Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Our Zombie Culture

Without going much into the lore, literature, and filmography of zombies, there is an appropriate analogy to be drawn between the notion of the "living dead" and the living that deserves to be illustrated. Metaphorical zombies rule our current political culture, as well. At least, that is how I often feel when engaging others in a discussion of politics and even esthetics and contemporary human behavior. Try as one might, such people are proof against reason, beyond redemption or reclamation.

There is, however, more fascination with the subject than I had expected to encounter. One venue I had not expected to see it in is a government website, incredibly, that of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). It is a tongue-in-cheek, semi-humorous treatment that employs the notion of a zombie apocalypse to instruct people to prepare for very real disasters, including a pandemic of disease. It isn't confined to one page, but goes on and on through several links and even offers a down-loadable graphic novel tailored to disaster preparedness.

This is your tax dollars at work. It is so reassuring to know that some bureaucrat decided to indulge his sense of humor and subcontract some pricey consultant to create a website devoted to publicizing disaster preparedness, as a way of talking down to us lunk heads and cajoling us into a state of responsible citizenship, doubtless taking a leaf from that patronizing and politically correct PBS children's educational program, Sesame Street or virtually any other instance of children's educational programming.

Briefly, according to some accounts, the term "zombie" was popularized in our culture by Bela Lugosi in his 1932 movie, WhiteZombie. The term has Haitian voodoo origins, of course, and the notion of a zombie has ancient European folklore parallels, as well. Mary Shelley's 1818 Frankenstein monster was assembled from the body parts of the dead, thus technically making it a zombie. Stephen Mallory's "drooling beast" in The Fountainhead could be said to be a zombie, too, a beast deaf to all reason, a thing that lives only to kill, a "maniac who's had some disease that's eaten his brain out….You'd see living eyes watching you and you'd know that the thing can't hear you, that it can't be reached, not reached, not in any way, yet it's breathing and moving there before you with a purpose of its own…"*

Ian Fleming exploited the idea in his 1954 James Bond thriller, Live and Let Die. George A. Romero's low-budget, 1968 Night of the Living Dead boosted interest in the notion of flesh-eating zombies, an interest which has since spawned a billion dollar industry that caters to the zombie-obsessed among the living. AMC's bigger-budget "The Walking Dead" TV series is about to go into its third season. It is based rather loosely on the graphic novel of the same name.

In the TV series, the last surviving doctor in Atlanta's CDC blows up the place and himself in a fit of despair and hopelessness about finding a cure to whatever caused the pandemic. I'm betting the irony was not lost on the executive responsible for the CDC's zombie site.

I do not like horror movies, but have watched some of them to grasp their appeal in an attempt to form a wider understanding of the phenomenon and the culture. I have watched "The Walking Dead" because in it human relationships compete with all the head-lopping, rasping, and flesh feasting. These relationships do not rise above the confusing, complex and banal ones to be seen in daytime soaps. There is no explanation of why suddenly the world is overrun by the walking dead. The title of the series not too subtly indicates the actual, living characters who are all infected with some unidentified pathogen and will rise from death by natural or unnatural causes regardless, and so must be shot in the head before they do. It just happens.

So, what is a zombie? It is a metaphysically impossible creature, dead, but magically reanimated by a virus or a curse or other pseudo-scientific jiggery-pokery, with a functioning motor and autonomous system, a non-causal appetite, a robot oblivious to the weather and its surroundings, conscious but not conscious, volitional but not volitional, teleologically driven or programmed to consume living flesh to survive. But, then, how can the dead "survive"? Survive what? And what for? These are paradoxical questions that needn't be examined, because they are semantic follies. Call a zombie a humanoid plant, or a kind of non-religious Golem.

Americans, too many of them, have an unhealthy fascination with zombies, whatever the antecedents of their favorite walking dead. And too many of them also have functioning motor and autonomous systems, perfect digestive systems, and are selectively conscious. They are eclectically volitional from choice or from habit, and their moral codes make them teleologically driven to consume the living flesh of their fellow men – in the way of social services, government-paid entitlements, surrendering to the state their own lives together with the lives, fortunes and purposes of others. As in "The Walking Dead," they gather in herds and move in herds, chiefly aimlessly, until they find the living.

