Another angle I thought was interesting was the young Japanese protagonist who is trapped in his room playing video games before the plague. Brooks seems to be suggesting that an entire generation is becoming more and more withdrawn, living in their parents’ home, having meals brought to the outside of their locked bedroom doors, sitting in the darkness, staring at computer screens. Of course in a very dramatic fashion, this young man breaks free, climbing down the side of his high-rise building, fighting zombies along the way, but I wonder what Brooks is suggesting about the rest of us. And notice how the young man must return to an ancient form — the way of the samurai — in order to regain his humanity. What hope is there for the rest of us?
Thanks to Dr. Charlie McCormick for this one!
On a long plane flight this weekend, I finally had an opportunity to watch the movie 42 about Jackie Robinson’s entry into the formerly white baseball league. I was struck by the ease with which humans are able to dehumanize those who are in some way different, making them seem like an “Other” so that “normal” people can justify acting in brutal ways against them. Jackie Robinson experienced mental, emotional, and physical brutality because some of the players (and fans) in the formerly white league did not see the ways in which he was them and they were him.
Though I do not wish to demean the history of Jackie Robinson through this comparison, it strikes me that there are some similarities between Robinson’s story and the message of World War Z. Humans commit incredible atrocities against other humans/zombies once they have been infected. They can do so because these are no longer humans at all but undead creatures. Again, it’s a process of Othering those with which we cannot connect and who we perceive as different. But should these zombie/humans—however much they no longer seem like “normal” humans—have rights?
At this point, the comparison to the civil rights era breaks down. The vast majority of us would no longer argue that the color of one’s skin should preclude a person from exercising his or her natural, civil, or legal rights in the USA. And that same population would almost certainly argue that zombies—human-like though they may be—do not deserve those same rights. Zombies, after all, are monsters and not simply an Othered human. A better test case, then, may be those criminals who have committed the worst offenses against individuals and society. Like zombies, we typically refer to them as “monsters.” Do they sacrifice their rights because of the atrocious things that they have done? It’s a subject of much debate in this country, but generally speaking, we believe that even the worst criminal has rights. For example, we are in general agreement that cruel and unusual punishment is unacceptable even though in the specifics—like capital punishment—we argue over what constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment.”
So should zombies have rights? If we believe that they are human, however different they may be from what we consider “normal” humans, then we must answer yes. We must also hope that, in hindsight, we do not come to discover that their difference from what we consider “normal” led us to mis-categorize them as something less than human and, therefore, subject to all of the deadly and brutal expressions of our fears and concerns.
In a recent New Yorker article, David Denby writes, “Vampirism, as everyone says, is about sex and violence. But what is the fascination with the hungry undead? . . . Are they what we fear we might become if we let ourselves go — soulless vessels of pure appetite, both ravaged and ravaging?” What are the differences between our fascination with vampires as opposed to zombies?
Okay, kids, there’s no denying it: World War Z the film was pretty darn good. I especially liked the way we got the answer to the North Korea question. Your thoughts?
Okay, Faithful Readers, time for some serious Zombie literary criticism!