We are not Zombies: The End of the World (as we know it)
I know this isn’t going to come as a surprise to you. I’ve been noticing this trend for a while and so have you, but today I reached my limit. Apparently the end of the world is coming, and maybe – just maybe – it’s already here.
How do I know? What signs and portents have I seen? Oh I’m just looking at the movie trailers on TV. The latest I’ve seen is World War Z (book turned movie). It combines two fascinations, post-apocalyptic world and zombies. Perfect! It’s sure to be a blockbuster. In fact it doesn’t even matter if the actors are any good or the plot has anything unique to contribute to the genre (see… well any action or slapstick comedy remake/series in the last 20 years).
There has always been an element of escapism (call it entertainment) to the movies. When I lived in the Philippines it was that it was one of the few places with great air conditioning – you were literally escaping the harsh realities of life, the heat! I think of Russell Crowe in the movie Gladiator in a bit of commentary on gladiatorial combat as diversion for the masses who wouldn’t care about injustice so long as they were amused with gory entertainment. “Are you not entertained?” (Do that in your best gruff Crowe voice, well suited to “The general who became a slave. The slave who became a gladiator. The gladiator who defied an emperor.” Not so much for singing the booming lyrics of Les Miserables’ Javert.)
But set that aside. Because I wonder what else is really going on. This isn’t simply about entertainment or escapism – at least I don’t think so. Why are we so fascinated right now with apocalyptic/zombie/super hero genres? We buy this. “They” wouldn’t make these movies if we weren’t willing to lap them up like so much gold (fool’s gold though it may be). An lap it up to the tune of billions of dollars. BILLIONS! We can’t feed our neighbors but we are spending billions of dollars on 2 hours of entertainment! And it wouldn’t be done if we weren’t so willing to play the game.
While I’m curious really about the post-apocalyptic stuff because I think its tapping into our sense of the world be out of control and us being agents of our own demise… but I’m actually going to skip right on to the zombie. I wonder if the current fascination with zombie apocalypse in particular has something to do with the nature of the zombie. A human who is walking dead, unthinking, uncaring, only concerned with the satiation of its carnal desires… in this case literally consuming people.
Is the zombie the great commentary on American culture disease?
On some level do we believe that we have already become zombies but we don’t really know what to do about it, how to stop it, or redirect our full descent? There is something freeing (yes I really mean that) into thinking that this is true. There is a HUGE gift to being convinced that we are just zombies. Because a zombie cannot be blamed for what it does. It lacks the capacity to be more. It lacks THE RESPONSIBILITY to be more. And it cannot change. It’s the ultimate fatalistic get out of jail free card. I am a product of something else absolved of responsibility for simply walking into a future filled… apathy really, because despair is an emotion I can no longer feel.
This then forms a great connection to the superhero genre that has gone gangbusters. (It only took them 5 years to need to remake the Hulk movie, we have a new superman coming, and of course pretty much every MARVEL character is being brought to life on the big screen year by year.) And a similar theme is found. What is the joy of the superhero? We may think it’s simply the entertainment, the vicarious joy of seeing achievement taken to super levels (and we are a very achievement oriented people), but I also note this – in such movies what we encounter is a hero who comes in and solves our problems that were too big (and too bad) for us. Superhero movies rarely celebrate you and me. In fact, we are fodder to their movies. Even when the “super” isn’t achieved through radioactive accident or alien ancestry (or godhood if your Thor) it’s usually by being an off the charts genius who also has off the charts financial resources. We don’t have to have responsibility or be a part of the answer to the status of the world around us… someone else will come in and clean up the mess.
And yet… Superman isn’t real and to whatever extent we act like zombies we ARE responsible for the perpetuation of the choices that make us so.
We might be skeptical of the direction of the world. But the answer to this is not to blame “them.” (Whether them is politicians serving corporate money, the actual multinational corporations themselves who are only interested in profiting off people’s dysfunctions and not solving them, or… well whomever.) To my mind the solutions begin in recognizing that we are them. We are the responsible party. We are the problem, and we have to be the solution – or part of it at least. I’m not particularly interested in being a part of the post-apocalyptic reality. You know the people who sit around lamenting that “them” destroyed the world through their own greedy perpetuation of ways and means that led to global disaster. I want to be a part of the people who stop short. The ones who recognized that we are neither zombies nor superheroes but with hope changed the world one step at a time.
We are ordinary people who are nevertheless capable of doing extraordinary things. Its amazing what a single person (let alone a community of people) is capable of once they stop waiting for the job to get done for them, stop blinding themselves (or anesthetizing) to the status of the world and their own culpability in that, and start making the hard choices to change the future.
Here is a small example, a community that turned its city into a garden producing food to feed a new future: http://www.ted.com/talks/pam_warhurst_how_we_can_eat_our_landscapes.html
They aren’t alone, this is but one example, and it’s not even the best example just the one I came across today. There are imaginative and resilient communities all over the world who aren’t waiting for big answers but, starting of their own initiative as small actions, are changing the world. Pre-apocalyptic revolution! That’s a movie worth watching.