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ZombieLaw studies zombies in law, politics and current events.

zombies, responsible rhetoric?

Congressman Blake Farenthold (Republican from Texas) referred to “zombie movies” in reference to not trusting the government for outbreak control. The quote (from Oct 10th) was clipped on this morning’s “Meet the Press” on NBC :

Every outbreak novel or zombie movie you see starts with somebody from the government sitting in front of panel like this saying there’s nothing to worry about.

zombie blake farenthold

That sound bite is proceeding by a another congressman, Representative Mike Kelly (Republican from Pennsylvania), referring to liquified internal organs. Chuck Todd’s question, “responsible rhetoric?”, Senator Bob Casey (Democrat from Pennsylvania) says no.

donations militarizing zombie dogs

Police technology is sometimes bought by private donations. Civil liberties groups are concerned, see ProPublica: “Private Donors Supply Spy Gear to Cops” by Ali Winston and Darwin Bond Graham.

But if they didn’t, who would buy Zombie a vest? See Post Tribune:: “K-9 officer to get bulletproof vest“:

Zombie, a four-legged member of the Lake County police department, will be sporting a bulletproof vest … thanks to help from a Massachusetts not-for-profit group that helps obtain the protective gear

I wonder what other “protective gear” this unnamed non-profit provides. But doesn’t Zombie look cute in his picture. Surely this article is an attempt to make us think that donations can’t be bad if they protect such a cute zombie.

Meanwhile in NY Daily News: “New York state cops are loaded up with $28M in military gear” by Tina Moore and Sarah Ryley:

If the zombie apocalypse ever comes to New York, towns big and small will have the weaponry to handle it. The Pentagon has provided at least $28 million worth of equipment to 128 police departments and sheriff’s offices across the state

Recall also other zombie dogs (including other K9 with the same name), zombie police, zombie military and zombie weapons.

“reductionist, simplistic, awful caricature of genuine political debate”

Gawker: “Crossfire Is Dead, Again” by Hamilton Nolan:

It’s not sad for the loss of Crossfire—the show was always a reductionist, simplistic, awful caricature of genuine political debate, which is one reason it was canceled the first time in 2005, only to be resurrected like a lurching zombie last year.

That’s a good description of zombie politics: “reductionist, simplistic, awful caricature”. Reductionism leads to a misconception of the whole. Sometimes the simple is more confusing than the complex.

But what to do when awful caricature is the character’s only essence? If Crossfire can’t exist as a noble political debate, where is the political debate that makes the public square so valuable to American democracy? Nolan thinks it’s the internet. He’s not sad about Crossfire’s second demise, but I think it’s sad to lose the promise of argument as a way to reach truth through dialogue. Crossfire at it’s best did that, admittedly it failed a lot, but at it’s best it demonstrated the idea of dialectical opposition, of truth through the mediation of opposites.

The problem is that people assume one side is right rather than try to see the truths in the mediation. See CacheValleyDaily: “COLUMN: Zombie Moralism” by Harry Caines, which begins by quoting “Waling Dead”:

“You are either the butcher, or you are the cattle.”

What a tragic false dichotomy. Caines column is a nice description of the monster’s history but concludes with another tragic choice. First, he claims zombies are simply unreasonable:

Zombies never leave and never cease wanting to eat us. They challenge our moral ambiguity. They cannot be reasoned with or persuaded to change their diet.

So he decides that in the event of a zombie apocalypse he would loot the guns at Wal-Mart, and

I would kill the weak, old and infirmed on my way into the mountains as both an act of mercy and a necessary undertaking to ensure they would not hunt me down when “turned” by zombification.

Oh my. That’s a bit extreme, no? He’s going to kill innocent unaffected people just because he expects they will get infected and he needs to fortify the area? What kind of horrible mentality is that? He concludes:

Some of you might find that a ghastly thing to admit. But that is what you need to do if you are to survive in a world dominated by zombies. You need to remove yourself from humanity. The fact that some of you disagree with that is why this genre of horror will be with us for a long time.

