Landing : Athabascau University

The week the real zombie apocalypse began?

On Saturday, May 26, in Miami, a naked man was discovered eating another man's face, and was shot to death by police. As reported by Time Magazine,

The vicious incident ... combined with other shady, not-entirely-substantiated news reports of mysterious illnesses and folks running around Florida in haz-mat suits, has conspiracy theorists talking about the inevitable zombie apocalypse.

The same article reports that the next day, in New Jersey, a man barricaded in his own home was confronted by police, at whom he threw pieces of his own skin and entrails.

And since Tuesday, Canada Post has been on alert for suspicious packages in the mail after it delivered a severed foot to a Tory office in Ottawa.

The news media are having bizarre and ghoulish fun by forcing these pieces (ew) into some kind of story pattern. I really was not ever expecting to see an actual headline like these:

Zombie apocalypse spreading
Twitter talk: public fear dawn of the dead as media reports gruesome incidents of face chewing and heart eating

Uncannily, of course, it's real-world headlines like these that seem eerily like the fake headlines in zombie apocalypse fictions. (This is the way the world ends: not with a bang but with a series of confident denials.) Among the stories, we see some of the "latent news" about North American popular culture - its uglier ideological premises - become manifest, in their mix of snuffish sensationalism, class-, gender-, and race-coded tropes, and of course vague, unsubstantiated links to "new drugs" (which are always worse, and never, ever just more excellent than old drugs).

And of course it's news like this that can propagate more of its own, via "copycat" effects. If life has recently seemed to begin imitating an acutely grisly kind of art, what is the function of commentary on either - is it yet another vector for the pathogen, or is it instead the hoped-for innoculation?


  • sarah beth June 1, 2012 - 3:34pm

    This, um, super-scholarly article suggests that, desperate to lure more web traffic to show ads to, corporate news media just write whatever people are already clicking. In the process, in this case, it becomes impossible to read the news without reading the zombie bits (heh).


    That's a screen grab of a search not for "zombie apocalypse," but for "Miami man eats face." Even though I'm not searching for anything to do with zombies, I will not be able to find a single news article that doesn't contain the word "zombie" in it. Now, with all of the zombie-related stories out there, we've turned this whole thing from "a bunch of jokes about zombies" to "conspiracy theories about zombies."

    And that's just how Internet journalism works. It's sort of terrible. Internet reporting is so completely page-view-driven that it doesn't really matter if your EXCITING HEADLINE is bullshit. You write what people are going to be searching for, and right now, people are searching for zombie-apocalypse-related information. You'll get more hits if you mention zombies, so who cares if it's incorrect, or journalistically irresponsible, or fucking stupid, because zombies aren't real and you're supposed to be a news outlet, not a traffic-chasing blog?! Who cares? In online journalism, you go where the traffic goes.

  • Mark A. McCutcheon June 1, 2012 - 4:25pm

    That's a great find of more meta-commentary. I don't know about super-scholarly, but Cracked can be very interesting, a finger on the pulse of pop culture mayhem. I don't understand its compulsion for lists and numbering things though.

  • Heather Clitheroe June 3, 2012 - 12:42pm

    The 'new' drugs they're referring to are bath salts - the latest in any number of idiotic ways to do yourself some real damage.


    What I find interesting (in a ghoulish sort of way) is that the CDC had published a zombie survival guide last year, as part of a disaster preparedness program. It was an ironic repurposing of the zombie meme. But what I also find troubling about the labelling of these incidents as zombie-like (and then the resulting chortling on the internet about zombie outbreaks, ho ho, it's starting) is the apparent invisibility of the victims. The man who was attacked in Florida faces a very long and difficult recover; he will never be the same, physically, and probably emotionally. The man who was dismembered in Montreal was murdered. The staffers who opened the box are traumatized, and understandably so.

    The zombie meme seems to be a convenient way to look away from victims. In the zombie narrative, victims are seen as people who were less prepared, who took unnecessary risks, or who were just too feeble to survive in the post-apocalyptic world - they didn't have the 'right stuff' to become tough, hardened survivors, ready to take on anything. It's a strange way of viewing vulnerability - victims are reimagined as liabilities to themselves and the people around them.

    THAT is what I find troubling about the zombie meme. It seems to be the latest in a narrative of callousnes, which also seems to fit with our current colletive, cultural logic.

  • Mark A. McCutcheon June 3, 2012 - 1:07pm

    "Victims are reimagined as liabilities": You make a vital point, and it's very well put.

    The zombie apocalypse as a "narrative of callousness" corresponds very well with some of this research group's founding premises about the function of this fantastic figure for neoliberal hegemony - which Greville Rumble, quoting Honderich, rightly calls "a 'vicious' system" (175).

    The problem with the libertarian argument is that it allows for a perfectly just society within which there are people who have no food, no healthcare and no education (Honderich, 2002, pp. 43–44). So ‘in this [formulation of a] perfectly just society [there are people who] have no claim to food, no moral right to it. No one and nothing does wrong in letting them starve to death’ (Honderich, 2002, p. 44). ‘This’, says Honderich, ‘is vicious’ (2002, p. 44). (171)


    Rumble, Greville. “Social Justice, Economics and Distance Education.” Open Learning: The Journal of Open and Distance Learning 22.2 “Ethical Issues in Open and Distance Learning” (2007): 167-76. Web.