Hahaha, zombies are like sooo awesome, amiright? Zombie invasion OMG!
As you can probably guess by the above burst of interwebspeak sarcasm, I am growing very tired of the zombie meme. Why? Well, there’s one simple reason: Zombies are stupid.
They’re stupid because they’re one of the most implausible threats I’ve ever seen contrived, and their bizarre blend of bad science and reliance on hacky magic leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
Zombies are not, of course, the first popular doomsday scenario to encompass both bad science and magic; see 2012 for another example. My problem with zombies, though, is that for some reason I cannot begin to understand, they’ve been embraced by the “smart people” crowd as a cultural touchstone of sorts. ThinkGeek, the quintessential “stuff for smart masses” site, carries endless amounts of zombie-related kitsch (second only to “pop culture junk” in my list of things that have reduced my esteem of ThinkGeek). The zombie invasion has already begun, starting on the internet and spreading out into the real world, despite the fact that zombies are an absolutely incredible threat and anyone who can think should know better.
Allow me to explain.
First, a word of background on zombies. According to the Skeptic’s Dictionary, zombies originate in Haitian voodoo traditions, in which a voodoo practitioner would poison a victim with a pufferfish extract; resulting in a temporary death-like state followed by brain damage after revival. These people were called zombies, and were used as slaves by the voodoo practitioner.
The zombies prevalent in our culture today, however, are literal corpses, slouching around and moaning in a very un-corpselike manner. Here’s why that’s stupid: by their very definition, corpses can’t do anything.
Death follows a number of predictable stages, none of which are particularly conducive to zombieism. The first is pallor mortis, in which blood circulation effectively ends. Our bodies rely on blood to function, without blood nothing works.
Soon after the pallor mortis, mere hours after death, rigor mortis occurs. This involves chemical changes in the muscles which cause them to become stiff and immobile. After a few days rigor mortis subsides, but that’s because the muscles begin to break down. It is very difficult to lurch around without any usable muscles.
Decomposition begins swiftly. Living organisms enter the body and begin to break it down. (Eyes are always among the first things to go, though zombies are nearly always depicted with eyes for some reason.) Decomposition means that a body is falling apart, and though depictions of zombies usually do acknowledge this, they seem to assume that the body can continue to function while it’s decaying, which any amount of thought should be able to discredit.
To account for these problems, one must assume that zombies are animated by magic. How else could a decaying body be animated? Puppet strings? Stop motion? And yet a common trope of zombie fiction is that zombies are caused by some sort of pathogen. Furthermore, in many cases zombies can be killed by traditional projectile weapons, which generally work by the destruction of flesh–and as I think we’ve established, zombies are falling apart already and seem to have no particular problem with it.
I don’t have any problem with fictional doomsday scenarios on principle. They can be fun to imagine, and can make for some exciting stories. Zombies, however, just strike me as so implausible and contradictory that I don’t have any patience for them. I don’t know why ThinkGeek and other normally-rational people have become so enthusiastic about them, but I highly recommend that we leave the zombies to the writers of terrible horror movies and come up with our own doomsday scenarios for smart people. Bring back the nanomachines, gamma-ray bursts, and evil space aliens!
Zombies want your brain. Don’t let them get it.