Part I: “Zombies Are People, Too”
A few decades ago, only B-movie buffs and Michael Jackson cared about zombies. Now, there’s no escape from the undead. From feature films, popular TV dramas and comic books to Zombie walks, pub crawls and 5ks, the people want zombies like zombies want brains. America’s growing appetite for zombietainment has been called a commentary on cubicle life and brain-dead consumerism, and it’s been attributed to fears of economic instability and bioterrorism, but those explanations don’t quite cut it. Zombies aren’t like other monsters or aliens — they’re other people who suddenly turn on us. It’s because zombies are humans who become sub-human that the “Zombie Apocalypse” has become America’s safest shorthand for our most taboo tribal fantasies.
Guns Don’t Kill Zombies, People Kill Zombies
Last week, my gun-nut pal came back from the magazine rack with a copy of the premier issue of Zombie Nation. Intermedia Outdoors — the company that publishes Guns & Ammo, Shooting Times and Bowhunter — dreamed it up to cover the growing zombie niche of the weapons trade.
That’s right; gun manufacturers are producing real guns to appeal to people who want to protect themselves from imaginary monsters. And they’re coming up with some pretty cool shit.
Take, for instance, the “Zombie Muzzle Thumping Device” (ZMTD). For 200 bucks, you can attach it to the end of your assault rifle and use it to stab a zombie in the face in case you run out of ammo — or don’t want to make noise that would attract more zombies. You can get it from Specialized Tactical Systems, or you can just buy the complete “Zombie Slayer,” a “uniquely zombie” AR that ships with the ZMTD and a copy of the Zombie Survival Guide.
Mossberg has come out with the ZMB series of zombie-themed pump-action shotguns for your Zompocalypse needs. The editors of Zombie Nation argue convincingly that shotgun ammunition will simply be easier to obtain in the end times, because military and law enforcement will consume most of the NATO-spec ammunition while fighting the initial outbreaks.
The producers of the classic USMC KA-BAR knife have put out a line of bladed weapons with toxic-green grips.
There’s also a fully functional zombie-killing chainsaw that you can attach to the end of your AR to “cut through a cord of firewood” or “chew through the rotting flesh of the reanimated dead.”
What’s more, Valkyrie Armaments has developed a series of mods for your AR-15 to help you determine for yourself if happiness really is a belt-fed weapon. Zombie Nation assures us that their goal wasn’t to create a “civilian-legal machine gun.”
Of course it wasn’t. Don’t be ridiculous. What kind of decent red-blooded American man would want to own a thing like that?
[Caution: gun porn ahead. NSFW.]
To get you in the end times spirit, Hornady has come out with a line of zombie-themed ammunition. In cooperation with the National Guard, they’re also hosting a “Zombies in the Heartland” shooting event in Nebraska this July.
Companies are selling zombie-themed shooting targets (there’s a freebie foldout in Zombie Nation) and even zombie dummies that bleed when you shoot them. (Undead character options include “The Ex,” the “Terrorist,” and of course . . . the “Nazi.”)
Zombies may be completely fictional sci-fi monsters, but rest assured that all across the heartland, God-fearing Americans are preparing to blow them to smithereens . . . just in case.
But Why Zombies, and Why Now?
Writing for Alternet, Kristin Rawls recently supposed that Zombiegeddon was the greater of two evils, an imaginary external “doom that we cannot possibly defeat,” contrasted with an “impending self-destruction” that “offers us a shred of agency.” For Kristin, zombieland is a wanton escape from the overwhelming moral burden Americans must feel in a world with “diminished standards of living and growing inequality.” She also believes zombie fantasies actually ease our fears and anxieties about an uncertain future because the prospect of social, political and economic decline isn’t quite as terrifying as rotting corpses clawing their way into our condominiums.
Isn’t that cute?
What Kristin Rawls is either too naïve and solipsistic to comprehend or too uncomfortable to mention is that not all Americans are so deeply troubled by inequality or the coming collapse. Not everyone navigates solely by guilt and fear.
My guess is that for every smug, spoiled liberal rending her earth-friendly active wear and gnashing her privileged teeth over each and every HuffPo headline, there’s a guy out in ‘Merica whose pants got a little tighter when he heard about those homeless dudes caught chewing off each other’s faces.
“Is it finally ON?”
Zombie Nation and Mossberg aren’t catering to the people planning to face the end times sobbing with their heads in their hands, wondering what they could have done differently. This isn’t about the red wine and Seconal set.
