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When I think about zombies…*

* Of course it depends on what universe of zombies, but, in general, this dude totally nails it XD

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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.

Beyond fear

Horror is way of confronting reality we are too freaked out by to see in realistic ways. A movie on 9/11 would be incredibly traumatising for viewers. A movie using zombies harassing humans is still scary but gives us the sense that the fear isn’t so close to home. This is talked about in many essays and books, about many genres of many types of media. Nothing new here! Same could be said for romance even!

Escapism is a cheap excuse for some people to explain away genres, such as fantasy. Who would want to escape into a ruined world under constant threat? Frankly, a perfect world would be boring. Why create or build or do anything when there is nothing to accomplish? It reminds me of 7 of 9’s speech in Voyager “May all her desires be fulfilled except for one, so she’ll always have something to strive for.”

(The only thing I don’t like about Cracked, their videos don’t embed in WordPress – but check out this video)
Why The Star Trek Universe is Secretly Horrifying — powered by Cracked.com

Pain and fear gives us the nudge to strive beyond ourselves. It is exemplified in wartime particularly, when radical new technologies are created that change the way we exist. From radars in the blitz, to the microwave. Threats to our survival force us to innovate. It is more than inspiration, it’s a need.

Different genres move into the fore or adapt as what we need or fear changes. Sometimes we don’t need zombies, maybe? They represent a tangible fear, something we can fight and survive even though the odds are terrible. Communism, terrorism, it is feared these hide in our society and will infect our friends, our families. We don’t always have a face for war or evil or fear, sometimes we do. Usually war doesn’t stop when that one face is gone. Zombies are the perfect expression. We fear so much in our tiny lives, from the global to the individual. When our loved ones fight us, is it them, or just a soulless corpse? How could we ever tell if they can or can’t be brought back to what they used to be?

Just a few thoughts, anyway.

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