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Flashback to 1978, when the freaks became robot zombies (the day after Harvey Milk was shot)

June 5, 2012

November 28, 1978, “The Zombie Gives His Mind to Someone Else” by Pulitzer Prize winner Russell Baker writing from New York published as syndicated in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune:

Since the 1960s we have come to regard the freak as the characteristic human aberration of our time. Now the macabre events in Guyana raise the question of whether the freak is being replaced by the zombie.

The freak was (and still is) the person who had turned individuality into a social excess. He did his own thing with such single-minded intensity that it occasionally made individualism look like a new branch of insanity. Extreme “peace freaks” of the ’60s because known as “crazies.”

To the true freak, doing your own thing meant doing it with a passion that set you apart from humdrum mass society, a vast clump of drones who submerged their individuality in the tepid waters of social convention. The freaks celebrated ego at the expense of everything else — social order, family relationships and, as in the case of drug freaks, even the celebrant’s body and mind.

Baker goes on to explain how “Moneyed Freaks” and the “me generation” led to “freaks watered down for mass consumption”. Then suggests that zombies are freaks that use their “bizarre intensity” for someone else, including cults like Jonestown (the Guyana reference above, the Massacre was just 10 days prior) and the Manson family (the Helter Skelter murders were about 10 years prior). And also that becoming zombie is like “becoming robot” (recall Donna Haraway, cyborg theory):

The zombie hungers for a master and as we now know, will beg, toil, get divorced or sterilized, murder and even commit suicide at the master’s command.

Baker suggests it is related to “feeling part of a strong family dominated by a powerful father” and also suggests the similarity to people “entering nursing homes”. I would add those applying to colleges and grad schools. Also:

Often people who submit to these masters are said to be “programmed,” a computer term suggesting that the disciple has been reduced to a human machine at the disposal of its operator. The next of kin frequently seize their loved ones from the programmer’s clutches and try to submit them to “deprogramming”.

Kidnapping trials frequently ensue. Almost invariably the courts find against the distressed parents and relatives. Most of the zombies are, after all, beyond the age of consent. If they choose to do a master’s thing instead of their own, the law would be tyrannical that forbade them to choose life under tyranny.

Baker refers to “Outside and Anti” classes and asks:

Is it possible that the freak and the zombie are essentially the same person? Both are people who break the social contract in seach of some impossible hope for a fulfillment such as ordinary people never know. To be sure, one exalts his ego while the other abandons it completely. But both find it intolerable to accept the terms of the traditional social compact.

He concludes:

Both are antisocial. Some among both freaks and zombies, are dangerous.

And this is 20 years before the Matrix movies 🙂

Incidentally, the very next page of the same newspaper has a great picture of San Francisco Mayor Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk, they had been shot and killed the day before (Nov 27, 1978). That assassination story is on the front page of the paper too, but leads with a picture of the killer Councilman Dan White.

1978 sarasota herald tribune milk

I’m pretty sure the article was originally published in the Observer column in the New York Time Sunday Magazine as “Hunger for Masters” and so it was originally published before the shooting but appears synchronously in this syndication. Baker won his first Pulitzer Prize for his work on this weekly column and his second three years later for his autobiography.

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