Monday, October 6, 2008

After the Fall

While I normally pride myself on quality analysis of relevant issues, I've a soft spot for the fascinating and improbable. So this post, as a break from issues that matter, is going to focus on zombies. Now, there are lots of to take when talking about zombies - the zombie renaissance in film is a potent one, and the cultural implications are worthy of analysis. Of course, they've also received a lot of analysis, so it'd be a bit redundant.

More interesting is the zombie beyond film commentary - this is a gallery of the post-apocalypse zombie attack rendered in LEGO. What's fascinating for me there is not the nature of the zombie attack, but the fascination with resistance. The scene is somewhere between a resistance movement, a summer barbecue, and an NRA pipe dream. Playful, certainly, but it's people looking at a world the moment everything goes wrong, and people expecting humanity will make it out in a burst of glory and dashing heroics. Indeed, the emergence of zombie survival guides (this one famously, the AHSFoliage guide much less so) is a testament to prevalence of both impending horrible calamity, and to a certain survivalist gusto.

Equally interesting (to me, at least), is the approach of a friend of mine to short fiction. Her blog can be found here, and if you follow this tag you'll see that almost all of what she writes is short zombie stories. Or really, short stories that happen to have zombies. Zombies aren't ever really the focus of the story - they act instead as a constant malevolent force, one that cannot be changed but can only be killed. It makes all the stakes higher, the presence of a marching assault wearing down her cast of only a few characters. And yet, the characters exist in this hyper-heroic world, the kind epics are written about, and the focus is always commentary on the now, the present world before shit hits the fan, before the collapse of everything as we know. Her characters, even the most optimistic, don't have dreams about a glorious new world, about rebuilt civilization, or about how future generations will remember them. They don't have dreams beyond tomorrow or next week. Everything, instead, is focused on what life was, what it meant to have been alive in this present, this modern era.

The final, relevant, post-apocalyptic speculation I want to mention in this post is of an entirely different nature. Johns Hopkins released a study of who would be essential in a pandemic. Sure, their approach isn't related to zombies specifically, but it does address the potential weakness (if not the outright collapse) of federal government, in this paragraph that reads like a libertarian's pipe dream:
The report recognizes that given the widespread and sustained nature of a pandemic, federal assistance will be spread thin and local jurisdictions must develop their own preparedness plans to ensure they are capable of sustained self-sufficiency. Encouraging and working with local businesses to develop their own response plans can help reduce the burden on local governments during a pandemic. Similarly, individuals and families who can afford it should do their best to prepare for any disaster. The paper notes, the more initiative the general public exercises in stockpiling several weeks' worth of food, water, paper goods, batteries medicines, and other needed supplies, the less vulnerable they will be to a break in the supply chain. In fact, the report emphasizes, it is important for leaders to communicate to the middle class and the wealthy that it is their responsibility to prepare for self-sufficiency in order to free up scarce supplies and allow first responders to direct their attention towards those too poor or vulnerable to prepare themselves.
Now, in the zombie context "first responders" could easily refer to military forces, but it's a reassuring prospect that in a worst-case scenario our leaders (and their medical advisors) feel comfortable advocating self-sufficiency. Part of it is the very real strain on governmental capabilities, and it's nice for that strain and inability to respond to be acknowledged. And part of it lends itself more towards American post-apocalyptic coverage: when everything goes wrong with the world we've built up, we'll fall back on ancient, core (mythical?) values, and we'll do all right.

We're in an interesting time, where our hegemonic nation seems no more than decade or two away from collapse (odds are, though, I'll still be saying this in 2024), and collapse is not something the United States has really had to deal with. But all the science fiction consensus, as much as I can make of it (and as much as one exists) is that we'll survive. Institutions and nationhood may change (or not- they're not really addressed in my skimming of the material out there), but the people as a given will remain. The collapse isn't going to be an end-all cataclysmic event. It's not apocalyptic literature after all; it's post-apocalyptic.

1 comment:

John Fleck said...

I *love* the zombie-pandemic analogy.