Once upon a time, people thought December 21, 2012 was The End of the World as We Know It. Silly, right? Well, a surprising number of people took this seriously. Where did this date come from, you ask? Well, let's sort out fact and fiction:
- Myth: The Maya civilisation predicted December 21, 2012 would be the end of the world.
- Fact: In 1966, an anthropologist named Michael D. Coe pulled a mathematically significant date from the Maya Long Count calendar and concluded (incorrectly) that they believed that this date marked the end of the world. Notably, the date that Coe selected was originally December 24, 2011, later revised to January 11, 2013. The 2012 date was first put forward by Robert J. Sharer in 1983. Later research in the '90s suggested that the Maya didn't see 2012 as the end of the world, but rather, as a cause for partying like it's 1999—that is, it was simply the end of that calendar and the beginning of a new age. The end of the 13th b'ak'tun (Long Count calendar cycle) simply resulted in the beginning of the 14th b'ak'tun. The ends of the 1st through 12th b'ak'tuns hadn't coincided with any epic disasters, nor had the 1st day of the 1st b'ak'tun. And the fact that only 13 b'ak'tuns are known from the Maya codices is almost certainly because the majority of those scrolls were burned as "heresy" by Catholic priests after the Spanish conquest. The idea of the Maya apocalypse prophecy was then discredited in scholarly circles. By then, however, New Agers and conspiracy theorists had latched onto Sharer's revised date, and the rest is (embarrassing) history. Also, whenever the "Mayan" calendar is shown, expect it to actually be the more visually appealing Aztec calendar.
- Myth: Nostradamus also predicted something would happen in 2012.
- Fact: The only years Nostradamus mentions by name in his quatrains are 1999 and 3797. Of course, he could be talking about 2012 in some of his other quatrains. Or he could not. That's the magic of Nostradamus — he was so vague that you can interpret him however you like, which is where his "correct" predictions come from.
- Myth: Lots of other ancient civilizations also cited the year 2012.
- Fact: No, conspiracy theorists just took every doomsday prediction under the sun and attached it to December 21, 2012 because why not.
So, what was supposed to happen on December 21, 2012? Well, there were some fun predictions:
- Nibiru, a.k.a. Planet X: A planet about as real as Tatooine which was supposed to hit the Earth in May of 2003. For some reason, the theory was later dusted off and applied to — you guessed it — December 21, 2012. Conspiracy theorists tend to ignore NASA, other space agencies, and the many amateur astronomers out there (some of them with gear that would make a professional observatory envious) when they assure us that if something the size of a planet were going to hit the Earth, they'd know about it years ahead of time.note
- Or just a simple Comet of Doom.
- Polar shift: Supposedly, the magnetic poles were going to reverse in 2012. Didn't happen, and wouldn't have caused disaster if it had. The idea that that this would be disastrous seems to have originated from misunderstanding of what the "polar shift" means. The magnetic poles reverse themselves relatively frequently, averaging once every 2 million years or so. But this doesn't have any significant impact on life; whenever the next geomagnetic reversal happens, the only thing that humans are likely to notice is that compasses will start pointing south instead of north. But the believers of the "polar shift" theory conflated the magnetic poles with the actual physical poles, at the axis of Earth's rotation. They believed that in 2012, the entire planet would flip 180 degrees on its axis, which would indeed have caused cataclysmic damage. Fortunately, it's also physically impossible for such a thing to just spontaneously happen. It would require an external force, such as another planet colliding with Earth at just the right anglenote ...at which point a polar shift would be the least of our problems.
- Solar flares: Solar flares happen all the time, but obviously solar flares happening on December 21, 2012 would be evil, world-ending, magic solar flares.
- Planetary alignments: When the planets line up, you know it's bad! Except there were no planetary alignments in 2012 and planetary alignments have happened many times before without any effect on the Earth.
- The Rapture: Naturally.
- New World Order: Presumably, The Illuminati thought it would be fun to kick their plans into high gear on December 21, 2012, since people were expecting something to happen anyway.
- Three days of darkness: A theory which got lots of traction in China, leading to huge sales of candles there.
- Pic de Bugarach: A mountain in southern France near the Spanish border associated with UFO phenomena. New Agers were expected to flock to the mountain in December of 2012, believing they would be spared from the apocalypse and also get to reenact Close Encounters of the Third Kind. French police blocked access to the mountain itself, concerned that a doomsday cult might carry out a mass suicide or worse. Unfortunately, this all turned out to be the paranoid fantasy of a fanatically Catholic local mayor, and the journalists who turned up to do freakshow stories on the New Agers found precisely three apocalypse tourists, one of whom was suspected of consciously seeking publicity for his unsuccessful attempt to start a cult.
