Re-establishing Civic Responsibility in Zone One

What is civic responsibility? And what does it mean to be civically responsible? Typically, when we hear those two words in the same sentence, we are conditioned to focus on suffrage and political elections. However, the “true” definition, according to, is “the social force that binds you to the courses of action demanded by that force[.]” If we align franchise with the course of civic responsibility according to the definition above, that responsibility becomes an obligation. The right to vote is merely an example of how civic responsibility is commonly displayed by the American people – and it shouldn’t stop there. My own definition is slightly different: it is the duties, based on ethics, of the people to react to the obstacles presented; the role of a municipality to change, for the better, the outcomes of events. In the context of our class discussion(s), Zone One questions the clarity of what it means to be civically responsible in the event of a zombie apocalypse.

In the face of apocalypse – consisting of trauma and pandemic – the natural human reaction is unknown, or rather, delayed. We tend to think that violence and hope, both of which juxtapose one another, will ensure a safe return to the route of normalcy – but what is the reality of erecting civility during times of devastation? In Zone One, the primary goal of Mark Spitz and his “sweeper” crew is to patrol sections of New York in hopes to make the city inhabitable again, and part of this patrolling involves the elimination of “skels,” or, the zombies. These skels, former humans that died and now consist of nothing but rotting skin and bone, beg the question of identity. Nearing the beginning of the novel, Mark Spitz recounts his experience with a skel that reminds him of his former English teacher, Miss Alcott. He regards the skel, in the context of comparing it to his teacher, as having a “soupy Bronx accent,” and “smell[ing] of jasmine[.]” The implication of characteristics of a former teacher on the skel serves to the performance of memory by providing insight to Mark’s past when civility and humanity wasn’t influenced by apocalyptic detriment; by giving the skel an identity, it becomes humanized. This is important to note because although the lens in which he perceives the skel has been altered to display human characteristics, the overarching goal of erecting civility in a ruinous place still reigns, and thus, the skel is ultimately “shot in the face.”

Most of the skels; however, are not given an identity. In constructing civility during the zombie apocalypse, Mark Spitz and the sweepers must kill skels in order to re-humanize the place they once called home – it is their new responsibility. The perception of these skels serves as an agency to the performance of violence by ridding them of their name and the background they have, but no longer are remembered for. The reason for this, obviously, lies in the circumstances, and one could even argue that the infected brain differs from the natural human brain, but the removal of a persons identity is still an agency to the performance of violence.

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