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Technology anxiety and why we need an apocalypse

I was just reading a fascinating article my friend linked on Facebook called ‘Where technology goes next will change us all” by Craig Simms which describes the future of technology as being like magic, that we don’t want it out for all to see, but integrated completely with our lives. He writes of the development of Project Glass by Google to be a turn to cyborgs. “Humans are the next device to plug in.” Wall-E shows a similar future, but has an adorable robot that falls in love and inspires humanity.

This interests me on so many levels, but it’s one of the comments below the article that got my attention and made me think of my dear zombies and cultural anxiety. MariaK1 wrote “I find this article incredibly depressing and if I had money I would be tempted to move to the country and avoid the whole stinking mess.”

I thought of the article completely opposite: a wide viewing of the reach of the human imagination. I thought more of Star Trek and its utopian future rather than the bleak Battlestar Galactica. This is probably due to my upbringing as a nerd.

Technology becomes scary, to me, not just when used for war, but with the unintended side effects. When robots rise up against us, when our lives have such little meaning because technology sustains us so long that we no longer seek to produce anything ourselves but become mindless consumers.

Starting to sound familiar now?

It’s very much a theme of the film Surrogates with Bruce Willis. People don’t need to go outside anymore, they just lay down, hook into a robot, and the robot goes out and does all the work for them. Imagine the muscle waste from laying down so much and doing nothing! Where most of society goes about in these robots, there is a community living in a separate area that are against the use of surrogates and that humanness is the apex of society, not the technology.

So back to zombies. It could be technology used to extend life (Cybermen are sorta zombies maybe?) or radioactive waste that infects people (Redneck Zombies!), or just in general scientific experiments to see how far human life can survive, or maybe exposure to aliens or alien substances (space dust in Fido, facehugger things in Half Life). With the zombie apocalypse, we are forced to strive to survive for any significant amount of time; we must create, build, plant, and grow as the stocks in the stores won’t last forever. Survival is not just for the next day, but for life.

The major theme/moral/etc of so many stories is that technology and its conveniences make us weak and further from nature/true goodness/godliness/whatever and prevents our evolution. That’s why we need a Wall-E, a Greer, a Zombie Apocalypse to ‘reset’ us to this natural state.

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But mum, he’s just undead!

“The next step in evolution of this highly specially subgenre will likely literalise the metaphor, presenting narratives in which the zombies tell their own stories, acting as true protagainsts and even heroes”

~ Kyle William Bishop, American Zombie Gothic

Why can’t we love the undead? So many friends push aside the idea of a zombie lover completely (you guys can’t judge me! You read about vampire sex!)

As discussed before, zombie romance is more romance. Sex never enters the equation. It’s about a relationship of souls (personalities), a coming together of two people.

But still zombies aren’t good enough! The rotting is either done away with completely or can be avoided with medication. The eating of people or brains is the same. So where is the problem? They are undead humans, as are vampires.

With rational thought, being capable of emotions, moral agency and free will, why are the undead any less suitable as mates? They can’t procreate and have different lifespans, and perhaps different nutritional needs, but so can human lovers. (Zombies, Vampires and Philosophy  Should Vampires be held Accountable for their Bloodthirsty Behaviour – John Draeger) Some undead choose to vegetarian and will not eat humans, just as some humans choice to not eat meat or meat byproducts.  (Z,V & P – The Blood connection between Vampires and Vegetarians by Wayne Yuen)

So, they might have a disease, parasite, genetic mutation or be cursed by magic. Why do we accept a Trill then (a humanoid that is capable of hosting an inner snakey-alien that shares its lives)? Or a Bajoran’s nose? They are different from humans physically too. (Can you tell I just rewatched Deep Space Nine?)

The lovely Kira Nerys from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Frankly, people stereotype zombies. And if you think its too far from cultural zombie lore, look at Day of the Dead. Bub could recognise death and exhibited signs of sorrow. Big Daddy in Land of the Dead looked after his zombie community. There was even a cute couple holding hands, strolling about the apocalyptic scene, who were zombies.

 

As far back as forever there are stories of love between humans and the unknown, gods , fairies, monsters etc. This evolution of the zombie is no lesser than those stories. At a time, werewolves might never have appealed or vampires not been sexy (but Alexander Skarsgard is always sexy!), it is time and literary evolution and imagination that allow us to perceive injustice to these creatures.

 

Don’t prejudice your daughter’s next boyfriend just because he’s a zombie. He’ll treat her right!

 

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Recommended Reading
Non-Fiction
American Zombie Gothic by Kyle William Bishop
Zombies, Vampires and Philosophy, edited by Richard Greene and K Silem Mohammad
Fiction
Including love with zombies, zombie like beings or humans infected with zombie plague
Dearly Departed by Lia Habel
Warm Bodies by Issaac Marion
Generation Dead (series) by Daniel Waters
The Forest of Hands and Teeth (series) by Carrie Ryan
Die for Me by Amy Plum
I Kissed a Zombie and I liked by by Adam Selzer
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (series) by Seth Graeme-Smith and Steve Hockensmith and Jane Austen (first book is Jane Austen’s with Seth’s additions, the prequel and sequel are by Steve)

Build your own zombie!

