FORGET WORLD WAR Z. THE ‘ZOMBIES ARE COMING’

World War Z has proven a hit with audiences if not with critics. Or with some fans of the book. I hope that those of you who hated the film will still read Max Brooks novel of the same name. It’s a complex work that borrows the oral history stylings of Studs Terkel to explore the political, environmental, religious and psychological effects of a global struggle against a monstrous threat.

And there’s no Brad Pitt.

Speaking of books you should read, one of the more interesting works on monsters I’ve read recently had to be Kelly J. Baker’s The Zombies are Coming The Realities of the Zombie Apocalypse in American Culture.Baker, a scholar of religion and American culture who has taught courses on the idea of apocalypse, has found a way to say something truly original about our zombie obsessions. Her book is an essential for fans and scholars of the genre.

I especially enjoyed Baker’s close attention to last year’s late summer “Zombie apocalypse” that managed to involve violent cannibalistic attacks, a moral panic, bath salts and Danny Bonaduce. Baker unpacks these events for us and makes a number iof interesting suggestions about the role of the Internet in reimagining the monstrous and the fantastic. At this moment, after all, you are participating in an online world that’s a reflection, or perhaps a map, of the real world. And yet not the real world even as it seems like a map that has become territory.

The most intriguing part of the work to me concerned “Doomsday preppers” and the relationship between zombie fantasies and American gun culture.  The author ponders the relationship between firearm fascinations, fantasies about the undead and attitudes toward gun control legislation.

Baker tells us of a mod of the AR-15, the massacre weapon of choice for psychotics, which features an “undead” trigger setting. Zombie targets are sold to gun aficionados who want to shoot at a male zombie named “Rocky…from Detroit” who looks a bit like Barack Obama. Or at Alexa (originally called “the ex-girlfriend”) who Baker points out, embodies “all the negative ways women are viewed in American culture.” Clearly something is being aimed at other than the undead.

This short little book ends with a smart bit of writing about the deep ambivalence about modern culture the zombie apocalypse obsession suggests. Why indeed are we spending some much time thinking about our culture coming apart at the seams? In fact, this section, and the book as a whole, would work as a wonderful jumping off point for a discussion in a classroom setting. I will likely use it in one of my upcoming  “Monsters in America” courses.

Now, I will spend another evening not going to see World War Z and watch the original Dawn of the Dead.

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