July 10, 2011

Reflections on Zombies

According to a series of Internet surveys, I have only 60% chance of surviving a zombie apocalypse. It was pretty consistent across the board. (Try a few surveys here, here, and here. There are dozens of them.) A mere 60%. I’m pretty impressed with those numbers considering I know nothing about how to survive zombie-ridden world, but then on the other hand if I can to go up against a rabid pack of zombies, I’d really want my percentages to be much better—more like a 100%. It’s my life we’re talking about here. But we are talking about zombies not the swine flu. Just how likely is it that zombies might attack me? Actually,  I’m not sure. 
Have you noticed our culture’s current obsession with zombies? For a long time, vampires were the monster de jour because somehow they were sexy and romantic. What other way could we women get a true (and literal) renaissance man and the hope of eternal life? Chilvary’s not dead! Any vampire I’ve met in pop culture, revels in eternal youth and beauty. Swoon! So what if I can’t die? Oh, the tragedy of enjoying everything life has to offer! Who cares that I would have to drink blood? Squirt some chocolate in it or mix it with some vodka. I guarantee it will taste better than that psyllium and lemon juice “health” tonic I drank this morning. Vampires and their lifestyle sound enticing, so I can understand how people could become fascinated with vampires, but zombies? Ugh. They have no glamour.
A charming zombie is a dead zombie. I mean really dead, incapacitated, and decapitated. This brand of undead has no class. Stinking, rotting flesh falling off their bones…grossly misshapen bodies drag across the ground… and apparently, zombies have one thought: “Brains!” Now, I don’t know enough about zombies to know if this is an exaggeration, but it is evident that zombies do not possess high-level brain functions as they simply wander around mumbling and groaning. Poor hygiene, decaying complexion, and a one-track mind--how can the public be so obsessed with this monster? 

It’s sad how the public mood has changed in its fascination with the undead. With an interest in vampire fantasies, people were often hopeful and optimistic. I know that not all vampires are like Lestat and Edward, but at least with a vampire lifestyle, according to popular fiction, one can function almost normally as a human being. I’ve been waiting for stories told from a zombie’s point of view, but that unlikely to happen. Zombies don’t think; they react. They attack and eat with no control, often infecting those they attack. This is where their popularity troubles me. With even one zombie comes a whole apocalypse. Why is our culture obsessed with a monster that will annihilate the human race? Are people wondering if the end is near? 

I’ve enjoyed good vampires stories for two decades, and in recent years, it has become such a popular genre that the market has been saturated with a glut of paranormal fiction. Never once in those years did I entertain the thought that vampires might exist. Not even when I’ve seen young people imitating the vampiric life, including the whole blood drinking thing, did I ever fear for my ephemeral life. Come on! Vampires? Wipe off your pasty makeup, pop out those fangs, and get a job! 

But zombies…as ridiculous as they sound, I have half a mind to believe that they could exist. As a culture, we are halfway there. Our attention span is limited to the equivalent of 140 characters of digital drivel, as we bump our way through society, stopping only to refuel with anything that comes with fries. Perhaps it is extreme to think that we are so disconnected we might as well be zombies. However, in all seriousness, if our world did become overrun with zombies, I wonder how long it would take for anybody to notice. 

Besides killing ourselves with mind-numbing “culture,” what we should worry about is biological warfare. Let’s consider government conspiracies and mad scientists who could create viruses that will spread like wildfire, killing the human race as we know it. You see, some of the popular zombie fiction is based on the premise that a zombie apocalypse begins after a terrible virus is released. Brain-hungry walking dead sound bit far-fetched, but evil men creating biological weapons of mass destruction are much more plausible. If you believe that biological weapons are also too fantastical to reality, consider these common diseases that could make one act like a zombie: 

  • Rabies. People infected with rabies, which comes from an animal bite, often exhibit strange and violent behavior. They might have paralysis and could become mentally impaired to the point of irrationality. Images of violent, crazy people foaming at the mouth coming to mind?
  • Sleeping Sickness. Induced by the attack of a parasite that goes right to the brain, the carrier gradually becomes less coherent as the parasite eats away at the brain. No brain function would certainly make one zombie-like.
  • Necrosis. Premature dying cell tissue can certainly provide the look of a rotting zombie. It spreads and can cause limbs to die long before the brain does. Stinking gangrene, anyone?
  • Leprosy. A highly contagious, often slowly developing skin condition that can deteriorate to necrosis and deformation, it is the epitome of what people might consider a zombie looks like. It’s been decades since anyone has seen leprosy, but often people who had it were treated as if they were already dead.
Of course, none of these afflictions alone makes a zombie, but what if a mad scientist mixed together a concoction of these diseases—or something even worse that we don’t even know about that includes cannibalism? Welcome to my dead man’s party! 

Perhaps you think you’re safe as long as no mad scientist comes up with a way to reanimate the dead? Think again and read some zombie fiction. These living dead don’t have to brought back to life. A nice coma would do if you really want your average zombie to have that classic element of surprise when you find that something you thought was dead really isn’t. Simply a degradation of human function would probably freak me out enough. One day my spouse is hugging and kissing me, and the next day he wants to get close so he can feed on my juicy flesh and delicious brains. “Holy Living Dead! When did my sweetie become a zombie? This wasn’t in the vows! RUN!” 

The real question is whether I believe enough that zombies could exist and if I should be prepared for an attack. Considering I’m an overweight, 40 year-old woman living in an urban area with only a 60% chance of surviving a zombie apocalypse, it’s quite unlikely that I’m going to take up an interest in machetes and shotguns. “I used to enjoy cooking and crafts in my free time, but now spend my time honing my commando survival skills. Wanna see my guns? A zombie apocalypse will come, you know.” How crazy does that sound? I think I’ll try to keep the possibilities tucked into my nightmares for now and hope that zombie popularity isn’t an omen.


Clix said...

Neat post! I've always felt that monster stories that feature near-humans are a way of exploring our fears. Werewolf stories are about the struggle to behave appropriately in difficult situations. Vampires are about the corruption of power. Zombies are about not being able to control our own destinies - a fear I think is echoed in dystopian stories, which are also currently popular. I don't see that as a coincidence.

Ms Characterized said...

I agree. I've had a fascination for horror (thinking about it, not always watching it -- because [surprise!] it creeps me out beyond measure) for a couple of years now.

I don't necessarily equate the zombie issue with destiny or control, though. I think they reflect our current fears. Situations, such as the environment and the economy, that continue to come at us and that we have a 60% chance or less of surviving. Those problems keep coming at us until people with definitive and drastic plans solve them, often at great price.

Must confess that I only got through a quarter of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, not because of the zombies, but because I'm such a nerd about that book. When the narrator states that the girls had been to the East for martial arts, I thought, "Well, that's absurd. One of the whole points is that the Bennets neglect the educational and societal needs of their daughters -- that's why Lydia's such a manifestation of Id all all over the book."

Anyway...good post. I've been reading, but been too full of summer lethargy to comment or post myself until today. Thanks!

HappyChyck said...

Thanks for responding, ladies! This was the only piece of writing that I wrote during my writing project's summer institute, and ironically, since I ended doing even less writing than usual during that month, I thought I would post it.

I adore both of your insights what about the monsters in our culture represent. It makes me want to explore the ideas even more!

Anonymous said...

I have also wondered about American society's recent fascination with vampires, given "True Blood", and the "Twilight" trilogy. Equally bizarre to me.