Carmageddon is not Armageddon

Only the city that birthed Hollywood could dramatize a freeway closure the way Los Angeles has these past few weeks.

As soon as it was announced that the city would close the 405 freeway, from the I-10 to the 101 for a full weekend, prognosticators started predicting the end of the world. The ensuing theatrics have reached far and wide, from The Washington Post to CNN. “Carmageddon” is currently the second most searched phrase on Google, according to Google trends, its “hotness” level characterized as “spicy.”

The histrionics surrounding such events may derive from Hollywood, but Los Angeles isn’t the only city screaming ‘it’s the end of the world as we know it.’ Carmageddon makes it clear that Hollywood’s penchant for dramatic climax has afflicted the American consciousness.

Earlier today in Washington, even President Barack Obama channeled apocalyptic overtones when he suggested that raising the debt ceiling was the only way to “avert Armageddon”. Which begs the question: What is with America’s obsession with the apocalypse?

It seems just about everyone, from the media to local bars to private planes are cashing in on this climactic moment. “L.A. braces for Carmageddon” declared The Washington Post (why people who live on the East coast need to know the re-route details of a Los Angeles freeway closure is Greek to me).  Even CNN chose to spotlight the potential traffic turmoil by interviewing L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who promised the renovation of the freeway would reduce commute times by a minute per mile from Los Angeles to Orange County. The cost? $1 billion. “Is it worth it?” asked the news anchor. Villaraigosa laughed.

Locals are getting in on the action too. Carmageddon cams, drinks specials and helicopter tours are being touted on Facebook and Twitter. The ubiquitous local, L.A. Weekly is offering an indispensable online guide to all things Carmageddon, including information about a private jet company offering specials to transport sidelined travelers to local airports. For $299, Angelenos can get from LAX to Burbank with a once in a blue moon view: the 405, which accommodates up to 500,000 commuters daily will be empty.

“Carmageddon” is being treated like The Big One, the mythical looming earthquake some predict will one day plunge Los Angeles into the sea, or maybe sever California from the rest of the United States entirely.

Must all struggles be met with harbingers of doom? It seems awfully melodramatic to confront a troubling freeway closure with end-of-the-world speculations. Is such fatalism a religious impulse? A national neurosis? Is this what happens when a capitalist system is in full-throttle crisis, on the verge of losing superpower status and maybe—heaven forfend!—become a little less extraordinary?

Enough with the doom and gloom. Is it too difficult to say, “This will be very annoying, but we will survive and see another day—- and on that day, there may even be less traffic.”