It’s about people who see the same problems in the world, but see in civilizational collapse an opportunity to fight for their own survival. Even as they fear disaster, they crave it. The tagline for The Walking Dead comic is, “In a world ruled by the dead, we are forced to finally start living.” Our world offers measured indulgences and meaningless distractions; the Zompocalypse promises meaning and life-or-death immediacy.
Zombies are People Too
For most of human history, survival wasn’t a “human right” owed to you by some benevolent bureaucracy; it was something you worked for — something you had to fight for. Humans have always wondered what they would do if outsiders came to kill them — if the “shit hit the fan.” Survivalists are often treated like tinfoil hat crazies or dangerous psycho gun-nuts, but what they are doing is the most natural thing in the world.
My pal reminded me it wasn’t so long ago that folks in the NRA’s demographic were waiting for the Russian invasion and World War III. During the Cold War, the Russkies were our sworn enemies. It was OK to talk about Russians as if they were all Bond villains and lab rats who bled pure evil. Now, the Russians are just foreigners, and we’re fighting Muslims — but we’re killing them to win their “hearts and minds.” We’re not supposed to hate them or treat them like they are really our enemies. The general idea is that there are bad Muslims and good Muslims and we’re all supposed to agree that the bad Muslims are merely “misinformed” or “confused” about their own religion and what kind of lives they want for themselves.
These days, actually saying that you want to kill any people — really ‘em dead – will get you into trouble in polite company. We’re not supposed to want to feel those kinds of feelings, because we’re supposed to be better than that.
We’re supposed to be more “evolved” than that, but that’s not exactly how evolution works. The engines of evolution aren’t fueled by bumper sticker sentimentality. We’re still basically the same bellicose bipeds who went to war with neighboring tribes over women or honor or resources — or just because we were bored and thought we could win.
We’re not much more evolved, but we are a lot more civilized. We’ve all been taught to say “please” and “thank you” and to love our neighbors or at least pretend we do. We’ve been taught that we’re all part of the same big, happy multicultural human family and that it’s wrong to judge others who look different or behave differently or who have customs that seem strange to us. As Kristin Rawls would surely agree, when people threaten us, we’re supposed to say and believe it is because they’ve been improperly socialized, or because they’ve somehow been disadvantaged.
All of this goody-goody, nicey-niceness relies on a cultish faith in a perilous dogma, and even Kristin somehow senses that its spell is breaking and that the elder gods — the Gods of the Copybook Headings — will return with terror and slaughter.
Prepping for the Zompocalypse gives the more adventurous folks on your cul-de-sac a way to dip their big toes into a kiddie pool of tribalism and get used to the feel, texture and temperature of blood. It allows them to work through primal gang survival scenarios using live ammo without looking like psychos. Zombiegeddon also gives tactically-minded parents a socially acceptable way to train their overly sensitive, public-schooled children how to kill without freaking them out about stranger danger or blowing Bambi’s head off.
It’s only the zombies. It’s only for fun. It’s just a game, like on the Xbox — but louder.
The Zombie threat fantasy gives normal people a way to work through separating “us” from “them.” Dehumanizing outsiders is a survival strategy, and given the “one world tribe” re-education Americans have received over the years, they are bound to be a little rusty. The Zombie Apocalypse helps nice people separate the humans from the “sub-humans.”
Zombies are socially acceptable substitutes for the people we’re afraid of, the people we worry we might have to kill if we don’t want to be killed. Zombies are stand-ins for violent “youths,” for the hungry poor, for criminals and gangs and the people out there who want to break into your house and take your stuff.
Prepping for the Zompocalypse is training wheel tribalism. It offers Americans an atavistic fantasy, a way to return to barbarian life as a pastoral nomad, to a simpler form of social organization, to a group where everyone who is “in” really matters — and everyone who is “out” is dead meat.
Head down to your local gun shop and have a snicker about stocking up for the Zombie Apocalypse. They’ll get the joke. It’s lighthearted shorthand for something even scarier — the idea that you’re getting ready and maybe even getting a little excited about the idea of killing other people. You might even think to yourself that, when things get ugly, if they’re not coming to help you — if they’re not “us” — “they” might as well be walking corpses.
I have another point to make about zombies in ‘Merica, but you’ll have to wait for that. The sequel to this post is “in development.”