Overweening Generalist

Friday, June 8, 2012

Zombie Apocalypse and Cultural Neurosemantics

I'd just finished writing hyperbolically about how robots were taking over the world, when I realized I'd left out how drones were a sort of video-game-like robot, and how we now have mechanized warfare, and a slew of ethical problems that the Geneva Conventions don't quite cover (the TV just coming into being as they were written, etc), and make things, as pseudo-intellectuals like myself are wont to say, "problematic." A fascinating guy on this topic - always - is P.W. Singer.

Also, I was just starting to think I had come to a decent guess about the mysterious hog farm explosions.

But then I got blindsided by another threat. A threat so heinous it made me watch CNN and a few other TV "news" stations. They were waist (or is it "waste"?) deep in this - these - stories: the Zombie Apocalypse was upon us!

Full disclosure: the recent 28 Days (or whatever it was called) and others in the zombie genre/franchise are not exactly my top priorities. Not in my Top 5000, as a matter of fact. Not that I'm immune to the zombie film allure. One of my favorite films of all time is Val Lewton and Jacques Tourneur's 1943 film for RKO, I Walked With A Zombie.  (It's really Jane Eyre with voodoo.) George Romero's 1968 Night of the Living Dead has reached deserved "classic" status , and probably ought to be seen in some allegorical way as reflecting the war-without-end the US was in in Vietnam. But then I've already digressed...But not before I foist a one-minute-long trailer for this wonderful film on y'all:

This blog's all downhill after that!

But sometimes, you just can't ignore it when a man is seen eating the face off another - living! - man, on a pathway in that gawdforsaken place called Florida. Florid indeed were the reports. This report from CBS Miami starts off, "Police are still tight-lipped..." I would be too, if I knew there was a guy out there who ate the eyeball and nose of another guy. Hell, I'd be tight-lipped, tight-eyeballed, tight-eared, tight-cheeked, and tight-nosed.  Slate seeks to tell us why, when people do psycho things, they often strip naked first. Before reading it, I figured, "Hey, why not? If there's anything worth doing, it's worth doing well...aaaaaaand...naked!"

Now, I know what some of you are thinking. You'd think, even though you were eating another living person's nose, you'd have the decency go dress casual...

But nudity can be so freeing! (I do not condone eating most of the face of a transient, though. Even I have standards.)

I think there are certain crimes that demand proper attire. You're hired Mafia muscle, making a hit on a rival eating a plate of spaghetti? We all know you wear a suit, fer cryin' out loud. Knocking off a bank requires very careful planning, not only of gun, what to say to the teller, and escape route, but how to make your face look...not like you for the cameras. Buys you some time. Other than that, it's permitted to go anywhere from formal to Bermuda Shorts with a cummerbund and hi-tops. Maybe a beret, little nod to Patty Hearst. I don't have the time, and this is not the place, to go over what attire is appropriate to what crimes, but it's my understanding that argyle socks are perfect for mail fraud. Anyway...

Just as I was trying to exorcise from my consciousness the image of what happened on that causeway near Miami, another story broke that fed the zombie apocalypse frenzy: a 21 year old college student in Maryland admitted to eating the heart and part of the brain (the tasty part?) of a roommate, after said roommate had died. Ladies and gentlemen, let's keep our cools here. What do we really know so far? We know They are not vegetarians. We know They must have been hungry. And possibly mad, in at least two senses of the word. We all know how stress can get to us; it makes us "not ourselves." Perhaps we end up "chewing out" a co-worker? Get my drift? They are not so different from us. A little understanding is all I ask!

At any rate, I was probably a tad hasty when I rushed out and bought 14 pounds of garlic cloves and a hefty stainless steel cross with Jesus on it. My wife reminded me: garlic and the cross ward off vampires, not zombies!

Boy, did I feel like an idiot!

                                       See how much FUN this Apocalypse can be?

I was just about ready to pass off this silly zombie apocalypse meme flare-up when I read about one Luka Rocco Magnotta. This guy made the dudes in Florida and Maryland look like Girl Scouts. Say what you will about stabbing your lover with an icepick, slitting his throat, cutting the body to pieces, decapitating it, feeding pieces to your dog while you masturbate with other body parts...but anally penetrating the headless corpse? That's some sick jit there, man. That, my friends, is my idea of "going too far." And wouldn't you know it? This Magnotta is Canadian. What is with those sick bastards?

