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Mayan 'apocalypse' turns out to be just another day

Publication Date : 27-12-2012


The Japanese press is good at coining words. A very good word was coined for gossip-mongering three decades ago, which can be used to best describe the propagation of the Mayan doomsday prophesy. The word is kuchi-komi. Kuchi means the mouth and komi is a unique Japanese abbreviation of “communication”. Mass communications media is masu-komi in Japanese and kuchi-komi literally means “spreading of news by word of mouth”.

Nowadays, gossip-mongering is being done by social media, a means of interaction among people in which they create, share, exchange and comment in virtual communities and networks. It's social media at its best that created the worldwide brouhaha of Mayan doomsday.

As a matter of fact, the Mayans, the ancient people good at making the calendar, didn't make the doomsday prophecy. Their calendar ends on Dec 21, 2012. But some astronomic prophets say the Universe will unleash a maelstrom of inexplicable fiery carnage on Mother Earth on that day. At best, we would undergo some kind of rapid planetary change; and at worst, a weird cosmic alignment would make the Sun turn the planet, and all of civilization with it, into toast.

But the gossip-mongering by kuchi-komi online has turned it into worldwide Mayan doomsday hype, which compelled President Vladimir Putin of Russia to rule out any possibility of the world ending as predicted. Giving his first major news conference since his return to the Kremlin on December 20, he was asked why he picked a date one day before the end of the world according to a Mayan prophecy that has caused global hysteria. He answered that the world would not end for another 4.5 billion years.

The world didn't end last Friday, of course. But doomsayers hunkered down to await the coming apocalypse. Thousands gathered at the Mayan ruins of Tikal in the jungles of Guatemala to await a fiery climax to the Mayan long-count calendar, which points to an era of more than 5,000 years coming to an end. Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard set the tone earlier this month with a spoof video address, vowing to keep fighting however the end would come, whether “from flesh-eating zombies, demonic hell-beasts or from the total triumph of K-Pop.”

Some argued online that an impending milestone for the Gangnam Style video of South Korean rapper Psy was itself a harbinger of doom, enlisting a fake Nostramus verse in their cause. Across Asia, Europe and the United States, where a poll shows at least 12 per cent of the populace believed the world would come to an end, many people partied with apocalypse-themed diners and pub nights.

But we are happy to note that people in Taiwan were unmoved by sensationalist media coverage of the Mayan doomsday. The media, Taiwan's masu-komi, outdid the kuchi-komi online by bombarding the public with apocalypse news, with many dedicating front pages and talks shows to the topic. At one point, a local television station had a news ticker reading, “The doomsday warning will be lifted at 2pm Saturday,” taking into account the different time zone in Mexico and Central America where the Mayan culture originated.

Like most of the Japanese, by far the greatest majority of people in Taiwan are at least ritual Buddhists, knowing or at least being told there won't be an end of civilization. They are living in Kali Yuga, or the latter days of the Dharma, which began on Jan 23, 3102 BC and lasts 432,000 years from that date, according to the Buddhist calendar. Their understanding of time is cyclical. At points, the Dharma, or the Law, disappears and the world is dark like the Dark Age of Western civilization. At the end of this period, however, the Maitreya Bodhisattva is supposed to come to the rescue and the world is made bright again. Taiwan's population, therefore, is immune to doomsday heralds, and didn't dance to the tune of our doomsayer media.

When television was introduced to Japan, the Japanese press coined a phrase to condemn its encroachment on their domain. It was the “idiotization of 100 million”. Japan's population at that point stood at 100 million. We shouldn't wonder if Taiwan's wordsmiths would coin a similar wisecrack to condemn their unmoved audience by saying social media are idiotising their viewers and readers.


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