- The Zombie Apocalypse: Because again, why not?
- The reintroduction of magic and the start of the Sixth World, or the Age of Aquarius. (Shadowrun)
- The Ancient Astronauts who guided the Maya returning to Earth. In fact, one such theory pointed out that The X-Files predicted an Alien Invasion in 2012 and that the creators of the show was trying to warn humanity that way. Why they would choose to do this through the plot of a TV show instead of going to the public is unknown.
As you may have noticed, none of this stuff ever happened. However, popular culture had a lot of fun with the supposed doomsday and that's what we're here to record.note
Now that December 21, 2012 has come and gone, it's safe to say that this is now a Discredited Trope. It made a comeback in early 2021 due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and polarized political climate in the U.S., leading to a lot of dyslexia jokes.
- This amazingly funny Axe deodorant commercial.
- The trope is referenced in Season 8 episode 28 of Happy Heroes, where Careless S. warns everyone that a meteor is headed towards the castle. Since everybody else is affected by an amnesia spell cast by Huo Haha, they completely forget about this and think he's joking, with one castle visitor in particular writing his statement into his book of top jokes directly above one reading "2012 is the end of the world". (This episode premiered in 2014, by the way.)
- "Fruitcake" Mullins in Hard Time is a crazed scientist who claims he can predict the future, and who believes in the Mayan apocalypse. However, he thinks "the end of linear time" is to come on December 23rd, 2012. The "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue reveals that it was the end... for him; he died that day.
- The Invisibles: The world ends with the on Dec 21, 2012 with the ascension of mankind. Grant Morrison talks about it here.
- In Léonard le Génie, Léonard and Basile go to 2012 to check how things are. They find out that according to the Mayan calendar, it will be the end of the world on December 21. They travel to 2013 to find out that the apocalypse will not happen. They are relived and return to their own time, except the next page show a massive asteroid is heading to Earth.
- Some comics referenced the supposed doomsday in their strip for December 21, 2012:
- Mother Goose and Grimm has a story arc about Ralph's Mayan girlfriend who panics about the supposed "end of the world" and wants him to make a bucket list of what to do before the world ends. This arc, of course, ran◊ for◊ five◊ whole◊ days◊ on the week of November 27, 2012. The aftermath did not occur until December 30◊, the day before New Year's Eve, and only nine days after the supposed "Mayan Doomsday".
- In early January 2012, Sally Forth had a two-week storyline where Ted, while not seriously believing it, used the doomsday talk as a reason to look back on their lives thus far, leading into a What If? storyline speculating on a future where Ted and Sally had never met.
- The Roland Emmerich film 2012, of course. note
- Various mockbusters ripping off the Roland Emmerich film. The Asylum has created three.
- Melancholia doesn't mention the Mayans or 2012, but the title rogue planet is an Expy of Nibiru, and the film was definitely tapping into the apocalyptic zeitgeist of the time.
- Anthropology was written and set in 2012, so with all these weird end-of-the-world conspiracies people were having at the time, Discord causing chaos seems just as plausible. In fact, Nathan mentions in chapter 28 that "the end of the world wasnt for a couple more months", referring to the Mayan Doomsday.
- The Mayan Doomsday is brought up in chapter 1 of Ed, Edd n Eddy's Quest for the Pure Hearts:
Jonny: [to Plank] What'd yah say buddy? [beat] End of the world. Are you buyin' into that Mayan stuff? It's always a fad with you, mister!
- Yes, Dan Brown did his thing with this one too, in The Lost Symbol.
- Played for laughs in That Is All, the conclusion to John Hodgman's Complete World Knowledge trilogy, for world knowledge cannot be complete unless the world itself is finite. It's a sort of Fantasy Kitchen Sink of apocalypses - the return of the Ancient and Unspeakable Ones, an inferno of unquenchable Masonic fire, DOGSTORM, the magnetic North Pole burrowing through the Earth, The Singularity, The BLOOD WAVE... but, most emphatically, no Zombie Apocalypse.
- The entire plotline of the Invisible City novels by M. G. Harris.
- The Go On episode "The World Ain't Over 'Till It's Over" (aired December 4, 2012) takes place on December 21, 2012. Mr. K believes the world will end, but nothing happens.
- 2 Broke Girls: "And The High Holidays" makes comments referencing this.
- Penn & Teller: Bullshit! tackles this in the episode "The Apocalypse".
- Raising Hope had an episode "The Last Christmas", which focus on the Chance family celebrating Christmas four days early due to the Mayan Apocalypse.
- According to The X-Files, December 21, 2012 is the date of a future Alien Invasion. Word of God says that the upcoming miniseries will address whether or not anything actually happened.
