The media has been in a tizzy over the Rapture predictions made by end-times prophet Harold Camping, whose followers expected to ascend to heaven after God destroyed the world on Saturday at 6pm. Mostly, it’s just been a convenient excuse to bash Christians, even though the vast majority of Christians think Camping is a kook:
I suspect that the media feeding frenzy … has less to do with an impulse to lampoon the ridiculous than an impulse to ridicule Christianity in general. Despite Camping and his followers being an extremely small fringe group, the media has covered this story as if the entire Southern Baptist church made this prediction. Stanley also concurs that this should be an extremely small story, not a dominating narrative, but also predicts that we’ve just seen the beginning of it. Come tomorrow morning, we’re going to see a deluge of snarky reports about the silly end-timers who got left behind — excuse me, Left Behind — which will all carry an unstated theme of “oh, those silly Christians and their silly beliefs!”
So, the media have a self-serving justification for turning a small story into front-page news. But they do have a big logistical problem with the Rapture: it has no locus, no “main stage” where the whole drama will play out. Instead, Camping’s followers are scattered one-by-one across the country, each waiting for Rapture or disappointment in private. So where can you as a reporter stand facing the camera with a meaningful backdrop to show you’re in the middle of the action?
Well, Oakland, California famously has “no there there,” but it does have the only “there” for the Armageddon story — the headquarters of “Family Radio,” the Oakland studio where Camping records his radio shows which are then broadcast around the world. So I — along with a veritable circus of pranksters and true believers — decided to await the rapture at Armageddon HQ, the Family Radio offices on Hegenberger Road near the Oakland Airport. (Two other photographers also showed up and contributed their pictures to the report below.)
Turns out that neither Camping nor any of his followers were on hand, but that didn’t diminish the completely ridiculous media circus that ensued — a self-feeding fiasco that encapsulated the Armageddon-mockery frenzy we’re witnessing on a wider scale across the country.
When I first showed up around 4pm, there wasn’t a single soul around — just two hours until the end of the world, and no one is at the headquarters of the group that predicted it? Weird.
I went up to the building, but even that was closed, and no one was inside. Wait — did they say six p.m.? Or was that Eastern Standard Time? Was I already too late, the last person standing on earth?
I snapped a shot of the inside of the Family Radio office — didn’t seem like they had made any special preparations for Armageddon. What are those folders doing in the “In” box? Pending completion…when, exactly? (Later, a reporter told me that 80% [he was very specific about that -- 80%] of the Family Radio employees don’t believe Harold Camping.)
But the desolation was only temporary. Soon, a procession of groups and individuals — from the completely serious to the utterly absurd — would show up and transform the parking lot into a media circus.
The first arrivals were the Calvary Bible Church, of Milpitas (a small city south of Oakland). They were disgusted by Camping’s self-serving prophecies, and wanted to show that not all Christians were falling for this hoo-ha. Shortly afterwards, a Japanese journalist (seen here on the left) showed up and interviewed them.
The Milpitans said they were there to give counseling to any devastated Camping followers who might show up at the main office after the fizzled Rapture, and prevent them from committing suicide or losing their faith in God.
And from there, it was all downhill.
Next up was a covey of sarcastic hipsters who showed up to, well, just be on the scene. When interviewed by various reporters, they had no real explanation for their presence, other than to satiate their need for postmodern irony.
So they posed for souvenir photos in front of the Christian signs.
More professional jokers arrived a few minutes later: Bishop Joey, leader of a freelance comedy troupe known as the First Church of the Last Laugh, affixed a helium tank to a pole. Why?
To inflate love-dolls and twistable balloons made to look like little people, which were to be released at 6pm, to give the media a “visual” of souls ascending to heaven. Of course!
By this time, the television news crews were arriving in a continuous stream, like Okies fleeing the Dust Bowl. Here the ABC News reporter practices her “very serious” expression in preparation for the 5pm newscast.
And where there are cameras, there will also be attention-hounds. This duo announced that Gay Pride has successfully prevented Armageddon.
The leader positioned himself directly in front of the Milpitas Christians, since most camera crews were using them as a backdrop.
And they just kept coming. A small squad of sarcastic nihilists arrived with the now commonplace parody placards “This Is a Sign” and “Upside Down Sign.” (I’ve seen these same jokes over and over at protests in recent years, and have always wondered: Are these people all part of the same specific group or trend, or do they somehow manage to come up with the same joke independent of each other?)