Magnotta was arrested in Berlin. Now, I don't know about you, Dear Reader, but I think this is a serious crime, and I think we need to get tough with Magnotta here. I'd say to him, "Luka? That was some crazy-assed crap you pulled over there in Canada. Sending a severed foot in the mail? That's not the kind of society we approve of, no sir! (I'm sorry to be yelling at you, but this kind of thing gets me upset.) That dismemberment of your pal? No good! I'll say it again: NO GOOD! If you do it ONE MORE TIME, it's gonna mean a heavy fine, fellah! Now, get outta here, before we take you in for acting like a d-bag!" (Except it would be in German, of course.)

[R.I.P. George Carlin, whose bit about Dahmer I just stole.]

I was beginning to think the Kidz were right this time, and the Zombie Apocalypse now deserved to be in capitals, and maybe I was doomed to have my own brains fricasseed by the Undead. I wondered what I could do. The most powerful weapon in the house was an Air Horn. I tried to humor myself. Hey, at least the zombies are intellectuals, as Stephen Colbert said: all they care about is BRAINS! But then I quit sniffing glue, put down the PCP, and came to my senses: these were isolated incidents, it's just after Memorial Day, the kids are getting out of school and a news frenzy about shark attacks just wouldn't cut it this year. Not with World of Warcraft so popular.

Speaking of sniffing glue, I was horrified to learn that police and the media were tarring LSD's good name by linking it with the Miami zombie. His poor victim could've only wished the guy had taken LSD instead. He/the Miami zombie was, in fact, on a designer drug called "bath salts," which...represents an ominous turn in the naming of designer drugs. First of all, the term "designer drug" seems misleading to me. What? Did Ralph Lauren and Coco Chanel get together and design something especially for me? Just 'cuz I wanna get high? Nooooo...When I first read the term "bath salts" in conjunction with face-eating, I thought, "How could something so soothing-sounding have caused....?" Bath salts - epsom salts - conjures images - for me at least - of relaxing after a vigorous day, with Bach cello suites playing while I soak my feet in "bath salts," a glass of zinfandel by my side. Naming some new concoction of bathtub-meth "bath salts" just seems criminal to me. What's next? A new nasty chemistry experiment that makes you claw all the skin off your own face, then drive backwards on the freeway at 100 mph and it's called "Autumn"? Someone PLEASE stop this nomenclatural madness!

And then I realized this was yet another designer drug, and they're coming fast and furious now. At first - ten years ago or so, these were an "Ain't It Odd?" news item in the local newspaper. Now, they're coming at us like the flow from a finally unclogged spigot, and I expect a weekly Hot 100 Designer Drugs list to appear in Rolling Stone any day now. And the irony: a friend of mine had some wonderful cannabis we smoked and then listened to Bartok and talked about the unemployment problem and then how language in novels puts us in different worlds of imagination. We talked of James Joyce and Philip K. Dick, Thomas Pynchon, and Vladimir Nabokov. It was all very fulfilling, an uplifting, even spiritual evening. The name of the strain of cannabis? "Lamb's Blood." Anyway...

I wrote about Krokodil about six months ago. It appears this stuff keeps rolling out of C-minus desperate-for-employment chemistry students' labs all over the place, but Europe, especially. And again, I find I'm forced to plaintively ask my fellow psychonauts: Would it kill you to just smoke a fat joint?

It would be tempting to try to tar Obama's crackdown on medical pot with this influx of chemical drug-agents, but at this point it would be a stretch. Although I am pissed at him for going back on his word, and can't imagine a stupider thing to do, or a better way to alienate his base...RANT OVER

To what extent this bathtub chemical meth-like crap is driving this particular Apocalypse, I don't know. And I hadn't known about the guy in New Jersey who recently stabbed himself in the gut 50 times, then threw parts of his own entrails at police...but this stuff is spreading. It's a meme. With legs. Legs severed from a roommate who appeared to be projecting voices into the now-zombie's head. It was at this point the CDC stepped in - I'm still not sure to what extent this was a joke - and assured the Populace they know of no virus or anything else that can reanimate the dead.

The Internet is like anabolic steroids for memes. I'm tempted to say this meme-reality-meme-reality works like a "feedback loop," but you all know I wouldn't stoop to cheap punning. One example of many, illustrating how this meme is taking off, is found HERE..

