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Future for Zombies

December 9, 2012

In case you thought it was just the Heritage Foundation in love with zombies, see this INC magazine interview with Jamais Cascio, fellow at the Institute for the Future, a spin-off of RAND Corporation, in “Artificial Intelligence Is In, Zombies Are Out” by Adam Bluestein.

Personally I think Cascio’s opinions (as expressed in Bluestein’s article) are totally wrong. First, it’s a false dichotomy, artificial intelligence is what is begetting the interest in zombies. They are two sides of the same coin, we are zombies in part because the world is integrating more A.I. technology but we are still merely meat. Zombie rhetoric helps explain the experience of humanity that is no longer human because to be fully human in modern social context now requires technological mediation. Recall my recent post about zombie theory as the inverse of cyborg anthropology

we are borg

Cascio expects we’ll see an upsurge in the more optimistic future-visions like Star Trek. Except note that the Star Trek franchise is itself only getting darker (the upcoming movie is subtitled ‘Into Darkness‘) and Star Trek was never all that optimistic as it gets credit for; sure Earth’s internal politics are mostly resolved but they are still a military-structured-expedition-force constantly encountering violent political problems.

The RAND Corporation is associated with promoting military and weapons systems and this ethos seems clear in Cascio’s analysis for Institute for the Future. Note that in arguing against zombies, Cascio still helps to perpetuate the meme; and his concept map directly implicates cyborgs. This is a battle for the definition of humanity in a time of tremendous technological change.

See also in Advertising Age, Brian Steinberg thinks “Walking Dead” success will have increasing influence on programming from the major TV networks. In “Have AMC’s Zombies Already Eaten TV?” he envisions network programmers struggling to recapture the youth demographic and tempted to increase violence and depressive story plots with apocalyptic themes. He’s skeptical about the networks’ ability to compete in this traditionally off-limits market but his analysis implies it is already fait accompli.

These conflicting arguments can play into each other because if the networks push further in the zombie market they could easily make these themes overplayed and uncool. But the zombie characters are not just a recent fad, they are a growing force and the world is only starting to take notice. Zombies aren’t just characters on a TV show, they are becoming an important part of the language of conceiving human experience.

Steven McKenzie in BBC Scotland writes “Everybody’s shuffling: Rise of zombies in modern life“, ending with a quote: “The genre needs to find some new life and new ideas, or end up (un)dead itself.” But isn’t that point… Zombies are not new characters, and though their popularity is peaking, they don’t show signs of fading.

And finally, “9 Reasons Republicans Love The Walking Dead” by Paul Ollinger in HuffPo.

1. Limited Government
2. Free Markets
3. Low Taxes
4. Zombies as a Metaphor for Illegal Immigrants
5. No gun control
6. Public Employee Unions Rendered Powerless
7. Korean Cars that are Made in America
8. De Facto End to Roe v. Wade
9. Life-or-Death Context Eliminates Need for Nuance in the Political Discourse

But before you assume that it’s just conservatives pushing zombies, consider that all the people writing about that are not themselves conservatives, and again note that arguing against being a zombie helps perpetuate the idea that zombies exist.

Recall for example Conservative Zombie Apocalypse @nytimes and Conservatives think Obama supporter are zombies. But also that old chestnut from Bob Hope that Democrats are the zombies and more recently Democratic Party Like a Soulless Zombie.

The interest in buzz-word non-nuanced political discourse is bipartisan.

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