Well yes, it is those questions that keep this genre going but his terrible answer is precisely why we need to keep talking about this. This is a debate that needs to be had. We can’t kill people just to fortify ourselves. That’s Nazi-style eugenics. Being human means sharing humanity with the weakest of us.

I’ve heard it said that anyone suspected of contact with ebola should be locked up and quarantined and they can sue for their due process violations later. This is the same attitude that propels ideas of indefinite detention for suspected terrorists. Fear persuades us to allow oppressive action.

Blytheville Courier News: “The value of TV time” by Chris Pinkard:

I know a lot of people say that, but I really, really do. I know spending mass amounts of time in front of the boob-tube gets a bad wrap. It’ll rot your brain. It makes you antisocial. It gives you unrealistic expectations for life.

But TV has a number of advantages. First, it teaches critical thinking. Whether it’s whatever sitcom Fox is trying to sell or CBS’s latest crime drama or AMC’s stellar zombie hit “The Walking Dead,” TV, enough crumby TV, teaches you to look at the information presented in the first act and develop a theory for how the episode will progress.

He must be sort of kidding because he goes on to recommend “The Aquabats! Super Show!” but I guess maybe he can make an argument about how that show could actually inspire critical thinking. Still TV can be good for critical thinking but it’s not about the show it’s about how we watch it, it’s about the questions we ask of the text.

TV doesn’t teach critical thinking, neither do books, these texts are tools for thinking. Reading texts (and here I mean to include visual texts and other cinematic media), questioning these texts, and discussing them with other people, those are skills of critical thinking and through practice we bootstrap our abilities.

Critical thinking makes no accounting for taste. We are free to write that “Hamlet sucks …” as is the headline for Robert Speer’s review of a new Chico State production, “… and eats brains, too”, it’s a zombie Shakespeare mashup, “Living Dead in Denmark”:

What would Shakespeare think of Living Dead in Denmark, Qui Nguyen’s silly but fun mashup of characters from the Bard’s plays thrust into an apocalyptic zombie gore-fest?

He’d appreciate the concept, I’m sure, though someone would have to educate him about zombies. He knew about ghosts and witches, of course, but blood-sucking, brain-eating undead creatures would be new to him.

That said, “Shakespeare in the Bush” by Laura Bohannan suggests that Hamlet’s father’s ghost was a “zombis” because he had a physical form. Also, Laertes was in league with the witches. The essay describes the interpretation of the Hamlet story by African tribal elders in dialogue with the Bohannan:

“It was Hamlet’s dead father. It was a thing we call a ‘ghost.’” I had to use the English word, for unlike many of the neighboring tribes, these people didn’t believe in the survival after death of any individuating part of the personality.

“What is a ‘ghost?’ An omen?”

“No, a ‘ghost’ is someone who is dead but who walks around and can talk, and people can hear him and see him but not touch him.”

They objected. “One can touch zombis.”

“No, no! It was not a dead body the witches had animated to sacrifice and eat. No one else made Hamlet’s dead father walk. He did it himself.”

“Dead men can’t walk,” protested my audience as one man.

I was quite willing to compromise.

“A ‘ghost’ is the dead man’s shadow.”

But again they objected. “Dead men cast no shadows.”

“They do in my country,” I snapped.

The old man quelled the babble of disbelief that arose immediately and told me with that insincere, but courteous, agreement one extends to the fancies of the young, ignorant, and superstitious, “No doubt in your country the dead can also walk without being zombis.”

From the depths of his bag he produced a withered fragment of kola nut, bit off one end to show it wasn’t poisoned, and handed me the rest as a peace offering.

These kind of open debates and cross-talks are important for societal growth. It’s important that we continue to examine and reexamine the conventional narratives. It’s not that either side is right or wrong. There are multiple ways of interpreting a text. The value come from sharing the nut.

We cannot privilege our own understanding of the world, we cannot assume we are correct, and so we should not kill innocent people to fortify our protection. I do not share Harry Caines amoralism, but as a city dweller, I’ll surely be one of the dead. His perspective is both intriguing and repulsive. It is worth debating, it is worth trying to demonstrate that society is only as good as we treat the weakest of us. But that may leave us all a pack of zombies. Perhaps only the ruthless will survive, but then perhaps I’d rather be one of the dead.

