This Week’s Material
Breather’s: A Zombie Lament
Much like the way humans have evolved to what we are today, the zombie has evolved too. We have seen it emerge from voodoo slave origin to bumbling vicious monster to the star of prime time TV. However, our movies rarely stray from the humans vs. zombie scenario, the human being hero and the zombie being the ultimate evil. It is a script, as mentioned before in this blog, that is followed fairly consistently throughout the zombie genre. We see a world dominated by the perspectives of survivors battling against the impending, animalistic horde who threatens their normal existence. In the past, it was not very often that we saw a deviation from that plot, let alone a story from a zombie perspective. Zombies are unconscious, they are unthinking, and they are vile and dangerous. However, the media this week shows them thinking and feeling and maintaining humanistic qualities. The script is defied, the norms are challenged, and what we get is a new perspective on not only the zombies but on ourselves. We begin to argue where we can draw the line of humanity. We see where our ideals fall. We begin to root for the zombie and despise the human. As the lines between human and zombie blur, we require a further look at what it means to even be human.
He Isn’t Johnny Anymore
Is it consciousness that effects humanity? As the classic script appears, loved ones are usually told that their family is no longer who they were. What changes? What makes them inhuman? Is it the fact that they are shown as animal, unconscious, driven by internal urges. And when faced with the task of trying to save yourself or try to understand the unconscious of your family and see if they are still there, the decision is made as fast as it takes to shoot a bullet in their head. People accept this decision quickly and without question. The classic script leaves no room for a clearly conscious zombie. A zombie that remembers.
Why is it the script says zombies do not have consciousness. How would survivors know they don’t remember their families? Their lives before? Most of these people are civilians, but they find some kind of authority in saying that their past personalities no longer exist. That they are no longer human. In Breather’s they did have a mind, as with Zombie Haiku. However, the memories they had in Haiku were overcome with hunger. Even in Breather’s he clearly was conscious, but was ostracised for even being a zombie, called brain-dead, and no other attempt at understanding was made. In Warm Bodies, he zombie was contemplative, smart, funny, wishful. They were all clearly conscious. Would this not sound an alarm to someone that these people are still human?
What about our families and loved ones who experience trauma of the brain and now live in a vegetative state. People who are classified as brain dead, or barely conscious. They officially cannot make decisions on their own, driven by only the workings of their internal organs and the choices their loved ones make. What about those with disorders like serious autism? We can be unaware of their conceptions of the world, but many feel they have no conception. However these people are cared for, the headlines of the news blaze their names should an issue of euthanasia crop up, they are integrated into our community and made to live similar lives to us. It is hard to see zombies living this way, zombies living in group homes, zombies being integrated into society regardless of their preconceived mental state. The zombie is not the same as our own preconceptions of who has consciousness. We recognize our own people as human. A zombie, even though they used to be human, is shot in the brain.
Lack of consciousness may seem to plague the zombie, or at least the human conceptions but their are other levels of attitude that influence the ‘humanity’ of the zombie.
The zombie sure is violent. It awakens with an insatiable need to eat human flesh, or flesh of any kind. It is murderistic. It is immoral. However where can we draw the line. In our human world, a person is still a person even when they have killed someone. Hurt some one, violated a human right. However, they may be called an animal for their actions. Animals are not immoral, though. They drive off their instinct, but that doesn’t mean it goes against their nature. They are right by being what they are. A zombie is an animal as a literal sense, but perhaps we conceive it has inhuman because we are confused by our own definition of animal when it is in the context of human.
In Breather’s, the conscious zombies are not cannibalistic until the end, when they realize eating human makes them heal, and they beginning a vengeance against those who have been treating them as animals. In Warm Bodies, they don’t want to kill humans, but they say that that is just the way the world is now. They eat brains to experience emotions and feelings that they can no longer experience. Why can they not experience this? Why in Breather’s are they not even allowed to experience love or friendship without being beat on the street.
If they are preconceived as animals they will be treated as such. They will be herded as camel and trained. They will be unaccepted in society. They will have their rights as humans taken away. By believing they are animals, it makes them animals. Animals are such by nature. Zombies are animals that have tendencies to follow their nature, humans that strive to follow their id. They may not have eaten anyone to be considered a monster. Our preconceived notions alarm us that any human who becomes animal must have done something immoral and therefore has regressed. This is why we call immoral people animals.
So if it is a question of immorality that makes someone an ‘animal’, then this does not count from some of the conscious zombies like warm bodies, who saves a girl from certain death, then sacrifices himself for her. There must be another aspect that dehumanizes the zombie.
Pretty is not Zombie
The zombie is not pretty. It is not hot or sexy in a way that our society appreciates. It could be missing a limb, have half its face torn off, have its stomach coming out or could smell of decay. These are realities of the zombie world. It’s unattractiveness makes people scared, keeps them away, gives them grounds to shoot or mock because it is obvious who is the survivor and who is the zombie.
What about our friends and family with observable differences. Are they any less human than those without? Should they be ostracised too? Are they a threat? No. However, they are ostracised They do not have an easy ride through life because of the social concept of normal. In Breather’s the differences are observed by humans as bad things. They have no rights, they are pelted with food, they are humiliated and left out to die. Their observable difference is what keeps them away from living a prosperous life unsuppressed. A little too close to our world that strives for an unattainable beauty, and preconceived notions of beauty equalling success, ditching everyone else along the way.
Humans Vs. Zombies
Perhaps all three of these concepts that make us human are things that can tell us how human a zombie is. However, the conscious zombie is clearly different. It is aware of the morality of things and it’s drawbacks. It is aware of its pitfalls. It is human in its thoughts and actions. In Warm bodies, the zombie saves a human girl. The humans kill zombies. The humans ostracise the other zombies. They steal their limbs on dares. They put them in cages in the SPCA. The humans shoot at them, use them as slaves and defence The humans kill each other. I ask whether or not the zombie is more human, or the human is more zombie.
As humans, there is one more thing that blurs the line between zombie and human. Empathy. We lack it, but does that makes us more or less human? In society, humanity ostracises people who are different culturally sexually, racially, by ability and by beauty. We strive to live towards a normal that no one will achieve because we are all different. We just do not recognize this. We do no have a vision of total empathy. We cannot feel for everyone because we will not let ourselves.
Empathy is not easy for humans in the zombie apocalypse either. Rick went from a mercy killing of a zombie, to killing them like shooting practice. They dehumanize them from the get go with names like Walkers and Biters and Monsters. Not so different from modern exile tactics. On the flip side, zombies do not strive to fit into a norm. They are their own people, they are their own monsters, they are driven by nature and not by social customs and unattainable statuses.
As a society, we can see humanity reflected back to us in poor ways. Ostracising zombies cannot be shocking to us, because humanity has ostracised every other minority group in the world. However, when we see ourselves out of the leading spot of hero and degraded to enemy, we can see who we really are. We see ourselves as oppressors, as dictators of who is human and who is not. Nothing gave us this authority, but we have it. We see ourselves as the people we are – mean, unaccepting people trying to ‘defend’ ourselves from evil, from our spot at the top of the food chain, when really we need to recognize that we do not own definitions of normal, right and superiority. Nor do we own the conception of who deserves to be beaten and broken because of these definitions. Humans and zombies can never get along, because our empathy is so shrouded by our ability to break down, ostracise, eliminate and dehumanize.
Based on how vicious us humans can be, the zombie never stood a chance in hell.
Until next week,
Next week – the sexuality of the zombie