When did the Zombie Apocalypse start? Experts disagree. Some go Old Skool and trace it back to that whackiest of Biblical books, Revelation of St. John the Divine. For which I give intellectual style points. I will at this point go Day of the Triffids (1962) for now, but certainly, Cracked had a hard line on this back in 2007. That article claims over 16 million views, which is slightly higher than the traffic for the run-of-the-mill Overweening Generalist post. But hey, tap that meme, fellow bloggers!

The Christian anarchist Jacques Ellul, hero of the French Resistance and intellectual influence on both Ted "Unabomber" Kaczynski and Marshall McLuhan, identified the "Beast" in Revelation with the State, but when I read South Florida University anthropologist Elizabeth Bird's analysis of zombies, that they have "no emotional core, no consciousness, no limits...," I couldn't help but think of Dick Cheney, and most of the NeoCons and Business Criminals on Wall Street that presided over the wreckage of Unistat. And I'm now just as confused as ever about what this Zombie Apocalypse means, so any help will be appreciated. I'm guessing this Zombie Apocalypse is some sort of Jungian repression of what the 1% have done to our hopes and dreams...not to mention how dumbed-down so many of us feel that Others have become. But I'm not sure. Please, I need your help figuring this one out. Like a zombie, I need your brains (HA!) to sate my knowledge and help me prepare for the...next Damned Thing that comes along.

The only thing I'll have to say about "cultural neurosemantics" vis a vis this Zombie Apocalypse will be found in the above paragraph. Please consider it before consigning my bullshit to the "typical OG nonsense" bin.

Not that you'd asked, but I'd previously written on other Apocalyptic imaginings HERE.

My Undead Zombie Apocalypse All-Star Dream Team:
                                                      Dahmer, Jeffrey
                                                        Bundy, Ted
                                                          Gein, Ed
                                                      Manson, Charlie
                                                         Gacy, John Wayne
                                            Albert Fish, batting "cleanup"

If I've forgotten anyone, I apologize. I hate to make anyone feel "left out." I now notice I got six guys, so it's a hockey team, no cleanup hitter needed. Let's call Fish the "goalie"? - OG


Eric Wagner said...

Interesting post. It made me think of Bob Wilson's fascination with Hannibal Lector...and malls. I loved both "Dawn of the Dead" and its remake. One came out when malls had just begun to play a bigger role in our culture, and the remake came up during the decline and fall of the American mall, just before our recent near depression. I've thought of teaching a whole class on mall cinema, or better yet having a mall film festival...at a mall movie theater: both Dawn films, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Scenes from a Mall, Eight Crazy Nights, Mallrats, etc.

As Somtow Sucharitkhul wrote in a friend's copy of his book Mallworld, "It's a Mallworld after all."

michael said...

About ten yrs ago I read a readable academic's book (by Wm. Kollwinkel? I'll have to check my memory on that) called The Malling of America. Some sharp semiotic chops in that one.

When I was in HS I was a juvenile delinquent, rarely attending school. My JD pals and I wd often find refuge in the mall.

Now you'd have to pay me just to go to one of those indoor malls. The Del Amo Mall in Torrance is so big...I once got lost in their, during xmas time, circa 1998. This was before everyone had cell phones.

Jeez, I needed a GPS.

Socrates, walking through the marketplace-agora of Athens, paraphrase: "Whoa! How many things there are that I DO NOT WANT!"

Eric Wagner said...

I love the mall. I find it a nice, air conditioned place to walk, with relatively clean restrooms and places to sit. I like to use the computers at the Apple Store, check out the Jerry Garcia ties at Penny's and the shih tzu's at the pet store, etc.

Anonymous said...

the Romero film was a re-enactment of the Civil Rights movement history.

And we had such high hopes then.

michael said...

Paul Blart: Mall Cop and Observe and Report, two films about mall cops, came out around the same time. I have seen neither, but maybe qualify as candidates for a Mall Cinema Studies course?

The AC is what I like about the indoor malls, esp when it's blazing hot in LA.

I read that seniors like to do their waling exercise in malls because the climate's more comfy, but they also feel safer there.

The indoor ginormous malls I can take if I go in looking for surrealism. In some sense, I see the underclass and their consumerism, credit card debt, as sorta zombie-ish.

The only shopping I actually enjoy is used book stores and indy CD places, neither of which I've ever found in a mall.

Does Orange Julius still exist? What about Cinn-a-Bunn?

michael said...