And what of the animals? We cannot justify our killing them either. And yet people continue to try: “10 Reasons Why I’ll Never Be Vegan” by Lauren:

Food is complicated, but let’s start with the many aspects of a balanced diet on which everyone agrees – even the vegans and paleos! This includes:

Enjoy an abundance of freshly prepared vegetables
Minimized processed foods and instead cook meals from scratch
Eat mindfully and slowly
Source local, organic foods and support small farm

Let’s not just start there, let’s end there. Lauren goes on to provide 10 rationalizations for consuming animals. They are really interesting facts and I am sure many of them can maybe be debated, but in the interest of killing Crossfire, let’s focus on what she says we agree on. Because I think maybe most people don’t really agree on those things.

They may say they do in public, but in practice they don’t. So what if a TV show actually tried to argue representing those people’s unspoken desires. What if we stopped being so politically correct that we need to turn off the arguments and instead turned to arguments about the real debates people don’t vocalize.

We need shows like CrossFire, not to rerun the same party-line nonsense we already know but to explain debates we aren’t yet understanding. If “everyone agrees” why are we buying so much McDonalds? We have climate change deniers debating on TV, where are the nutrition deniers, or the butcher shop apologists? We need more arguments about more of our society, because the beauty of democracy is that never “everyone agrees” and we need argument to help us find the complications that might ultimately simplify this mess – we need texts to read together, sharing unpoisoned nuts. Together, such a simple idea yet so complicated.

Rice and beans and salad for my dinner, but ironically it’s the dog who refuses to eat unless I add some turkey to her already lamb based processed food, she’s the smart one, refuses to discuss it too.

Baltimore liquor zombie licenses

Luke Broadwater of the Baltimore Sun has been reporting on the extinguishing of zombie liquor licenses,

See “‘Tougher’ liquor board increases violations, closures” by Luke Broadwater and Yvonne Wenger:

In its first three months of action, a revamped liquor board — chaired by Thomas Ward, a tough-talking, 87-year-old former judge — already has found nearly 120 bars and liquor stores guilty of violations, significantly more than the previous board did in all of fiscal 2014.

Ward’s board has closed or revoked eight licenses, as many as in all of the last fiscal year. And the panel recently made a potentially precedent-setting ruling against so-called “zombie licenses,” which could jeopardize alcohol service at dozens of establishments across the city.

State law says that unused liquor licenses — which Witt and others have dubbed “zombie licenses” — are void after 180 days, but the previous board had allowed such licenses to stay valid if their owners paid their annual fees. McComas says his team has paid $1,300 a year for the license since 2009.

Moore, one of the new board members, says she realizes the decision on the Crossbar could have wide impact and marked a departure from past board rulings. A turning point for her view on so-called zombie licenses came when former state Sen. George Della explained the legislative intent behind the law.

And today, “City liquor board kills second ‘zombie’ license” by Luke Broadwater:

State law says that unused liquor licenses — which the Community Law Center and others have dubbed “zombie licenses” — are void after 180 days, but the liquor board for years had allowed such licenses to remain valid if their owners paid annual fees.

It sounds like this board is loving its power. The kind of fun Donald Trump must have when he says, “You’re Fired!”, so too this liquor board purging old rights to sell booze. Just another day killin’ zombies.

“This license is extinguished,” said Thomas Ward, the liquor board chairman.

“zombie economy” question in Delaware Senate debate

The coverage of Senate debates on CSPAN2 is really awesome. Right now on TV is yesterday’s Delaware Senate Debate between Senator Chris Coons (D) and Kevin Wade (R).

Lindsay Hoffman asked Kevin Wade about his use of the phrase “zombie economy“, he affirmed his sentiments but did not repeat the phrase.

Also in this debate, a balanced budget is described as a “unicorn” and the sequester as an “elephant”.

(Also the hashtag was #DEDebates - ded!)

some recent zombie lies

Yesterday writing about the ideas of the Millenial Dead, mentioned issues of veracity and authenticity. In this post let’s revisit zombie lies. Recall Paul Krugman has been using it for years and Bill Maher recently made it a repeated sketch on his HBO show, that I mentioned in ZombieLaw’s 1000th post.

