Some say the world will end in fire, some say in ice. From what I’ve tasted of desire, I say, shut up, the lot of you. Look what’s on our plate, right at the moment. A viciously destructive hurricane has hit Texas, and it might just be the opening act to a larger disaster looming out at sea. Meanwhile, a hot new North Korean nuke test has the United States’ ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, climbing the mountain of conflict. And, of course, all of this is transpiring against the backdrop of President Donald Trump’s daily peregrinations into sundowning.
So, the news: it bad. And as an avid creator and consumer of media, I have lately been given to wonder both how bad things might get (armed nuclear conflict!) and how all this bad news might be covered.
With that in mind, does anyone remember the movie Reign Of Fire?
The press has already turned the Trump era into an enjoyable B-movie, if you don’t use your brain.
You probably don’t. Released in the summer of 2002, Reign Of Fire imagined a world that had been brought to near ruin by—well . . . by dragons. There were some dragons sleeping below London, and a crew burrowing beneath the city to add to the London tube system released them, and they emerged to bring humanity to near-extinction until Matthew McConaughey and Christian Bale teamed up to stop them, after a fashion. The movie basically passed through the cultural transom quickly, having hit its intended target of mediocrity squarely in the bull’s-eye, with the Rotten Tomatoes “critics consensus” ruling that “Reign” was “an enjoyable B-movie if you don’t use your brain.”
But there was one magical moment in this film, where we learn about what the media was doing during the reborn dragons’ savage romp through modernity. I am speaking, of course, of this edition of Time magazine, which the movie imagines to have been successfully produced and disseminated at some point during humanity’s incendiary culling.
best fake Time cover of all time pic.twitter.com/LxCZV2MMJb
— Jason Linkins (@dceiver) June 27, 2017
Just look at that. Ponder the director’s imagination here—his utter certainty that Time’s crack editors would publish this magazine, with this cover. Because of course they would. This is how the media will cover our ultimate demise, clinging to the same dumb tropes by which they’ve already turned the Trump era into an enjoyable B-movie, if you don’t use your brain.
Let’s imagine the deleted scene, as the Last Time Editor and the Last Time Reporter conspire from whatever derelict shelter in Manhattan allowed for this conversation to ultimately produce what would become the Last Time Magazine.
EDITOR: I just want to say again how much I appreciate you sticking with us during this dire time.
REPORTER: It’s fair to say that I’m doing so against my better judgment, but seeing as how all of my family and friends have either fled the city or been incinerated, it’s not like I have much else to do.
EDITOR: Well, we’re considerably short-staffed, I’m afraid. We’re going to lean very heavily on you for our cover story. I wanted to get your thoughts on that.
REPORTER: Okay, sure, first thing that comes to mind is, why do one?
EDITOR: Our advertisers have paid for a magazine that helps people make sense of the world, like always.
REPORTER: True enough, but most of the big fashion houses that provide us with advertisements lay in ruins. No one is standing guard over what remains of our automobile industry. The entire sector of cigarettes and high-end alcohol have been drawn into the overall looting and scavenging economy. The point is: I’m not sure there will actually be any consequences if we fail to honor these contracts. To be honest, I’m a little surprised that the contracts themselves don’t allow for us to simply write this down to an act of God, so we could call it a day.
EDITOR: Humor me.
REPORTER: Sure, well, okay . . . cover story . . . how about something like, “Run Away From The Dragons.” Like, maybe some service journalism. “What are you doing reading this magazine? If you’re not sheltering in a dentist’s office you should put it down and make a break for it.”
EDITOR: We’re not the local news. We have to get big picture. I’m thinking, four thousand words, summing up this moment.
REPORTER: I literally don’t need four thousand words. Six will do: “You are probably going to die.” Perhaps we should actually take the position that dying now might be better than surviving.
EDITOR: You’re on the right track. That’s good counter-intuitive thinking.
REPORTER: Is it, though?
EDITOR: I still think we can get broader. I think this is a time to get some informed perspective.
REPORTER: Well, I can tell you that there is a lot of interest in the irregular militias that have cropped up. We’re talking about people bravely laying their lives on the line, fighting an adversary that was presumed to be long dead.
EDITOR: Hmmmm. I’m not sure we want to make Antidra the heroes of this story.
REPORTER: Really? They apparently managed to fight back some dragons in Central Virginia.
EDITOR: I find them to be shrill, frankly. More apt to blame society’s shortcomings for allowing this destruction than the dragons themselves. Where’s the ingenuity? This magazine has always brought the world’s top thought leaders together under our banner to point to productive solutions to our problems. This story could use their insight, now more than ever.
The current Time 100 is down to about eighteen surviving members.
REPORTER: Well, as near as anyone can estimate, the current Time 100 is down to about eighteen surviving members. I took your last suggestion, and tried to contact Jared Kushner and Sheryl Sandberg . . . it’s been hard to get any of them to return calls. Though Elon Musk won’t stop calling. That’s why my voicemail has been full.
EDITOR: Surely Henry Kissinger is still alive.
REPORTER: He is, and we had a conversation earlier today. I can say that between bouts of panicked, mostly indecipherable German, the one thing he’s made clear about the dragons is that he is deeply, deeply envious of them.
EDITOR: Let’s try to back into the cover story, from the cover itself. We’re going to use this shot of the dragons laying waste to Manhattan.
REPORTER: Well, that certainly conjures a few ideas.
EDITOR: I love the way this cover kind of echoes Joanne Lipman’s inaugural edition of Conde Nast Portfolio, don’t you?
REPORTER: An apt comparison. It’s too bad the dragons couldn’t have just set $100 million on fire and gone to work running Gannett.
EDITOR: What do you see as the headline?
REPORTER: “By The Time You Read Time We’ll Be Dead?” “Why Did We Bother Doing This?” The complete text of “Ozymandias?”
EDITOR: Less florid.
REPORTER: “The End.”
EDITOR: Hmmmm. More equivocal.
REPORTER: “The End?”
EDITOR: That’s it. Run with that.
REPORTER: Could I run to safety with that?
EDITOR: Actually, with this skeleton crew situation, I’ll need some witty front-of-the-book copy from you, too. Think about who’s up, who’s down.
REPORTER: Dragons are up. They are up everywhere. You look up, you see dragons.
EDITOR: Think pithier. How about Ted Cruz, of all people, in that televised address, saying, “Your government is working tirelessly to combat the dragon threat,” after a career of undermining that same government?
REPORTER: A little mean-spirited, don’t you think? Seeing as he was cut down in a torrent of dragonfire alongside several of his colleagues a few minutes after that address?
EDITOR: What I’m getting at is that it’s worth pointing out that he was short-sighted, right up until the end.
REPORTER: Ah, well. It’s obviously come too late to be helpful, but that’s what I’ve been getting at, as well.