- A Saturday Night Live skit featured two Mayans showing their newly completed calendar to their countrymen. They say the calendar ends in 2012 because the world will end, but eventually admit they just ran out of space.
- The 1990's Speculative Documentary series Ancient Prophecies got in on the fun quite early, predicting that mankind's technology would suddenly come to life and rebel (think the plot of Maximum Overdrive). Cue humorous shots of a guy getting his tie caught in a printer, an anachronistic 90's computer screen flashing "The End is Near", and a Christmas tree shaking around menacingly.
- The Discovery Channel had a special on this, taking the proposed "how the world would end" ideas that were scientifically possible. But the end conclusion was "there's a chance any one of these could happen anyway, regardless of date".
- Prime Minister Julia Gillard appeared on the Triple J TV show for a very tongue in cheek end of the world speech.
- "A Certain Shade of Green" by Incubus
- "2012 (It Ain't the End)" by Jay Sean
- "Till the World Ends" by Britney Spears (the song doesn't mention 2012, but the official music video does)
- Industrial Metal act Hanzel Und Gretyl's album 2012 was dedicated to the Mayan prophecies.
- On The Now Show, Mitch Benn devoted a song to mocking the idea the week before the apocalypse was due.
And even if that's what they meant they could've been wrong or lyin',
'Cos if the Mayans could predict the future — we'd still have Mayans.
They might have been crazy or deluded, they didn't see that their fate included
Diseases and Conquistadors; what makes you think that they predicted yours?
- Tech N9ne references 2012 in his Rage Against the Heavens song "Show Me a God", released in 2009.
What's gonna be done in two thousand twelve when houston's gonna be
When the Earth aligned with the sun
- My Chemical Romance's 2010 concept album Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys takes place 20 Minutes into the Future (in 2019, that is) in an After the End scenario. Promotional material is vague on what caused the collapse but implies that 2012 had something to do with it.
- The Shadowrun universe backstory has the fifth (our) world end on December 24th, 2011 according to the Mayan calendar, and the sixth world begins, bringing with it magic, dragons, new types of humans that resemble the legendary dwarves, orks, elves and trolls, among others.
- One of the more hilarious examples: Civilization V: Gods and Kings has the Mayans as a civilization. Not only do you get an achievement for using a nuclear weapon on them in the year 2012, but when you encounter them in game, their leader Pacal always talks about how the world will end any day now.
- The conspiracy-themed MMORPG The Secret World commemorated the date with a special event titled "End of Days", which started on December 21, 2012.
- A bulk of the Assassin's Creed series takes place in 2012, with the Myth Arc concerning the giant solar flare that is supposed to reach Earth and eradicate all life on December 21, 2012.
- Dikembe Mutombo's 4½ Weeks to Save the World centered around Dikembe helping Science the Bear stop possible threats that could end the world and construct a new Mayan Calendar before the old one finishes and the world ends. It was completed on December 20, 2012.
- Oracle of Tao uses this as a checklist. All of the possible occurrences happen in rapid succession as a possible cause for the end of the world.
Textbook: Ancient legends speak of Belial as the cause of the first Earth being destroyed. But I know the real truth.
Ambrosia: Yes, what is it?
Textbook: On Dec 21, 2012, ancient Mayan sorcerers caused the planets to line up, sending a giant planet to crash into Earth. This powerful ritual combined with the massive collision knocked Earth off its orbit, and caused the poles to shift, causing deadly solar flare radiation. Naturally, this in turn caused The Rapture, as well as three days of darkness, before UFOs came and simply wiped the Earth out of existence.
Ambrosia: Suddenly, I think a demon coming from another dimension and destroying everything before getting sealed away sounds more plausible.
- The less than stellar Steam videogame Revelations 2012 had its plot revolve around this. Supposedly, on the fated day, a sealed demon would come out of his can and wreak havoc on the world. Four chosen people had to make sure this didn't happen.
- The Omega Stone (the sequel to The Riddle of the Sphinx - no, not that trope) is set in the year 2012. You, the protagonist, are warned about an apocalypse that can take place anytime, and you are sent to stop it from happening.
- Azrael's Tear is set around this time, and indeed there is a hint in the backstory that the world might end, what with all the huge earthquakes and plagues, although just so you know, this doesn't dominate the plot, which is about exploration and piecing together the story of what happened with the place and the characters in the past, and eventually acquiring a certain artifact.note An unusual example in that the game was published in 1996, over 16 years before this setting.
- Grand Theft Auto V (set in 2013) makes a brief reference to this in its in-game radio. Ronald "Nervous Ron" Jakowski, the Conspiracy Theorist host of Blaine County Talk Radio's "Blaine County Radio Community Hour" podcast replays, dates his podcast to be from less than three months from this date (late September to early October 2012).
