by Taylor Baugh, Ball State University
There are many forms of entertainment today that depict apocalyptic plotlines while also incorporating supernatural forces. Within our entertainment, we want to enjoy imagining the apocalypse; however, we don’t want to face the realistic nature of those apocalypses. So, we include the supernatural rather than real world problems we are facing. It is no different in the television show, Sleepy Hollow, which opens on a battlefield in the year 1781 with Ichabod Crane fighting against the Red Coats. Crane is on a mission from George Washington to find and kill a Hessian soldier. Crane notices the soldier on horseback and shoots; the mark hits the Horseman straight in the chest, but the soldier is not affected. He falls from his horse and stands, swinging his ax, slashing Crane across the chest, and severely injures him. Before Crane falls, he swings his sword, cutting off the head of the soldier, causing the two to fall together. In the next scene, Ichabod Crane wakes up in the year 2013 (present day for the show), just as the soldier he killed does. However, the soldier isn’t just a soldier, but the Headless Horseman of Death from the book of Revelation.
The Horseman begins tearing through Sleepy Hollow, killing as he goes. As Crane’s appearance coincides with the mysterious killings, Crane becomes the prime suspect. At the police station, Crane tries to explain who he is and what the Horseman is. But with a story like his, no one takes him seriously, except for Lieutenant Abbie Mills. While she’s still skeptical as to what’s really going on, Abbie saw the Horseman herself when it killed her partner. After the Horseman kills again, Crane is no longer a suspect and instead begins to help Abbie and the department with the investigation. Towards the end of episode one, while Crane is doing research, he realizes that he and Abbie may be the two witnesses described in the book of Revelation. In the book of Revelation, the two witnesses are said to be aiding the apocalypse, but in the show they are the ones who can stop the Horseman from bringing the other three horsemen into being. If the Horseman, Death, succeeds in raising the other three Horsemen, the apocalypse will begin.
While this is the main focus of the show, Abbie and Crane defend Sleepy Hollow from a myriad of other evil forces including witches, a monster called “The Sandman,” demons, and supernatural plagues. These supernatural forces are intermingled with the overarching apocalyptic storyline. The writers’ use of supernatural distractions works to separate the thought of apocalypse from our world today. By including that which cannot happen in our world, we are able to distance ourselves from the oncoming apocalypse that we face in the real world while still enjoying the idea of one in our entertainment. People find pleasure in imagining a point where there are no responsibilities to handle. However there is a fear that comes with apocalypse; the supernatural elements work to take away a part of this fear by creating unrealistic scenarios to distance viewers. While that may sound a bit morbid, in the book After The End, James Berger agrees that people take pleasure in imagining the end. He states:
“To think that everything really is over would be a great relief, and a positive satisfaction. So many self-righteous and complacent individuals and institutions would get their comeuppance in a hurry. Except that it has already happened. What will happen has happened, is happening. But the world is still here, exactly as it was: that is what is intolerable. And therein lies the pleasure in imagining its destruction, and the horror and confusion in reflecting that such enormous, such definitive catastrophes have actually and in the flesh taken place” (32).
Berger points out that people enjoy watching the depiction of the apocalypse because it is a way to imagine that everyone who has ever wronged you would get their punishment. Every bad thing that was happening in the world would stop and everything would be done; there would be no more responsibility to deal with.
While this may be a reason for the popularity of apocalyptic literature in our society today, I believe that we must also look at the ways we try to distance ourselves from the possibility of a coming apocalypse within our world as well. In Sleepy Hollow, there are an abundance of supernatural creatures that pull watchers out of the reality of a real-world apocalypse. Just the idea of Crane waking up in 2013 after being killed in battle in 1781 is such a stretch that anyone watching could easily see that this is an unrealistic story. By dealing with witches, ghosts, demons, and other monsters, Sleepy Hollow works to distance the audience from an apocalypse.
Most people don’t believe in most of the supernatural creatures depicted by the show. By including these aspects, the show allows the audience to imagine the end of the world outside of realistic apocalyptic scenarios, such as plagues and climate issues. While it may be enjoyable to imagine such an end as Berger suggests, the fictional characteristics of the storyline allow the audience to view this type of apocalypse at a distance and as a weak possibility. This has become a problematic trend within our society; it has caused people to take the possibility of a real apocalypse less seriously. We have distanced ourselves too much from the problems we are really facing in the world such as climate change and current environmental problems by entertaining ourselves with the unrealistic.
Berger, James. “Trauma and The End of The World.” After the End: Representations of
Post-Apocalypse, University of Minnesota Press, 1999, pp. 19–56.
Iscove, Phillip, et al. Sleepy Hollow. Season 1, 2013.