If, after having seen for themselves what destruction has been wrought by President Barack Obama and his nihilistic policies, and they remain stubbornly blind to that destruction and to the guarantee that he will author even more, and they voted him into a second term, then they are zombies.

If they expect the state to solve every real or imagined crisis, and refuse to grasp that most economic and social crises are caused by government interference or mismanagement or corruption or the systematic expropriation of wealth and effort redirected by force into the bottomless pits of subsidies, welfare, and "social justice," then they are zombies.

If they believe that the state can manage, regulate, or juggle the economy and/or their lives for the public good and for their children and future generations, and guarantee a permanently prosperous, vibrant, and stable society, then they are zombies.

If they believe that incalculable wealth can be stolen from the poor to make others rich, or that a nation's wealth is a static entity that should be divided equally among all, then they are zombies.

If they believe that their mere existence entitles them to economic and spiritual support by their fellows via the state, through taxes, special legislation, and protective privileges, then they are zombies.

If they believe that America was founded as a majority-rule "democracy" and that the principles enunciated by the Founders in the Constitution are inapplicable to the "modern" world, or that the Constitution is a "living" one that can be interpreted any way a court or law professor or bureaucrat or politician wishes to conform with the fiat populism or fallacy of the moment, then they are zombies.

If they believe that principles are merely prejudices or con games designed to manipulate or fool the ignorant and superstitious, then they are zombies. If they believe that the greed of a successful businessman is evil, but that their own greed for the unearned is supremely virtuous, then they are zombies.

If they believe that words have no demonstrable and permanent meaning, that all opinions are merely subjective utterances determined by one's race, gender, class, age, ancestry, or education, then they are zombies. If they further believe that words accrue meaning solely by consensus or fiat law, then they are zombies.

If they believe that the state is the author, dispenser, and steward of all individual rights, and that rights are merely privileges bestowed and granted by the state at the behest and will of a real or fictive majority, and can be withdrawn or obviated at any time, then they are zombies.

If they believe that freedom of speech, guns, and the profit motive are the sole causes of massacres and crime, which they call "tragedies," then they are zombies. If they further believe that speech, guns, and the profit motive should be regulated, and even banned, for the safety and benefit of all, so as to prevent more "tragedies," then they are zombies.

If they believe that all property is theft – and needn't explain from whom – they are zombies.

If they believe that unquestioning "faith" in the ability of government to solve all their problems is justifiable, then they are zombies. If they believe that government is imbued with the power of a deity to work wonders and promise paradise and salvation, then they are zombies. "Faith," by the way, is responsible for the partial lobotomy of most men's minds, making them the walking semi-dead. To many of these zombies, Earth and existence are just a way station to the future or some ethereal realm. Why bother with freedom? Why overvalue it?

If they believe that government can create a tolerable economic and social condition which amounts to tyranny, these zombies are insensible to the consequent loss of freedom. They never understood it and would not miss it, even in their own penury. If you are not a zombie, there's no place in their paradise for you, the living.

The poverty and hardships imposed by the government today will make possible the luxuries and ease of living for everyone tomorrow.

Anyone who believes that is a zombie.

On a final, esthetic note, if a person doesn’t see a difference between Michelangelo's "David" and Giacometti's "Walking Man," he is a zombie.

Doubtless many readers have friends, acquaintances, work colleagues, and even family who fit some or all of the foregoing criteria of zombiehood. To know them is not necessarily to love them, but rather to keep them at arm's length before they take a chunk out of one's arm or neck or wallet or bank account.

But today's zombies needn’t get up front and personal to be a slobbering, life-threatening menace. They can elect career zombies to do it for them. Herds of them are busy in Washington and every state capital and municipal town hall, day and night, chomping away at the wealth of individuals and businesses. In Washington, a herd of these zombies – Republicans and Democrats – just this morning, in fact, have come together and maneuvered you to the edge of a fiscal cliff.

The name of the pandemic is altruism. Its symptoms are collectivism and self-sacrifice.

*The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand. 1943. Bobbs-Merrill: Indianapolis-New York. pp. 352-353.