Maher used the term again on his show last week to refer to trickle down economics and global warming. See Daily Beast: “Bill Maher: Yes, I Can Generalize About Muslims” by Marlow Stern:

I was like, “Really? We’re going to trot out that old canard?” We did a bit on the show where we talked about Republican zombie-lies—that when Republicans tell lies, they just never die. Take “trickle-down economics.” Even after it’s been disproven, it just continues to live! And it’s like, “Really? You’re just going to give me the zombie-lie on global warming?”

Last week Krugman rephrased his ideological definitions in Truth Out: “Conservatives Revive the Canadian Fantasy“:

Josh Barro tells us in a recent New York Times article that conservatives are once again touting Canada as a role model, in particular using the country’s experience in the 1990s to claim that austerity is expansionary after all.

I think this qualifies as a “cockroach” idea (“zombie” ideas just keep shambling along, whereas sometimes you think you’ve gotten rid of cockroaches, but they keep coming back). I thought we had disposed of all this four years ago. But nooooo.

That doesn’t strike me as all that different but ok, it’s a shift in the timescale of the awareness of the ongoing problem. Recall the connection of zombies to insects, and particularly cockroaches.

Meanwhile in Media Matter: “Fox News Uses Abu Khattala Indictment To Resurrect Benghazi Video Zombie Lie” by Ellie Sandmeyer. The humor of this article is that it claims to call out Fox News but also has the Streisand effect by propagating the Benghazi zombie connection. What role will Benghazi have in 2018? When will Hillary announce she’s running?

In US News: “No Means No (Even in Politics)” by Susan Milligan about politicians who keep getting asked if they’re running and say ‘no’ but keep getting asked.

All of this recalls the old “Saturday Night Live” sketch where John McCain, playing himself, rejects every possible version of that “are you running?” question – including whether he would run in the future against a zombie Jimmy Carter:

If this were sexual politics it would be a scandal. Consent is a big topic for feminism and the modern idea that only ‘Yes means Yes’ is at odds with a political reality where ‘No’ doesn’t always mean ‘No’. Politics is itself a practice of negotiation and skilled negotiators simply will not take ‘no’ for an answer. Recall also the “Cosplay is Not Consent” sign from NYCC. And with ebola, a concern of experimental medications for indigenous Africans has been whether there is really an informed consent across the cultures.

How can there ever be informed consent when we are surrounded by zombie lies. We never really know what we are saying Yes to until after it happens. Sometimes there is a fine line between “Getting to Yes” (book by William Ury and Roger Fisher) and date rape, just as there is a fine line between cockroaches and zombies, comedy and news, or a riot about a movie and a terrorist attack on U.S. territory. Are they lies or just subtle differences of scale and awareness?

Millenials Love the Dead

Apologies, this is a long post, but the media has been questioning why “Walking Dead” season 5 premiere had such ratings dominance this past Sunday. Here’s some thoughts, and thoughts of the Millenial Generation, writ large.

AVclub: “The Walking Dead broke ratings records again” by By Sean O’Neal:

This year the debut of the AMC’s show fifth season pulled in 17.3 million viewers, which is around a million more viewers than watched the fourth season premiere, the last time it was breaking records. Some 11 million of those were adults 18 to 49, giving it an 8.7 rating in that demo—and putting it in the running to be the most-watched television anything of the week.

E!online: “The Walking Dead Premiere Breaks Ratings Records—Again!” by Chris Harnick:

“It’s a Dead man’s party. Who could ask for more?” Charlie Collier, AMC president, said in a statement.

The Walking Dead is one of those increasingly rare shows today that can command a live audience not significantly cannibalized by time-shifted viewing. Who would have thought that cannibalized television could be curtailed by cannibal-ized television?”

