A quick followup to yesterday's edition of The Chauncey DeVega Show where I had the good fortune to chat with zombie horror author Joe McKinney.
The zombie is one of America's great cultural and literary gifts to the world. Of course, tales of reanimated dead people are not unique to the United States (e.g. was Jesus Christ, assuming he existed, a zombie? Golems; the Haitian zombie in the Vodou tradition).
But, the genre and narrative conventions offered by George Romero in his seminal Night of the Living Dead continue to define how the global public understands the idea of "the living dead".
The zombie is a powerful metaphor, one that can be used in many ways. At the most basic level, the zombie is simply an unthinking, dead, automaton who is driven by the impulse to consume living flesh. While they may not (yet) eat the living, there are in fact many "zombies" in American society.
Some of them are mindless consumers, others are drunk on religion, and many are addicted to smart phones, social media, video games, and other types of technology.
While the "zombies" in Stephen King's book Cell are human beings driven to madness by a signal sent through their cell phones, and in Videodrome filmmaker David Cronenberg envisioned a world where television made murderers, the human brain's propensity for seeing out gadgets and novelty has reduced many people to the level of hypnotized, unthinking, automatons.
They are a people afraid to be alone with their own thoughts.
Researchers at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville have some chilling insights into how too many Americans would choose pain and electric shocks over introspective thinking.
As reported in the journal Science:
In a new study, people who were asked to spend a few minutes alone with their thoughts disliked it so much that they would zap themselves with electricity during their alone time.
The experiments detailed in the journal Science hint at a fraught relationship with inward-directed thought, an ability the study authors call an "integral part – perhaps even a defining part – of what makes us human."
Tuning out the world around you and thinking about the past or imagining the future is (as far as we know) a uniquely human trait. But scientists at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville wanted to prove whether this was actually an enjoyable experience.
They set up six experiments where they asked college students to spend between six to 15 minutes in a bare room entertaining themselves with their own thoughts – with no cellphone, books or distractions. More than half, 57.5%, indicated that it was difficult to concentrate, 89% admitted that their mind wandered at least a little, and 49.3% indicated they didn’t enjoy the experience very much.
The problem wasn’t unique to college students. The researchers then pulled participants from a local church and farmers' market from age 18 to 77 to do the at-home experiment, and the results still held.
But how unpleasant is it, really, to be alone with your thoughts? To find out, the researchers gave study participants the same instructions – to spend time with their thoughts – but before the experiment, they asked them to rate certain positive stimuli (attractive photographs) and negative stimuli (small electric shocks). They were asked, if given $5, how much they’d pay to experience or avoid each stimulus again.
But during the thinking time, people still chose to electrically shock themselves rather than be alone with their thoughts for 15 minutes. A full 67% of men who previously rated the shocks as unpleasant – so unpleasant that they would actually pay money to avoid them – still chose to zap themselves at least once during that period. (One man apparently shocked himself 190 times, and was treated as an outlier.) And 25% of women who said they’d pay to avoid the shocks also voluntarily subjected themselves to the electric sting.I am not suggesting that all people should be immersed in the life of the mind. I am however deeply worried about the type of politics and civic culture that are created by a people who are bereft of imagination and afraid to be alone with their own thoughts.
America is a death culture that is violent and sociopathic in how it both behaves abroad and treats "the least of those" among its own public at home.
Perhaps, America's zombie politics are simply a reflection of its self-medicating cell phone obsessed mindless technology addicted citizens?
Here is a wrinkle and a complication: the zombie is not evil; it is a creature acting on impulse. By contrast, the global plutocrats and dream merchants who have engineered America's (and increasingly the world's) zombie politics know what they do and to what horrific and cruel aims they are working.
They are the real monsters.