Humanity and braaaaains Oct09

Humanity and braaaaains...

When Our Fearless Leader (my new nickname for our managing editor) announced the theme of plagues and health for this issue, I thought: “What a perfect time to write about zombies.” The more I thought about it though, the more I asked myself, what isn’t a perfect time to write about zombies? There are just so many possibilities with the undead. Part of what makes zombies such a rich subject is that they connect to fears about the darkest possibilities of humanity—humanity at its most base and inhumane, lacking compassion, reason or understanding. Zombies can represent the mindlessness of our cultural landscape and our unthinking response to that landscape. Over the past ten years—following an abundance of zombie movies, novels, comics, and video games—dozens of authors have connected the undead to topics such as philosophy, economics, and theology (the theologians especially love the scene in Matthew when the dead rise from their graves after Jesus’ resurrection). But for me, the most interesting connection to draw is still the link between the undead and disease, which has, since the 1970s, become a core aspect of the zombie mythos. Zombies are assumed to be the result of some sort of unknown (possibly engineered) and highly contagious virus. This pandemic aspect not only adds to the horror (now we’re not only at risk of being killed, possibly eaten, but also of being infected), but defining zombies as contagions creates room to explore questions about humanity and evil. Movies like Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later… and shows like The Walking Dead and its recently aired prequel Fear the Walking Dead use zombie narratives to wrestle Zombies can reveal our helplessness in the face of global pandemics.with large ethical issues: if zombies are created by infection (as opposed to voodoo,...