Time: “Why The Walking Dead Is So Brutal–and So Popular” by James Poniewozik (with a really neat javascript that blurs spoilers):

Extreme is the new mainstream… It used to be, in TV, that you had mainstream entertainment and then you had edgy entertainment. Mainstream hits, generally, offered familiarity and security… The Walking Dead, on the other hand, is a nightmare–which millions of people want to visit every week. So what gives? I see a few factors:

* Nothing is really mainstream anymore. You have to look at any ratings story today in the context of shrinking audiences generally.

* The youngs love their zombies! … viewers under 50–also known as the chief reason advertisers pay money for ads

* America loves dark. … truly ugly stories of sadistic, often sexually charged violence that imply we all live in a sick, sad world filled with predators.

* These are dark times. … an apocalyptic drama lets us face the end of the world once a week and live.

* Authenticity pays off. .. I haven’t always loved The Walking Dead as a drama–its characters can be one-note, and its ambitions as a character drama can get lost amid the kill-quotient-of-the-week. But I will say this for it: it freaking commits. It’s dedicated to showing the raw implications of its premise, … In an age of extremes, no one wants to settle for half-measures.

In response to the Time article, in BloombergView: “Millennials Are Living ‘The Walking Dead’” by Stephen L. Carter:

The show is true. Not the zombie business, but the coming collapse of authority. She and her friends don’t believe that the government will able to protect them if great disaster strikes. That disaster will strike is a given. When it does, she said, young people will have to look out for themselves

The Time article says we live in a dark age, but the deeper truth is that we live in a frightened age. Even if one believes, as some do, that things are getting better — that it’s a combination of media hype and the availability heuristic that makes people fearful — the concerns are nevertheless real.

young people in particular.

fewer than one out of five millennials believes that other people can generally be trusted, according to the Pew Research Center. (For baby boomers, the figure is 40 percent.)

No faith in government, no optimism about the future, no trust in other people. That’s what we’ve bequeathed to the young. Record viewership for “The Walking Dead”? The only surprise is that the ratings aren’t higher still.

Speaking of Millennials consider the article in Vanity Fair: “Generation Wuss” by Bret Easton Ellis. Ellis is also writer of the movie “The Canyons” which I have said I think is a movie with significant zombie themes, and also the movie “American Psycho”. In the Vanity Fair piece, Ellis wrote:

my reaction stems from the fact that I am looking at Millenials from the POV of a member of one of the most pessimistic and ironic generations that has ever roamed the earth—Generation X

Oh Gen-X’s pessimistic irony. The idea of being upset at the loss of authority makes no sense to those who have made irony their authority. The zombies of “Walking Dead” are not ironic zombies. They are actual fucking zombies. This is the bravado of some Millenials, see in AsiaOne: “From zombies to demon possession” by Alison De Souza of The Straits Times:

Graphic novelist Robert Kirkman may be singlehandedly responsible for the zombie revival in popular culture

“I can be cocky,” says Kirkman,

Singlehandedly! Ha! Just like Mark Zuckerberg invented Facebook, right? It is the return of Great Man narratives, an insistence on a master narrative where individuals act to do great things. But it’s always more than one person, a wild collaboration of all sorts of conscious and unconscious conceptual blending. Some Millennials are able to displace the irony and demand self-validation. They are able to appear as if to create themselves. But others are easily less successful or more easily deflated. The same phenomenon that creates these amazing individuals makes what Ellis sees as wussy. That’s the contradiction that propelled Michael Cera’s early career. But it’s hard to keeping acting as one coherent individual in a world of so many overlapping old dead symbols.

Vulture: “Why Do People Watch The Walking Dead? Your Pressing TV Questions, Answered” by Margaret Lyons:

I cannot explain the popularity of The Walking Dead. I don’t get it at all.

Are people ultimately good? Does humanity crave society? What is the difference between consciousness and sentience?

if you tried it and it wasn’t for you, don’t feel compelled to take another look.

This is the attitude most people have towards those deep unanswerable questions of human nature. Some people enjoy indulging in these questions, others find them uncomfortable. And largely, people think it’s ok to ignore them if you don’t enjoy it. The zombie questions are for a cult academic audience only.