17 comments:

John Shepard said...

I've had similar thoughts about people, but I've never expressed them so eloquently Ed. Thank you!

A rational philosophy enables the individual to live as a human being. An irrational philosophy turns humans into drones who are eager and willing to act on orders.

If wants to herd human beings, altruism is the means.

Art Lister said...

Unfortunately, I don't think they are joking at all. One of these health officials (either from the CDC or the NIH) remarked that what the human race really needs is a "good pandemic."

Edward Cline said...

"Art Lister": I read that remark somewhere, made by someone at the NIH or CDC. And when one recalls the consciously destructive policies of especially the Obama gang, that remark fits.

revereridesagain said...

In the 1980s Harvard ethnobotanist Wade Davis theorized that creation of "zombies" has long been used as a tool of social control of targeted individuals in rural Haiti. A near-death state is created through induction of a neurotoxins and dissociative drugs. Following burial, the victim is disinterred by the "bokor", or sorceror, who then assumes control via hypnosis (and/or exploitation of pre-existing mental illness) abetted by entrenched superstitions that include belief in zombies as a "societal norm".

While parts of Davis' theory are questionable, the irony in this process is that such "zombies" are not the dead returned to a semblance of life, but living men conned into believing that they have died and that their will is now under total control of the sorceror who "brought them back to life" and who alone can provide for their continued survival, such as it is.

Which sounds a lot like the version of "zombies" with which the West has become infested.

Edward Cline said...

Revereridesagain: Good comment. By way of analogy, our political "elite" and the MSM comprise a singular "bokor" dedicated to allowing us to "survive" as their pet zombies in the pursuit of a "more perfect world" -- one, however, that is at least authoritarian, if not tyrannical. Our "bokor" wishes us all to be good, obedient, submissive, unquestioning zombies in the name of "responsible citizenship."

John Shepard said...

Reminds me of the 1960's movie The Time Machine (I've not read the book), with the well-fed, ignorant, carefree and motivation-free Eloi - versus the Morlocks, the monsters who rule the Eloi, provide for them, and eventually eat them - the Elois being the "Zombies," the Morlocks being our "political elites."

Edward Cline said...

John Shepard: It's curious that you should bring up the 1960 movie, "The Time Machine." This was the first movie that caused me to think about larger issues when I was a teenager. It was new when I saw it, and it had an influence on my thinking from that day onward. Of course, I can poke holes in its story line now, and do not accept the notion of "time travel" as a valid one. I read the novel shortly after seeing the movie, and was disappointed. Yet, the movie still means something to me as a kind of launching pad for future thinking. I still have the paperback that I bought in 1960, and have a DVD of the movie. The novel was the subject of "remakes" later on, none of them with the power of George Pal's production, which won an Oscar for its "special effects." When H.G. Wells introduced the notion of time travel in the late 19th century, it was a new form of "science fiction" which boosted his Fabian-Socialist career. And Wells was nothing if not a socialist.

John Shepard said...

Ed, that's interesting. I think I saw it at the time it first aired, and it had a memorable impact on me. It has always been there in my memory, in the back of my mind, a haunting memory with a question as to just how closely any people could come to approximating such a "society." Metaphorically, there's a lot there, and it often comes to mind, as it did in reading your article.

Yes, there are many holes one could poke in the movie. Perhaps because I was so young, 6 or so, when I first saw it, the holes weren't apparent or important.

Plus, Yvette Mimieux was perhaps the first love of my live. Such a beauty. And Rod Taylor, an early, manly hero.

John Shepard said...

Ed, I knew nothing of Wells, but given your comment on his being a socialist, perhaps the most telling dialog in that movie, which took place right after George (Taylor) has saved Weena (Mimieux) from one of the Morlocks:

George: But you know Weena, you were safe inside your great house, and yet you came out into the night to warn me. The one characteristic which distinguished man from the animal kingdom was the spirit of self-sacrifice. And you have that quality. I think all your people have it really. They just need someone to reawaken it. I'd like to try if you'll let me. Will you?

Weena: I don't understand, but I believe you.

Edward Cline said...

