimum of violence, even.
- In an episode of M*A*S*H when they think that they are all about to be killed, several of the NCO's get together for a high-stakes poker game. One of the neophytes asks, "So, what are the stakes again?" After explaining that they're basically a year's wages for the cheap chips, he asks, "And if we don't die tomorrow?" "Whites are a cent, blues are a quarter, and reds are a dollar"
- The entire reimagined Battlestar Galactica series could be considered a post-apocalyptic meditation on this trope.
- In Smallville, riots break out all over the world when Brainiac unleashes a computer virus which starts shutting down all technology on Earth (happens during the episodes Vessel and Zod)
- Similar to Battlestar Galactica, The Walking Dead is an extended exploration of this trope, with the first two seasons basically breaking Rick down and forcing him to abandon civilized behavior.
- This is the story of several episodes of Sliders particularly "Last Days" and "Exodus, part 1," in which the end is near and society has degenerated in this way.
- The X-Files, episode "War of Coprophages": People in one town think that they are all going to be killed by cockroaches which got there either due to Government Conspiracy and their experiments, or that they are alien robotic invaders. Chaos ensues. It's most apparent in one scene in a convenience store where everybody is trying to grab whatever supplies they can and two ladies fight over the last can of insecticide.
- "When the World Ends" by The Burning Hell is a vaguely tongue in cheek consideration of the end of the world, and asks what sorts of anarchy society might descend into.
When the world ends and everybody shows their fangs will there still be right and wrong? ... When the world ends and it's all a bit depressing will there be any law, will it be like Mardi Gras?
- The Far Side: From 1986. Two fishermen look at mushroom clouds, one says "I'll tell you what this means, Norm—no size restrictions and screw the limit."
- This is the Fallout universe. Civilization collapsed, and it's up to you to save/destroy it. The later games, further down the timeline, show civilization is making a comeback (there is regular trade going on between towns in Video Game/Fallout3, and the Mojave in Fallout: New Vegas is even more stable), but there are still plenty of raiders and irradiated monsters to go around.
- The Last of Us. Over a 20 year span, 60% of humanity lies dead from either the cordyceps infection or is struggling to survive against the infected and themselves. Roaming gangs of bandits predate on small family groups, women and children are routinely abused, raped and murdered, and cannibalism is all too common.
- Metro 2033, as well as its sequel Last Light. After a nuclear apocalypse destroyed Russia, the scattered remnants of the population gathered together in the Metro tunnels beneath Moscow and proceeded to spend the next 20 years seemingly trying to finish what the bombs started. After it became apparent that the central government was not rising from the ashes any time soon, life in the Metro degenerated into a horrific dog-eat-dog struggle over food, air, weapons, and everything else needed to survive.
- Actually averted. Moscow Metro became a home to various factions who have different ideas on how to manage the life After the End and their struggle is no different than wars in 20th centuries. Life is confined to well-defended stations and tunnels and bandits or anarchists are few and far between. Given that three out four factions encountered in the game are de facto police states, the world of Metro2033 is more of a complete inversion of this trope.
- Done oddly in 1/0: It's the creator who decides to break all the rules when the apocalypse comes, removing the consistent physics and resurrecting all the characters who were Killed Off for Real so he can send them into our world before the comic ends.
- In one page of minus, after an asteroid is detected on a collision course with Earth, there are scenes of how various people react, some of them fitting the trope.
- In Futurama Bender gave up his seat on the only evacuation ship just so he could participate in looting when earth was about to get destroyed (not that he doesn't steal under mundane conditions too).
- The Simpsons:
- After Springfield is nuked by France, Homer takes the opportunity to dance naked in the First Church of Springfield.
- In the Y2K episode segment of Treehouse of Horror, Homer causes worldwide destruction because he forgot to fix his computer. Chaos ensues and widespread looting begins.
- A common historical pattern, in historical accounts of lethal epidemics, death of empires, financial collapse and other severe regressions, is the breakdown of social mores and restraints on behavior.
- Thucydides said of the epidemic that took nearly a third of the Athenian populace in the summer of 430 B.C.E.:
Men now coolly ventured on what they had formerly done in a corner, and not just as they pleased, seeing the rapid transitions produced by persons in prosperity suddenly dying and those who before had nothing succeeding to their property [...] Fear of gods or law of man there was none to restrain them. As for the first, they judged it to be just the same whether they worshipped them or not, as they saw all alike perishing; and for the last, no one expected to live to be brought to trial for his offenses, but each felt that a far severer sentence had been already passed upon them all and hung ever over their heads, and before this fell it was only reasonable to enjoy life a little.
- The Black Death of 1348-1350 saw many outbreaks of mob violence against Jews, Roma, foreigners, lepers and other marginalized groups whom many Europeans blamed for the plague.
- The first years after the fall of the Soviet Union led to the dramatic rise of The Mafiya and other scofflaw groups. Hell, the first years after any of Russia's revolutions and societal catastrophes.
- The February-October period of 1917 is an even better example. The central authority ceased to exist, the police was shut down by angry mobs, the peripheries of the empire moved towards secession and the army started to wander away in the middle of a World War. Say what you will about Vladimir Lenin and his Bolsheviks, but they put an end to this chaos.
- Renaissance scholars often portrayed Dark Age Europe as this.
- When the Roman legions left Britain to fend for itself, they took practically the entire economy with them. Archeological evidence speaks of the loss of nearly all literacy, metalcraft, pottery, in short anything that required professional specialization, disappear almost overnight, and not come back in over a century. People ended up having to dig up urns from the graveyards to cook their food in, since no one knew how to even make proper cooking pots anymore.
- In game theory, this is what remains when you boiled down Prisoner's Dilemma. If you're only playing the game once, it's in your interests to not cooperate (i.e., break the rules) because regardless of what the other guys does, you're better off. If you're playing the game many times in a row, though, (i.e., there is a tomorrow) you're better served cooperating (i.e., following the rules) as everyone including yourself will be better off in the long run. Apocalypse Anarchy comes about when everyone learns this will be the last time the game is played (i.e., there is no tomorrow), so everyone defects and causes mayhem.
- Many summer camps have going home as the penalty for breaking the rules. Subsequently, the majority of rule-breaking occurs on the last day, as troublemakers figure that getting sent home the next day would be no punishment at all.
- Like the above summer camps example, some students may decide to go for broke and break rules at school on the very last day, believing that at the end of the school year, detentions and suspensions won't be assigned. In reality, such punishments may end up carrying over to the next school year; a student could end up spending their first day of school in detention for an offense committed in the previous school year. In the United States, depending on your jurisdiction, the punishment may be worse in light of zero tolerance policies; students could end up spending their summer vacation in juvenile prison.
- Some school districts counter this with a policy that you'll spend the entire afternoon in detention if you act up during final exams, while everybody else gets to go home when their exams are over.