- Universe at War: The Hierarchy's invasion of Earth began on 2012.
- The MOBA game Smite includes the Mayan Jaguar God Xbalanque, whose joke pokes fun on this whole doomsday because he actually doesn't have such power. Bonus point for being released in exactly the date of December 21st 2012.
12-21-12. Hahaha! You guys are so gullible...AAAAARRRGGHH!! I'M SUMMONING THE APOCALYYYYPSE!! Hahaha, no I'm kidding, I'm kidding. I don't have that power.
- At the end of Submachine: 32 Chambers, the player "resets" the Mayan calendar, and (presumably) averts this.
- Versus Umbra: There's an achievement called "Happy 2012" earned for killing 2012 enemies. The game came out in 2011.
- In The Non-Adventures of Wonderella, turns out the only reason the Mayans thought the world would end in 2012 was because a time travelling Wonderella (who they mistook for a god) said it would.
Wonderella: Like you guys are going to last that long anyway!
- Discussed between Merlin and Nimue in Arthur, King of Time and Space. A reality shift suggests a more mundane reason for the calendar to end.
Mayan!Nimue: Dude, the money just ran out.Mayan!Merlin: Quetzalcoatl damn it!
- Darwin Carmichael Is Going to Hell: The comic ended in 2012, and one arc features the apocalypse, which takes place in that same year.
- The Damn Few, episode "The Mayans."
- Debunked by SciShow here and here.
- Jib Jab's 2012 year-in-review video is themed around this. It's also briefly mentioned in their 2011 video.
- Cracked.com's The Embarrassing Aftermath of the Mayan 'Apocalypse'
- The Onion: "Man Who Just Bought Mayan Headdress, 4 Crates Of Corn Pretty Sure You'll Be Looking Like The Fool When Apocalypse Happens" and "Mayan Word For 'Apocalypse' Actually Translates More Accurately As 'Time Of Pale Obese Gun Monsters'."
- Made into a Running Gag by Jesse Cox and Wowcrendor during the Cox n' Crendor Show podcast. Jesse & Crendor would frequently remark about evil Mayan robots rising against humanity in their takeover bit and then make it more ridiculous from there.
- Weekly World News had some articles about this, such as the Mayans doing an "apocalypse countdown". Notably, on the date itself, the site reported that the end of the world was postponed to September 3, 2015.
- In December 21, 2012, Chuggaaconroy posted a Tweet making fun of how people were hyping over the supposed end of the world. It's more of a humorous post, really.
Days like today make me glad that I already stopped the moon from crashing last year! Play Majora's Mask today, you owe it to yourself!
- Know Your Meme claims the phenomenon has reached memetic status, as seen here.
- In December 20, 2012, Wikipedia made sure to put on "Today's Featured Article" the one for what was supposed to happen the following day.
- Mahu, the narrative let's play "The Wheel of Fate"
- The Quinton Reviews episode "That Time the World Ended" discusses and mocks various failed doomsday predictions, with an emphasis on the 2012 one.
- Invoked in Mother's Basement's "What's so great about Haikyuu!!?":
The world didn't end in 2012, but if you were a fan of Japanese high school boys' volleyball, things were certainly looking dire.
- Spoofed in the opening of the 2012 "Treehouse of Horror" episode of The Simpsons.
- Also, in the chalkboard gag for preceding "Once Upon a Time in Springfield", Bart writes, "The world may end in 2012, but this show won't."
- In the 2012 Futurama episode "A Farewell to Arms," a Martian calendar predicts a sunflare that will destroy the planet in 3012. Later it is revealed that the planet in question is Mars, and that the calendar was sent to Earth as a warning to not visit Mars, but by then the Earth's people had already relocated there.
- Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated which started in 2011, played with this, indirectly, with Nibiru being the Big Bad.
- In a mid-season Gravity Falls short (released in 2013) Dipper asks a magic mailbox that gives answers to all questions when the world will end. It gives the answer of 3012, to Dipper's mild surprise.
- The entire run of Gravity Falls takes place in 2012 and works toward a finale in which Bill Cipher attempts to bring on the Apocalypse.
- Kaeloo: In Episode 77, Kaeloo tells all her friends that the world is going to end in 24 hours because the Mayans predicted it. Kaeloo herself winds up destroying the planet, but the cast fortunetely escape to outer space in a spaceship.
- Mentioned in The Amazing World of Gumball episode "The End": Gumball and Darwin see signs that (they believe) will signify the end of the world, and are put even further on edge when Bobert mentions an upcoming solar eclipse. Bobert mentions the Mayan prophecy to them, which he immediately dismisses as superstitious nonsense.