The following video report addresses a number of issues recently raised on this blog: apocalypses, zombies, fear, and humor. Zombies, of course, have been clawing their way to the top of the monster pile for a few years now. Media analysts have suggested that they represent the triumph of the working class—no sartorially suave vampires these—instead they are spattered with blood and gore, multitudinous, and clumsy. Having watched the most recent apocalypse come and go, and having been a victim of an unstable economy for several years of my professional life, I think zombies represent something else. Instead of being the triumphal usurpers of vampiristic free markets, zombies represent the breakdown in culture we are experiencing in the present.
If history gives us anything to go by, we know that powerful world empires ebb and flow. The Persians succumbed to the Greeks, and the Romans could not stop the Goths. The Holy Roman Empire was dissected into the nations of the modern European Union (roughly), and the sun now sets regularly on the British Empire. The United States, the capital of the zombie craze, has perhaps passed its zenith and the zombies know it. Since the 1970s we’ve watched as religious extremists have made a mockery of a political system that had already grown problematic. Like decaying corpses that won’t go away, the factors that propelled the United States to a place of prominence have been undermined so that the non-undead can continue to feather nests already stuffed with down as high as Babel. In the constant see-sawing of political parties the imperialist trends of the obscenely wealthy have rocked their way into the dominant. Is it any wonder that zombies are brainless, yet insatiably driven?
What does it feel like to watch the azimuth decline on a great empire? It is difficult to say. History, as the aphorism states, is written by the winners. Revisionist history has become quite fashionable to those who find that the facts refuse to bow to their worldview. Zombies are those who, historically, do the will of their masters without question. Instead, the zombie of the twenty-first century bows to no master. Pure selfish survival is its sole aim. Perhaps the CDC is too late, the zombies have already overrun us.
In what is sure to be a controversial move, the Center for Disease Control has posted an official government blog post entitled “Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse.” (Be warned, if you click on this link it may be considerable time before the page loads—it has been receiving a tremendous number of hits.) Written by Ali S. Khan, the Assistant Surgeon General and head of the CDC, the article is actually about hurricane preparedness, but with zombie furor being what it is, many on the Internet are taking the warning seriously. Literally even. Citing the tsunami in Japan and the concerns for leaking radiation, the article begins with a lighthearted fear-fest that then reveals the actual concern. Humor in the government? This is something we should all encourage!
The analogue with the current rapture fever was immediately obvious. I grew up in terror of the rapture, but when I began to take courses on the Bible from scholars who knew about apocalyptic literature, its context, and what it was intended to do, I realized that the rapture was invented in the nineteenth century by evangelists with no critical training, misreading the book of Revelation. As much as we like to break history into discrete units, time simply keeps flowing and the current of fear generated in the nineteenth gushed into the twentieth century culminating in the birth of the Christian fundamentalist movement. For many people in the twenty-first century, fundamentalism and Roman Catholicism are the two ancient strands of Christianity that legitimately lay claim to the title. At least half of this history is backward.
The Bible itself, when read in context, shows the errors of the rapture-hungry. The idea is a blend of obscure bits of Paul’s letters, mixed into Revelation and stirred vigorously. Then half-baked. The Bible does not give us a rapture. The CDC does not give us a zombie apocalypse. We know where the myth of zombies originates (I have posted on the topic before) and we know zombies are as fictional as griffons and centaurs. Nevertheless, faith springs eternal. Those dissatisfied with all that life has to offer turn to zombies for an equalizingly grim future for all humankind. It’s all gonna rot, baby. Except, of course, for those who’ve been raptured before it happens. When the zombies fail to show up after Saturday’s non-event, all of us will feel pretty silly just looking at each other as Ali S. Khan comes up with his next zinger.