The Vulture article continues with answers to some other questions and the answer become somewhat related to zombies. One question is about the confusion of new media distribution models (see cable wars) and the difficulty finding shows on which service. The next question is about the limits of disbelief in watching unrealistic television:

Even if its entertaining, can you reconcile judging a show that basically purports to be realistic as great when it is totally unrealistic?

This is a common objection to zombie stories but Lyons points to how much non-reality some people are willing to accept in other TV drama:

I don’t think The Good Wife purports to be realistic about the practice of law, though, any more than in purports to be realistic about being set in Chicago when you can see the Empire State Building in the background and there are yellow cabs everywhere. It’s not that I don’t share your frustration — watching people with spaghetti arms do CPR on TV makes me want to cry into 10,000 Red Cross certifications — it’s just that so little of my enjoyment of shows relies on their ostensible veracity.

Is that applicable to other parts of real life too? Is truth and veracity not really as reliable as we may expect? Is there a better measure of reality? (consider zombie lies) Lyons continues:

Are there real emotions? Do people have coherent points of view — not ones you agree with or ones that are good necessarily, but consistent ones, at least? Do all the characters seem like they’re in the same world? Does it seem like the characters do things when they’re not onscreen? Do different characters have different voices, or do they all sound like variations on one writer? Does anyone make jokes?

Jokes are dangerous without a coherent frame of reference. Lyons concludes the Q&A article with a recommendation to watch one of the most wholesome zombie shows still around, suitable for all generations:

You seek Degrassi (sometimes known as Degrassi: The Next Generation). The show returns for its 14th season at the end of October, but there’s no real need to catch up on the previous hundreds of episodes.

Kirkman would suggest you check out his new show, see again the AsiaOne article cited above which quotes Robert Kirkman about future plans for a project about demons:

Zombies are not real and they’re never going to be real. But there is this phenomenon with demonic possession where there’s this huge number of people worldwide who actually believe this could be a real thing, and that makes it so much scarier and so much more tangible.

Haha, that’s funny that he said zombies aren’t real but demons could be. That’s smart marketing but what makes Kirkman think that? Has he sold his soul to a demon? Is that how he knows? Is that how he became the figurehead symbol of this cultural movement?

At 35 he is an elder Millenial or a baby Gen-X. It doesn’t matter. If zombies are not real then neither are generational differences. Except of course, zombies are real. Just like hippies, and freaks and geeks. Acclaimed psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi asked in 1968, in Modern Times: “Are Hippies Real?” He concluded that regardless Hippies would affect the future. In 1978, Russell Baker suggested the freak was being replaced by the zombie. And not long after, the Millenials started being born.

Still, the question of authenticity in any of group is difficult. Modern authors have to spend a lot of time in public playing the part of the author (consider George RR Martin for “Game of Thrones”). Their appearance adds authenticity to the product, they are as much writers are they are actors (also consider again Brett Easton Ellis and the all those of the Gen-X poser irony camp). Some people find a way to appear as if existing in a state of flow (another Csikszentmihalyi concept) but like access to a network stream, flow doesn’t come cheap (Faustian bargains are more expensive than Comcast). Is it any wonder that many Millenials enjoy Anonymous? Otherwise like Harvey Milk, GoT Dead?

got dead

Yet despite the appeal of Anon, we cannot deny that we are people in bodies with histories. See this piece in io9: “We Are All Living Among the Dead” by Annalee Newitz. Newitz is dealing with some personal grief but let’s consider her thoughts more metaphorically. She is writing about dead people but consider the dead as all the symbols of language that surround us, all the old memes, and all the ways of interpreting and reinterpreting the world, she writes:

The longer you live, the more likely it is that your everyday life is inhabited by the dead. You see an old friend, who died last week, disappearing into a crowd. You hear your father, dead last year, cracking jokes you once loved. It’s like a zombie movie, only more melancholy — and with fewer obvious ways to survive.

I think our fantasies of zombies and ghosts are ways of explaining this feeling, this sense that the dead are still out there broadcasting and walking around. Just because someone has died doesn’t mean they don’t continue to shape our lives.

If only it were as easy to dispatch my sadness as it is to shoot a zombie straight through the eyes.

Hey you, out there — please stay alive with me. There are no zombies to fight. We only have each other.


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