Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Zombies and the Coming Ecological/Energy Catastrophe

I’ve just finished listening to the audiobook “World War Z” by Max Brooks.  It is a BOOK recounting the stories of survivors of the Zombie wars, and I mean zombies in the tradition of George Romero.  Now I know what your thinking, a BOOK about Zombies?   How can such a purely visual topic be rendered into literature?  Well, aside from saying that Brooks did a great job, here is my bit of insight into what a book about zombies and our culture’s general fascination with zombies say about us?  Well, it is important to note that the book takes place in the near future.  Additionally, certain elements, such as Cuba becoming a superpower in the post-Zombie world immediately bring to mind doomsday scenarios relating to the looming (real) oil crash and other forms of ecological catastrophe.  From a cultural studies point of view, this made me realize that we as a society can’t get away from the traditional adversarial way of thinking.  A zombie both “humanizes” the enemy in the sense that it represents a concrete manifestation of an enemy capable of posing an existential threat to humanity. In fact, I think this is a signal that mankind at this moment is coming to terms with the existential threat posed by the environment/energy.  By environment, I mean pollution and the depletion of energy resources.  These are not adversarial threats in that there is no definable enemy against which we can fight.  But ironically, the zombie hordes in a sense represent a literal metaphor for the revenge of the dead.  The generations before us, which we can in some ways blame for putting us in our current predicament, by wasting resources and polluting with reckless, abandon are the source of our contemporary ecological problems.  By turning them into zombies, we perhaps are subconsciously acknowledging the role they play in the current ecological crisis.  Man needs an enemy, it is difficult to oppose and/or feel threatened by an enemy that is not easily identifiable, in a sense, an intangible enemy like lack of energy or pollution.  Further, a zombie is very much an “instant gratification” kind of threat.  If it gets you, you will suffer the most agonizing death imaginable, be eaten alive.  Contrasting this horrible fate, the destruction of this enemy is also very visceral, destroying the brain, which is a symbolic destruction of the very identity of the “other”.  (“On Killing” by D. Grossman cites the analysis found in feminist discourse for why porn has an obsession with the “facial”, whereby the male actor symbolically obliterates the identity of the female by obscuring her face, the true locus of human identity)  Clearly, sci-fi always gives us huge insight into where we are as a culture/species at this moment in time.  It seems these are our biggest concerns at the moment, dealing with a threat, which is existential and yet not human (although it may be caused by humans) and with no instant consequences.

1 comment:

  1. What are you thoughts on the recent mathematical modelling of zombie virus outbreaks by U. Ottawa/Carelton researchers?
    "When Zombies Attack: Mathematical Modelling of an Outbreak of Zombie Infection"