Reality Bites: Zombie Apocalypse

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There are a million reality shows on the naked television. We're going to watch them all, one at a time.

I've been a zombie horror fan for about as long as I can remember. Like most of my ilk, the first exposure (heh) came from George A. Romero's Dead movies (mine was Dawn of the Dead in junior high). From there, Sam Raimi's Evil Dead trilogy, Fulci, the running zombies of Dan O'Bannon's Return of the Living Dead (but not the sequels), etc., etc.

Zombies used to be the uncouth rural relatives of the horror family. Not as glamorous as vampires nor as fabulously hirsute as werewolves, they were largely ridiculed by those who missed the point. It wasn't the zombies themselves you were supposed to focus on, but what they represented: the collapse of society and attendant breakdown of human institutions and infrastructure. And more importantly, what that implied for what remained of humanity.

As you're probably aware, this is no longer the case. The living dead now rival vampires for media oversaturation, and the phrase "zombie apocalypse" is less a terrifying scenario than the punch line to a thousand Facebook status updates. The Centers for Disease Control even issued a Zombie Preparedness Guide. In light of all that, it's hardly surprising the Discovery Channel threw something as simultaneously laughable and disquieting (but not for the reasons you'd think) as Zombie Apocalypse.

I assumed Zombie Apocalypse would be a purely speculative effort, perhaps done tongue-in-cheek fashion. For starters, the well-publicized May 26, 2012, cannibal attack in Miami the show uses as its launching point prompted plenty of [mostly] humorous commentary about corpses returning to life in order to feast on the flesh of blah blah blah. But it turns out some folks took the event a tad more seriously than the rest of us. In short, the show is largely about "zombie preppers," a subset of Doomsday Preppers who stockpile weapons and supplies to ready themselves for the coming zombie apocalypse.

Let me repeat that: These people stockpile weapons and supplies to ready themselves for the coming zombie apocalypse. As if the usual reasons for amassing dozens of firearms and thousands of rounds of ammo ("Obama's gonna take my guns!" "It's my constitutional right to hoard Russian assault rifles!") weren't sketchy enough, there is a group of people out there actively preparing for what can best be described as a "necromantic event."

Oh, the show suggests science might be on their side, and trots out guys like University of Ottowa mathematician Dr. Robert Smith and Dr. Steven Schlozman of Harvard Medical School, who argue for catalysts like "mutated contagions," as opposed to the "dead rising from the grave" (holla, Winston Zeddimore!). There's also Daniel Drezner, a Tufts University professor who wrote the book Theories of International Politics and Zombies (I can see now I wasted that graduate degree). All agree the apocalypse will be prefaced by isolated incidents like the ones in Miami, Montreal and Guangzhou, followed by mass events like Justin Bieber concerts.

Okay, I made that last one up.

Quasi-scientific analysis of things like zombie brain structure and government response is, unfortunately, offset by the lurid re-enactments of zombie attacks and interviews with the preppers themselves, who appear to have based their survival strategies entirely on what they've seen in movies (go for head shots, contagion transferred by bites). This could have unfortunate consequences:

Conspiracy talk comes next, and that goes along with gun "enthusiasts" like peanut butter and bananas. To be fair, the preppers interviewed tend to agree that any impending zombie apocalypse will not involve the dead literally coming out of the ground, but instead be brought about by some form of contagion. And who better to develop super-secret bio-weapons than the government?

Why, voodoo priests, of course. And if we weren't already three time zones into La La Land at this point, the narrator's dire pronouncements about the dangers of puffer fish toxin -- easily obtainable as an OTC zombification agent at your local pharmacy, I guess -- are more than sufficient to send us the rest of the way.

But getting back to the conspiracy angle: Why *wouldn't* the government experiment with zombie drugs? As Drezner correctly points out, their history of fucking with their own citizenry is well-documented. What's left unexplained is the potential gain. A permanently docile population -- one not prone to posting totally plausible theories about the Federal Reserve's complicity in the collapse of the World Trade Center, for example -- would certainly be seen as a benefit. Savage hordes of mindless cannibals less so. And as for the former, well, we've already got reality shows.

That leaves us with a new disease, and consternation among certain preppers over the construction of the new National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) in Kansas. But the diseases they talk about -- Spanish influenza, "mad cow" disease -- tend to lack the typical hallmarks of zombie activity. The Kansas "Anti-Zombie" Militia in question is given more air time than I'd have figured appropriate for a group consisting of a dozen or so of what appear to be morbidly obese World of Warcraft aficionados and/or Nickelback fans, hoarding MREs and debating whether or not they could shoot their own kids.

Between climate change, nuclear terrorism and body snatchers (you're next!), there are enough doomsday scenarios to go around. No need to throw zombies into the mix; I'd argue the chances of an alien invasion are greater than a zombie apocalypse. And in that event, your puny human weapons are probably going to be worthless anyway.

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