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Saturday, August 16, 2014

Living With Reanimation: I'm Sick of Zombies

Maybe I am one of a few, but I am so sick of all the fuss over zombies. Why have people elevated these fictional, flesh-eating, reanimated human corpses from the horror film genre to cultural icons of rabid popularity? Today it seems as if it's "everything zombie" -- from survival products to clothes to energy drinks to art works to jello molds -- is celebrated. People devour zombie videos, and they even have zombie apocalypse parties to get blasted before the end of the world.

I'm not a scholar of the monsters, but it is my understanding that a "zombie apocalypse" is the breakdown of society as a result of a global rise of zombies hostile to human life that engages in a general assault on civilization. The zombies rise from the dead to take over the world.

Films such as Night of the Living Dead portray such widespread decimation. The cataclysm intensifies as victims of zombies may become zombies themselves. This causes the outbreak to become an exponentially growing crisis: the spreading "zombie plague/virus" swamps normal military and law enforcement organizations, leading to the panicked collapse of civilian society until only isolated pockets of survivors remain, scavenging for food and supplies in a world reduced to a pre-industrial hostile wilderness.

Even the government has contributed to the zombie apocalypse frenzy.

On May 18, 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a graphic novel, Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse providing tips to survive a zombie invasion as a "fun new way of teaching the importance of emergency preparedness". The CDC goes on to summarize cultural references to a zombie apocalypse. It uses these to underscore the value of laying in water, food, medical supplies, and other necessities in preparation for any and all potential disasters, be they hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, or hordes of zombies.

("Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse." May 18, 2011)

This zombie madness has seemingly brain washed millions. Theories about why the creatures are so popular abound. One blogger for IGN Entertainment, Inc. gives two possibilities. He says ...

* One possible reason is the idea of turning from a rational human being into a mindless monster is just as fascinating as is it horrifying. 

"Just like vampires and werewolves, zombism involves an involuntary shift in consciousness where one is no longer in control of his or her body.  This provides a terrific moral quandry for any and all engaged in the practice of zombie slaying.  Is it acceptable to kill a zombie because it's just a mindless brute and not actually a person anymore, or is it a crime against nature either because either A) what if there's still a shred of humanity underneath that decaying flesh or B) the creature is no more evil than a bear or lion fighting for its food." 

* Another reason of zombie popularity relates to authors and filmmakers "cashing in" by using zombies to glorify violence. 

The media uses zombies as the main antagonists, not to provide the same social commentary but to make goriness acceptable and even passe.

"They portray zombies not as a terrible crime against humanity but as lifeless husks that are not only okay to slaughter in droves, but encouraged to do so.  Whereas blowing off the head of a living, breathing human would be classified as graphic at best, doing the same to the undead corpse of the same human would be considered acceptable and excusable. Thus violence against zombies has become a proxy for violence against intelligent beings, giving an excuse to ruthlessly murder something that looks very much like a human but is treated very much like cannon fodder."

("Two Conflicting Theories on Why Zombies Are So Popular." August 21, 2012)

* Blogger and psychologist Mark E. Koltko-Rivera thinks the zombie popularity is all about how people fear the risk of pandemic disease with potentially apocalyptic consequences.

That concern, in a context where the average person seems powerless, is reflected in the popularity of the zombie in so many types of media. Koltko-Rivera claims the zombie is a perfect metaphor for the outbreak of pandemic disease. He even cites some Canadian medical researchers who published a chapter about zombie epidemiology in a serious 2009 academic book on disease modeling, a chapter titled "When Zombies Attack!: Mathematical Modelling of an Outbreak of Zombie Infection" to support his belief.

Koltko-Rivera looks at the following developments to solidify his theory: 

(1) the rise in international air travel making the spread of disease much quicker, 
(2) the population growth in rural China putting people in close contact with farm animals in which organisms such as avian flu virus incubate and mutate, 
(3) advances in biotechnology and genetics making it possible for well-heeled organizations to design their own microorganisms, and 
(4) the misuse of antibiotics leading to the rise of treatment-resistant forms of bacterial diseases like bacterial pneumonia -- diseases that often come in on the tails of a viral infection such as the flu.

 My View

So, I have learned that many people believe zombies are captivating symbols of a potential pandemic in an American culture that chooses not only to glorify violence but also to blur the lines between hatred and pity for the fictional undead. In essence, much of the population thinks zombies are frightening "cool."

You know, I did feel sorry for Victor Frankenstein's monster played by Boris Karloff in the famous 1931 film. The eight feet tall and hideously ugly monster was rejected by society. However, his monstrosity resulted not only from his grotesque appearance but also from the unnatural manner of his creation -- the secretive animation of a mix of stolen body parts and strange chemicals. He was a pitiful product not of collaborative scientific effort but of dark, supernatural workings.

Horror is elicited by various associations, but I guess what I'm so sick of seeing is gross and decaying body parts, brain-gnawing delirium, and the profusion of realistic-looking blood and guts in portrayals of violent decimation. To me, this overkill spawns acceptance of gore, and, like the writers for IGN, I believe it creates a climate for admiring violence. In short, some of the zombie stuff is just brutally sickening with no limits on barbarity.

Hey, I'm tired of the zombie thing. Hasn't it run its course through mountains of body parts and hideous, lumbering villains? I think the best monsters in media are less numerous and much more dramatically portrayed. Give me one scary character such a Bela Lugosi "Dracula" or a Stephen Spillberg "Jaws" great white any day.

If zombies are your "thing," enjoy the fright and impending doom of being overcome by these masses of flesh eaters. As for me, the zombie killings have become so graphic that they now are nothing more than sickening special effects. I'm ready to forget zombies, the zombie apocalypse, and the entire concept of slaughtering people who are already dead.  

I guess I just don't enjoy the entire phenomenon of eating humans and blasting away the organs of smelly, rotting creatures. But, for some, it's the grosser, the better. And, it seems there is no end to the bloodbath.

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