Oct. 21, 2011 at 7:31 PM ET
Today's countdown to the predicted end of the world was a bit like watching a rerun of reality TV … been there, done that doomsday. Nevertheless, radio preacher Harold Camping's Rapture rerun provided a good opportunity to revive the old jokes and prepare for the new doomsday hype ahead in 2012.
The hype was a lot heavier five months ago, when Camping set a high-profile date for a biblical-style ascension of the elect to heaven. Millions of dollars were spent by Camping's Family Radio International as well as followers who spent their savings to get out the word about the end of the world. During this week's spaceflight conference in New Mexico, one of my colleagues on the space beat, Jeff Foust, happened to mention that he saw a billboard that still touted Judgment Day's approach on May 21.
The hubbub sparked a backlash of black humor — ranging from animated cartoons to "Rapture bombs," which involved setting out clothes and shoes, as if the wearer had been transported (nude) to the pearly gates. The Sociolatte and Mashable websites revived some of the best of the bombs, including "Rapture Dad," a photo that shows Kyle Riesenbeck surrounded by the leavings of his luckier family members. (Kyle kept the meme going, but according to his Twitter account, Rapture Dad has "decided to take it easy on the Rapture this time around.")
That's just one of the signs that the Rapture has really run its course. Camping may well come up with yet another explanation for why prophecy failed, and yet another set of arcane calculations that reveal doomsday is just a little further down the road. But based on the weak ratings for today's Rapture rerun, the 90-year-old Camping is finished as a prophet of doom. The Freedom From Religion Foundation is even capitalizing on his past pronouncements in a new "Fool Me Once" billboard campaign.
Still more evidence of Rapture fatigue comes from a Crimson Hexagon analysis of 55,537 Twitter mentions related to Camping's October prophecy, gathered from Oct. 16 to today:
For years, doomsayers have been talking about the prospects for a 2012 apocalypse foretold by the Mayan "long-count" calendar, even though there's really no scientific or even anthropological basis for the alarm. I've tried to provide some reality checks for the 2012 worries — including concerns about solar storms and the supposed return of Planet X. But today's non-Rapture may be an even more valuable lesson for anyone who's concerned about 12/21/2012: Just because someone makes a big to-do about the end of the world doesn't mean that it's coming.
So what do you think about the Rapture and other doomsdays? Heard any good end-of-the-world jokes lately? Feel free to add your comments below.
Review all of the postings from Rapture 1.0 by checking CosmicLog.com/Rapture. You can also connect with the Cosmic Log community by "liking" the log's Facebook page, following @b0yle on Twitter or adding me to a circle on Google+. And for something completely different, check out "The Case for Pluto," my book about the controversial dwarf planet and the search for new worlds.