@Anonymous: yea, I think that's a good reading of the Romero film too.

I see some gains, but not even close to what seemed to have been envisioned in the late 1960s/early 70s.

Framing the problem was racial was an honest mistake; MLK was onto it, in my opinion: he was going to ramp up POVERTY among people of any color, as violence and as the true root of the struggle. And then he had to go.


Annabel Lee said...

No surprise to anyone, but I'm a huge fan of zombie movies. I've always thought that zombie movies of various caliber and recognition are so easily relatable to many aspects of our lives. Depending on how it's started, it could expose shortcomings in our societal norms, our government expectations, our human limitations, or even our misunderstanding of the world around us.

The claims of zombies taking place in my state of Maryland, Florida, 18 other states and Canada within the past two years is baffling. Most of these are pure cannibalism while on a drug that engages the primal instincts of paranoia and flight-or-fight.

I covered the more newsworthy aspect of the Cannibal attacks about a week ago. What seems to surprise most people is the CDC holding a Zombie Preparedness blog and plan on their website. The CDC page has been a popular meme amongst zombie fans for the past few years, though underground from the mainstream media. Since these bath salt attacks, however, the page has seen so much traffic the CDC servers have crashed a few times.

As always, another great post Michael.

SatoriGuy said...

As Mr. Wagner pointed out Dawn of the Dead was probably the last great Zombie movie(and maybe 28 weeks later). But I do feel compelled to watch anything zombie related, which resulted in getting addicted to The Walking Dead tv series. Which really is basically the Young and the Reckless with a couple minutes of zombie action thrown in. But I can't recommend the graphic novel highly enough to people, even if you're not into comics.

Also, Max Brook's zombie book World War Z is being made into a movie starring Brad Pitt. Although, it's hard to get excited about upcoming big budget movies anymore-especially after being disappointed by a poorly scripted Prometheus this past weekend.

Oh and Michael I feel your pain about Obamas drug policy. Here's Penn Jillette with a brilliant rant about Obama's hipocrisy.


Sue Howard said...

As ever, I'm enjoying your recent posts. Just noticed this critical piece about Haidt (whom you earlier blogged about) in the Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jun/11/voters-have-not-turned-right

michael said...

@Annabel Lee: your readings of zombie films seem altogether different from what I perceive as the quasi-ironic/science-deficient video-game-saturated zeitgeist that gave rise to the Zombie Apocalypse meme. But then that's MY reading of your reading versus what I perceive the public's thinking about zombies, etc, blah blah, etc.

But wouldn't we rather think some virus will cause the Undead to go after our brains? I mean, it's a lot more fun than the all-too real fact that other countries are going to get drones too...I wonder about the popular knowledge in Unistat right now vis a vis zombies and what They want, how they kill, how we kill them, etc...versus drone attacks.

When I found out about the CDC story, I followed up on it. I think many months ago they thought they were being cute by using the zombie meme to talk about possible Avian Flu outbreaks that could be really scary stuff; now it's blown up in their faces and I bet they've had to re-think the very difficult problem of 1.) a population that, when faced with something momentous - environmental collapse/further erosion of the economy/terrorist attacks, etc, start their conversations with, "But I heard that..." Yes, they HEARD something. They didn't actually take the time to read many sources and try to figure out what they themselves think at the moment, given the complexities of the situation; and 2.) it seems much (most?) of the populace live in some sort of SIMULACRUM: they believe a whole bunch of garbage that isn't even arguable. It's not that they tend to think of some aspect of social/political/economic "reality" in some ideological way that I don't subscribe to. They are in a different "reality" altogether. And it bears little relationship to facts. If they have a historical memory at all, it's of bogus "facts." A large part of the population is scary-stupid, is what I'm tryna say...

I pity the CDC spokespeople if they're charged with getting clear and accurate information about a dangerous epidemic to the Murrrkin people.

Clearly, bathtub meth-like drugs, taken by already mentally unhinged folk, seems the prime mover behind these latest cannibalistic episodes...which we've always had, btw. People eating other people? It's not unheard of, and I ain't just talkin' Donner Party.

And finally, I understand "long pig" tastes a lot like chicken. But I have no first-hand knowledge of this.

Thanks for the kind words, Ms.Lee.

michael said...

@Satori Guy: A zombie Young and the Restless somehow fell flat?

