What Does the Zombie Genre Really Say About Us?

“Usually disasters like this bring out the best in everybody, and that’s what we expected to see. Now we’ve got people that it’s bringing out the worst in.” This is a quote from the Governor of Louisiana Kathleen Blanco in 2005 during the after effects in Hurricane Katrina as presented in When the Levees Broke. I was brought back to this moment and this concept while talking about zombie narratives in class on Friday, and while I was reading Zone One.

In reading the rather convoluted text Zone One, something that grounded and grounds me is the zombie genre and how familiar it is to me. This was true for a lot of people in the class like Spencer and Jenna, for example. I have experienced the “zombie disaster” genre through many mediums–video games, television shows, movies–but approaching Zone One, I became aware of how similar this–hopefully–fantasy genre is to the course concepts and materials we have covered.

For the most part, the zombie narratives I’ve encountered have to do with some type of disaster narrative–how society has upended and a community has to adjust, like the individuals in Zone One. This is present in “iZombie,” Warm Bodies, or The Last of Us, to name a few. I have not seen “The Walking Dead,” but I have played the video games which are based on the original comics. This constant disaster narrative I’ve seen though elicits a common theme: the zombies are not the problem, the way in which the humans react to the disaster situation is.

For example, in the video game, The Walking Dead: The New Frontier, the zombies are not the problem, the humans are. The New Frontier–an elite group of survivors with a lot of protection and supplies–emerges. They are very selective about who they invite and welcome into their group. Even as the main character Javi brings a dying Kate to the front steps of the their camp, the group approaches them with guns at the ready as opposed to open arms. It’s ironic really that these individuals are potentially about to waste their ammo on innocent people–as opposed to the actual beings that want to eat their flesh–due to their distrust of everyone around them. This immense amount of distrust is because there is a lack of resources for everyone, so it’s a combination of “survival of the fittest” and “every man for himself.”

Disasters such as a zombie apocalypse highlight a broken system of human nature; a selfish nature that human beings have when they want or need to survive. (There’s a blip on my radar during the creation of this blog post that is telling me that I’ve talked about this before in HUMN I. It’s worth mentioning, but it deviates from my point a bit.) This selfish nature portrayed in the need to survive can be seen similarly–through a less cynical nature–in the materials we have covered in class, specifically through disasters like Katrina as portrayed in When the Levees Broke.

The individuals left in New Orleans after Katrina hit were not necessarily as intensely against each other as those in zombie fiction, simply because those works attempt to make a point through fiction and Levees is a documentary that tells fact. Yet, through the effects of Katrina, it is apparent that natural disasters can bring out the worst in people as they try to survive. This is true when you consider just some of the many examples present in Levees, such as how many people put out signs that read, “trespassers will be shot,” and specifically Darnnell Herrington’s story.

During the after effects of Katrina, Herrington was shot by a white man twice, for no other reason than he looked suspicious, presumably because he was black. What’s significant in this situation is not only the racist undertones that this act of violence revealed, but also the the embedded irony in the situation. After a hurricane like Katrina, the fact that a survivor like Herrington has to be worried about being shot by a fellow hurricane survivor is ironic. He should not have to be worried about other human beings; he should be worried about surviving.

Herrington’s story is not the only example in Katrina or Levees that reflects this irony, and it is by far not the only example of irony present in disaster situations in general. It can also be seen in Superstorm when Glenda Moore was denied help and shelter during hurricane Sandy, which should be a necessity for anyone during a natural disaster.

What is present in both situations–fact and fiction–is the reflection of what dire situations can bring out in humans. In retrospect, these actions are unjustifiable, yet for the people at the time committing the act of injustice, it is okay and reasonable. The interesting thing here is that in these situations, the zombies aren’t the problem: the humans are. Just like in Katrina, apparently you don’t need to just worry about getting food, water or shelter, you need to worry about your neighbor with a shotgun.

In these works of fiction, what I have seen is that the zombies are actually just a setting for humans to get into conflicts and show who they are on a primal level. Like Blanco said, you’d like for bad situations to bring out the best in people, which does happen in some cases. But maybe deep down, we resort to selfish needs just to survive, something works like “iZombie” or Warm Bodies are trying to shed light on. Although these works are fiction, it’s important to think about how true to humankind they are; it shows that even though we’re learning about hurricanes in this class, it makes perfect sense as to why we’d turn to a text like Zone One.

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