John: That's precisely the bit of dialogue that alerted me to there being something awfully wrong about the ethics. Thanks for being so perceptive. Ed

John Shepard said...

I typed that too hastily, so just to correct a couple of things in that quote.

Should be: "I should like to try, if you'll let me." (not "I'd like..."), and "I do not understand, but I believe you." (not "I don't...").

John Shepard said...

Yes, Ed, that's captures quite a bit: self-sacrifice and faith in just a couple of lines.

John Shepard said...

And it's sad, really, for moment to be characterized that way, because Weena was actually acting on something good within herself: her intelligence, independence and capacity to value. She saw that this man from somewhere in the past was of importance and she valued him, so she took a risk to warn him of the danger. Not a sacrifice at all. Yet self-sacrifice gets praised.

And in a sense, it wasn't blind faith on her part to say, "I do not understand, but I believe you," but rather a form of trust in someone she knew to be of value, someone who knew more than her. The words say "faith," but I'm a bit more generous. She trusted George because she trusted her own self, to a degree, in evaluating him. But given his explicit views, a misguided trust.

Edward Cline said...

John: What's not in the novel is the closing scene of the movie, when Filby and the housekeeper (Mrs. Watchett) wonder which three books George took back to the future. That always intrigued me, but one of them had to have been the Bible (according to George Pal's lights). The novel goes on past that point, when after leaving Weena, he goes forward millions of years and watches the earth die and the sun become a red giant. All the movie shows is the disintegrating Morlock. Then he goes back in time to his own time, has the dinner with his friends, and then disappears again, no one knows in which direction. There's no indication that he returns to Weena. There were chapters of the novel that were never used with the published novel because the publisher thought they were too pessimistic. Shoshana Milgram had an essay in one of the Rand books, the one for "Anthem," about various kinds of literary dystopias. She discusses The Time Machine and makes several valid points, contradicting Wells's premise that the Eloi would have been beautiful, like "Dresden china dolls," saying that in such a society they'd be lumpy and unattractive.
Ed

Edward Cline said...

John: A correction. In the novel, Weena perishes when George accidentally starts a forest fire while fighting off the Morlocks. He found matches in a decaying museum and also camphor. Wells doesn't specify whether she was carried off by them or if she died in the fire. Incidentally, I used the "winged sphinx" of the Morlocks as a device in the second Hanrahan detective novel, "Presence of Mind." That's in the Wells novel, not in the movie.

John Shepard said...

Thank you, Ed, for the additional info on the novel.

Yes, what man would want to go into the future or the past without a Bible? I mean, it's got everything man needs to guide his life, after all.

I did some hitching many years ago. Got a ride with an elderly couple once in their pickup-with-camper-on-back. I sat between them in the front, and soon after we got going, he reached onto the dash and grabbed his mini Bible. He riffled the pages with the thumb of one hand, and asked his wife to say when. She did, and he stopped and started reading. Within moments, as he was reading, she was reciting it from memory out loud, me sitting between them. He said that that was how they decide what to do each day.

So, like I said, with a Bible, one pretty much has all one needs. I can't even think of a reason for George to have taken another two books.

I'm not certain, but I don't think that I've watched that movie since I first saw it in the 60s (and it impresses me that I've remembered it as well as I have). It was on TCM just a few days ago though and I recorded it so that I can watch it again, but I've not yet done so.

I did have my TV on while recording, and, having remembered a few scenes from long ago, I watched a couple of minutes here and there, one in particular was that scene where George saves Weena.

I hadn't remembered the dialog from when I first saw the movie and was rather shocked and disgusted by it when I heard it. That's why it came so readily to mind today. As a young boy, I saw a beautiful damsel in distress and a handsome hero saving her. And I saw something good in Weena, as I indicated previously.

I'll have to look into Shoshana Milgram's essay. Thank you for mentioning it. It makes perfect sense that the Eloi would be lumpy and unattractive rather than as they were presented in the movie. That's what the welfare state creates while destroying all that beautiful and brilliant. You don't even have to look to science fiction to see the evidence. Just go shopping.

John Shepard said...

Makes sense as well Ed that Wells would have George inadvertently kill Weena.

I don't think that I'll be reading his book anytime soon.