Thanks for the head's up on the graphic novel. If you say it's worth reading, I believe it. I will definitely check it out. Eric Wagner told me in the comments section for the OG about Fritz Leiber's novel Our Lady of Darkness, which I read and it was unbelievably good. Has anyone else read this novel, set in San Francisco? And does anyone think it relates to Masks of the Illuminati in any way? Sorry to have changed the subject...

I saw Penn's wonderful rant about Obama's pot policies when bOING bOING featured it, and have passed it along. I did NOT Bogart that video!

Is anyone else kinda oddly creeped out by Penn's never having not only smoked pot, but never even took a sip of wine? I feel like that shouldn't bother me, but I find it does.

Well, that's my problem...

michael said...

@Sue Howard: I had missed Monbiot on Haidt, and Monbiot here has, as I see it one of a small handful of good readings of Haidt. Thanks for alerting me to this; I crashed Haidt's stuff hard, then finally got the latest book, and wrote a few blog posts on him. He bothered me for some reasons I never got to in those posts. I burnt out on Haidt about ten days after I wrote those blogs...Then I saw him give a talk on Book TV from Washington DC, as I remember it. He's a suave and witty speaker, but I really think he's basically wrong, and Monbiot is closer to the something meaningful when he says it's turnout, not the Six Core Values.

In the Q&A on Book TV he got a lot of intelligent people asking Qs I would've asked him, and I think Haidt is not very impressive or persuasive when having to answer Qs from smart people who are not college students hoping to get a good grade. And here's one that I found just stunning:

A guy asked about the Drug War, and the fact that cannabis is easily safer in many ways than alcohol and tobacco, so where's the "liberty" from the conservatives here? Why the imprisonment? Where's the liberals and their "do no harm" moral value? And Haidt, smugly, said - I paraphrase - "You have to go to the religious value of conservatives: the body is a temple. Drugs harm the body. Therefore, that's my best answer."

Hey, he may have a beautiful theory drawn from tons of well-put-together online surveys, but this answer was so stupid, I thought, that I wondered how anyone could take him seriously.

If you go to C-SPAN Book TV, and there's a search, try Haidt and they might still have that hourlong booktalk available to watch. The drug thing was probably in the last 5 minutes, maybe the last 3 minutes of the thing.

lavaface said...

Thanks OG for another interesting post! It seems this zombie business really touches a nerve with a number of folks, judging from the comments. I thought I would add my own angle in to the mix.

One of the interesting things to me about the whole zombie phenomenon is how closely it parallells the idea of a populace "asleep" as Korzybski and others before and after him adamantly assured was the case. I wonder about this often.

In my mind, it seems true: most of us here are following preprogrammed "rules." We are, as the religious may say, "slaves to sin." To me, this points to a split in the function of the brain. On the one hand, we have the core reptilian reflexes that are enlarged upon by various social conditioning. And yet...

There seems to be a greater function of our brains that mimics (or perhaps in fact is ) "the mind of god." This mind perceives justice (albeit in limited forms) and has the plasticity of free will.

Free will seems to lie at the core of any discussion of zombies. The zombies do not have it; the living do. So what constitutes the living? The living are impelled by a desire to continue living. Obviously, the zombies need brains.

Perhaps there is a "new life" to be had in aligning one's will with God's? Maybe God is reaching out to the lifeless? Maybe we are zombies? It's all quite speculative in my mind right now, but I can't help thinking that we are among the walking dead, and that an unknown life awaits us.

I would say more, but I've been drinking. Good post, as always...

michael said...

@lavaface: Thanks! Glad you weighed in, and extra-glad you brought up the analogy of zombies plus Korzybski (and, I might add, a long, long list of intellectual mystics who gravitated to the metaphor of the populace as "asleep," perhaps the most notable being Gurdjieff?); in the rhythmic space of that blog post I couldn't detour into an excursion on Korzybski.

I think of zombies along the lines that you have discussed here when I watch a TV show called The Soup, which is a snarky shots-from-the-nerdy-peanut-gallery about "reality" TV shows and other heinously bad TV shows.

When we talk about "God" I find I don't know what the referent seems. Korzybski was said to voice it as "Gee Oh Dee."

Having read you on PKD, I think I have some idea of where you're coming from with God, so I've made my meaning about your zombie take and God of that.

I wonder about the "lifeless." It seems to me they are spiritually lifeless, but there's probably still a spark waiting for ignition?