Eduardo Velasquez'sA Consumer's Guide to the Apocalypse
ISI Press: 2007
Reviewed by Weston Frisk

Velasquez's A Consumer's Guide to the Apocalypse is a collection of commentaries on various aspects of modern popular culture, specifically the dark religious undercurrents of the song, movie and novel industry of America in the last decade. A fascination with Nihilism permeates American culture that is most easily seen in an assessment of these modern "artifacts," as Velasquez calls them. These artifacts include Tom Wolfe's I am Charlotte Simmons, which depicts the deconstruction of human individualism, soul and spiritualism, at Dupont University. Velasquez then looks to Michael Frayn's Copenhagen as an "illustration of the gap between Word and Self" (36), a continuation of the discussion of science and its affect on the human. From there we are led to an encounter with the British rock band Coldplay. We travel through the cosmos, to the tops of trees, searching for the beginning, for God, and for answers. The reader is then confronted with Dave Mathews' demonic and suicidal obsessions. Then, looking at Fight Club, God is found in the basement of a church at a men's support group. Sexually ambiguous, somewhat female and somewhat male, Bob, the testicular cancer survivor, shows us the confused, chaotic God of today. Coming through the fog of confusion we find ourselves faced with Tori Amos describing the divine feminine. The fascination with demonic imagery, with the "progress" of science turning us into machines to be disassembled for inspection, the confusion about God, and the longing to return to a beginning, are elements of American culture, or a Jungian collective subconscious even, that Velasquez lays out on the table for discussion.
Both Frayn and Wolfe's work deal with conceptions of scientific progress. Wolfe deals with reductionism that goes on not only in the field of science, but also in our institutions of education. Our passions and desires turn into synapses in the Amygdala. "Neuroscience redirects our attention back to the body" attempting to "prove," in a matter of speaking, the soul does not exist (6). Wolfe's protagonist Charlotte loses her identity in the classroom as well as in the flow of the university. She is reduced from a thinking being to an ID number on a university swipe card. "Wolfe's reduction of the various protagonists to animals. . . is his way of deliberately evoking a reaction against the scientific reduction of human beings to their bodies"(19). Frayn's commentary in Copenhagen on the uncertainty and complementary principals of physics lays next to uncertainty and complementary in human actions. We "do not know ourselves fully" and therefore require outside perspectives (xxii). From this uncertainty comes the possibility for a "negative theology" (xxii).
Velasquez takes us to the lyrics and images of Coldplay and Dave Matthews. Coldplay sings of the modern interaction with technology that is so much a part of our lives today. They sing of "the predicament that afflicts us as children of the modern world" (57). The struggle between humanity and science, human searching for our origins as humans, and a search for some sort of religion or spirituality are topics Velasquez confronts using Coldplay's own lyrics. From the Genesis aspects of "The Scientist," wishing to go back to the beginning, searching for some illusive answers, to "The Speed of Sound" looking at evolution for the same end, we see the theme of the Cosmos and the human state of being therein lost. In the same way we are lost with Dave Matthews between Jesus being crucified and the devil. Matthews aggressive confronts God on several occasions, by calling into question the expectation of Heaven. "the solution to our internal conflict" Velasquez suggests "is to abandon, release, even surrender" (85). Here again is the haunting Nihilism, giving in to the idea of nothing-self annihilation as Velasquez puts it.
From the Godlessness and confusion of Coldplay and Dave Matthews comes further confusion about the role and even gender of God and a "yearning for rebirth" (102). In Fight Club we find God at a support group. With newly grown breast and lacking intact male sexual genitalia, Bob or "God[,] appears as an emasculated male" (115). Here the narrator "returns to the womb" in Bob's embrace (116). What a confused depiction of God! We must further examine the female aspect of this newfound deity. The narrator also makes visits to female support groups. These images of the divine feminine brings us to Tori Amos' discussion in her works of the just that topic. Amos examines the two Marys, the virgin and the prostitute and wonders what it is about societies conception that disallows a unity of spiritualism and sexuality. Velasquez goes on to bring out her words to the affect that "we need a new genesis to go with our contemporary apocalypse" (136). Which is what he, Velasquez, proceeds to give us. He suggests where to go from here, accepting our current relationship with religion and the so-called modern enlightenment of science -- "We seek renewal" (148).