After more than a decade of hype, the date of the Mayan Apocalypse - December 21, 2012 - came and went uneventfully.
But for some people, this was hugely disappointing:
Because the doomsday predictions were largely grassroots and spread online, the fallout from their failure is likely to be more varied than in doomsdays past, said Stephen Kent, a University of Alberta sociologist. Most of the time, doomsday predictions are made by charismatic leaders, often in cultlike settings.
"It appears that believers in the Mayan calendar apocalypse range from troubled individuals to groups following charismatic leaders," Kent told LiveScience. "Consequently, the fallout could be very complicated."
When the world won't end
After a failed doomsday, believers respond with a range of reactions, from disavowing their former apocalyptic beliefs to, surprisingly, believing more than ever. One classic reaction is the one made by Harold Camping, a radio preacher who first predicted Judgment Day in 1994. When that date didn't pan out, Camping made a common claim among doomsday prophets - the math had been wrong, but the ultimate prophecy would still prove true. He then predicted a widely publicized Judgment Day in May 2011, which also failed to occur. After that failure, Camping claimed the Judgment Day had been "spiritual" in nature and that the world would still end in a few short months.
When that claim also failed, Camping finally admitted his error. Rationalizing and attempting to explain away failure is common among failed doomsday groups, said Lorenzo DiTommaso, a professor of religion at Concordia University in Montreal. In some cases, groups even claim that their prayers saved the world.
The Mayan apocalypse is likely to be different, if only because the Internet is bursting with dozens of contradictory prophecies about the day, DiTommaso told LiveScience.
"There are so many different predictions ridered onto the 2012 phenomenon, everyone's going to have a different response," DiTommaso said. "And because it's not a leader or a church or a doctrine or Karl Marx forecasting what the future is going to be like, there's not going to be a leader against whom you can forecast your dissatisfaction."
It appears that there were no doomsday cults that practiced ritual suicide, which is a blessing. But perhaps a discussion should begin about those websites, TV networks, book publishers, and others in the media who enabled this gigantic hoax.
The History Channel should come in for special criticism. It promoted the idea of doomsday shamelessly for at least 6 years, spreading the most idiotic nonsense about Mayans, the calendar, and aliens. They might claim they had scientists debunking the notion of an apocalypse, but when you have 10 fools predicting the end of the world and one skeptic, who do you think gullible people will believe?
Responsible dissemination of information should be a pre-requisite for obtaining and keeping a broadcasting license. The failure of the History Channel and other networks in keeping the public accurately informed should result in some kind of disciplinary measures by the FCC. It won't, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't.