Dismember-me plush zombie from ThinkGeek (buy it! love it! pull it apart!)

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So we have voodoo, satanism, black magic zombies, we have radiation poisoning, unknown elements and space-pollution causing zombies. Sometimes we have no idea at all.

Perhaps the grossest desecration is the Frankenstein’s Monster type zombie. A mad scientist trying to outlive disease uses bits and pieces of various bodies and brings them to unlife. The original Frankenstein’s Monster had huge amounts of religious overtone – that we should not play God, that creating life is left to Him alone (the Christian God, of course) [There’s a blog here with some more detail on Frankenstein and religion].

We’ve seen over and over again potential progessive techniques and sciences used for weapons and company warfare. Perhaps the scientific zombie is the scariest of them all, whether bio-weapon, a method for immortality, or simple scientific curiosity. This method is able to be reproduced elsewhere, occasionally it converts on a mass scale, and it was our own deliberate creation that essentially dooms us all.

And you don’t need zombies to tell us this. There’s an awesome book called The End Specialist (love to Tarran from Edwardstown Bookstore for sending it to me!) about a cure for old age, and the social ramifications of people living potentially forever.

Nothing is sacred to science in these stories. There’s the endless ethical fight over stem cell research that we see now, but that’s nothing compared to the zombie scientists. Of course, being mad scientists, there are no ethics for them. Killing innocent creatures, using unwilling victims and tormenting them while alive is just a part of their tag.

Edit: And for some real life mad scientists (no zombies though), I just found this article on real life scientists who experimented on themselves for the sake of science!

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Recommended reading (and viewing and playing)

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

The End Specialist by Drew Magary

Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry

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Rise of the Cybermen and Age of Steel – Dr Who, Tenth Doctor, 2006 (just go watch all of Dr Who, it’s brilliant!)

Zombie Holocaust

Flight of the Living Dead

Re-animator (and Bride of Re-animator and Beyond Re-Animator) – trailers on YouTube were either bad quality or had embedding disabled *sulk*

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Borderlands DLC 1: The Zombie Island of Dr Ned

The future for humanity

Much like the Doomsday Clock, fiction is indicator of the future. Think of all the inventions that were created or are currently being developed after being shown on Star Trek, or the Invisibility Cloak from Harry Potter.

But a lot of modern fiction doesn’t show the utopia that Star Trek did, much more like Battlestar Galactica (and Caprica, which was killed too soon!). Two non-zombie books are particularly prominent for me, The Human Rites trilogy by Ian Irvine and The End Specialist by Drew Magary.

A million lifetimes at your disposal: what would you do with them?  

What good is an eternal life if everyone you care about is dead?

The End Specialist shows a world where a cure is created that has the side effect of pausing the ageing process. While you can still die from a gun shot or cancer, you will never die of old age. Think of what that means where nature has been tamed. More people will live on. In a world already overpopulated, what does it mean when death becomes rare?

From bestselling Australian author and environmental scientist Ian Irvine comes a chillingly realistic thriller that will have you asking:
Is there life after global warming?

The Human Rites trilogy by Ian Irvine (The Last Albatross, Terminator Gene, The Life Lottery) is a story that is much closer to home. There is no magical scientific discovery, but it shows a cruel, twisted world that has developed from what we have now. Global warming, the drying up of natural resources, over-population, and still humanity is in denial of how royally screwed up the world is.

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Both books deal with issues that you see often in zombie texts. Humans consuming, not producing. Human greed. Human comfort above all else. Humans in vast amounts of denial. There are more than just these two books, but these I have and really enjoy. They show a truly screwed up world.

What will happen when over-population goes too far? Will politicians let it go, or institute some sort of one-child policy or eugenics? Or will the earth/spiritual blob create an ice age, plague or meteor to thin us out?

What will happen when everyone wants to be a lawyer and no one wants to be a farmer? There’s already a shortage of production jobs, and waves of rural students who go to the city.

What about when our technology outstrips us and goes all Terminator/Cylon/Robopocalyse (Daniel H Wilson) on us and our creations become our doom?

What does love and marriage mean when your life is forever at risk, or what does ‘until death do us part’ mean when you are expected to live for centuries?

What point is there in school and education when you will either live millennia or barely decades? When death is staved off, or always around the corner.

Why live when life is so limited that you can’t make a difference? Or why make a difference now when life is eternal?

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Recommended Reading

  • I Shopped with a Zombie by Philip Horne in Critical Quarterly vol 24, no 4
  • The Idle Proletariat: Dawn of the Dead, Consumer Ideology an the Loss of Production Labor by Kyle William Bishop in the Journal of Popular Culture, vol 43, no 2 2010
  • Eating Dawn in the Dark: Zombie desire and commodified identity in George A Romero’s Dawn of the Dead  by A Loudermilk in Journal of Consumer Culture vol 3 (1)