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“zombie mode”?

June 11, 2014

Last week the team captain of the L.A. Kings hockey team was quoted by the Associated Press: “LA Kings thriving in captain’s “zombie mode”” by Greg Beacham:

Dustin Brown used a delicious phrase last week to describe the Los Angeles Kings’ seemingly inexorable march through the Stanley Cup playoffs, outworking and outlasting every opponent in their path. According to their captain, the Kings have been in “zombie mode” while they chewed through the San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks and Chicago Blackhawks in three consecutive seven-game series, never getting more than 72 hours of rest between games for seven grueling weeks.

The article calls it a “brainy comparison” and

It takes a heaping helping of brainpower to play in zombie mode, and the Kings have it.

Game Four of the Stanley Cup in about an hour, is about to be a sweep on “zombie mode”? NYTimes says: “Back Home, Rangers Seem Lost
L.A. Kings Take 3-0 Lead in N.H.L. Finals
” by Jeff Z. Klein.

So ok, it seems “zombie mode” about not getting enough sleep and powering through it against the odds. But there are many others using the phrase (including in Federal Court, see below). Of course there’s a meaning from the video games that use this phrase to refer to mods that change the characters to zombies (like in Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto) but the word has also entered the vocabulary like “zombie-like”.

Sarah Kaufmann at Cyclingnews: “A day in the life at Singletrack Summer Camp” uses the phrase in a similar way as the hockey captain:

we are through five days of racing, I think most of us are in full-on stage-race-zombie mode

But in ChronicleLive: “Rapist Hassan Akhtar and accomplice who set up attacks on teen get 21 years in prison” by Rob Kennedy:

Muriel Coleman facilitated repeated rapes on the girl after falling more than £1,000 behind on her rent, which she owed to [the rapist’s] uncle … [Coleman] claimed she was in “zombie mode” when she took part in the sickening offences.

So that’s not tired from lack of sleep or physical exertion, it’s a sort of desperation from lack of money leading to a horrible moral lapse.

In Florida, at WFTV: “38-foot boat washes ashore in New Smyrna after engine failure“:

“He is completely devastated,” said Patti Mastric, the owner’s mother. “He is just kind of like in zombie mode right now. He’s in shock. It’s just, just really hard for him.”

So that’s a sort of traumatic experience, but also a financial nightmare, the boat’s owner has lost his home and is now responsible to salvage the boat or find someone to do it :

“Crazy. Sad. Unfortunate,” said surfer Brett Swaim. “It’s always sad to see a boat go down, you know.”

Over at the Globe and Mail, it’s the bond markets: “Bond market enters ‘zombie’ mode” by Gordon Pape — but in Furniture Today, it’s retail markets, “Retailers in zombie mode need empowerment shot” David Perry:

Retail is dead … [Giagnocavo] talked about his new book, which offers strategies for retailers to “snap out of zombie mode, resurrect profits and bring clients back to life.”
… too many mattress retailers today are in “zombie mode.” They are more interested in getting co-op dollars from their manufacturer partners than in learning how to improve their businesses.

Mattresses, so that’s a sleep metaphor, but here also the idea is to wake from the “zombie mode” by better marketing.

Meanwhile in Indian politics, an echo of my previous post on government inaction, from ThoughtLeader: “The cult of representation” by Shafinaaz Hassim:

The truly fascinating and engaging aspect of being part of a democracy, is the ability to tease, convert or overhaul the status quo for the sake of requisite representation if the electorate deems it necessary. Yes, even when the electorate is said to be largely on zombie mode.

Speaking of democrazy, the November midterms are coming and what’s even more fascinating then the uses of “zombie mode” is the Google Trend for this phrase – particularly interesting because all three of the peaks were in Novembers of recent big election years!

The first major jump for the phrase was in November 2008, then even bigger jump in November 2010 and then again November 2012! Will it peak again this November? Notice also that the trend for the word “zombie” alone has peaked somewhat consistently in the month of October (aligning with Halloween). Why does the google trend for “zombie mode” peak in alternating Novembers?? Does that match the timing of some zombie mode video game release marketing or could it have been the elections?

The most frequent cities currently searching for “zombie mode” are French cities. Is it “mode” like “a la mode”, like the blog site “The Daily Zombie“, “Daily Zombies” or “Daily Dead“? And if we are in French, perhaps we should notice Urban Dictionary’s definition number 5:

After great entercourse when a male climaxes ultimately resulting in him becoming in a zombie like state, and temporarily not being able to comprehend simple task after entercourse.

“Entercourse”? It’s sounds like how a French might say entree course. Oh the French and their jouissance.

Circle back to Beacham’s AP article, referring to the L.A. King’s “zombie mode” as a “delicious phrase”. The ‘zombie mode’ is perhaps somehow seemingly enjoyable? The athletes overcoming their bodies, the rapist-accomplice dissociating her morality, the boat bashed against the shore, the bond market, the sleep trade, it’s that rush of adrenaline, that thrill of survival in the fight to keep going beyond limitation, and the loss of self in that moment. Recall Griffin Wilson wants to be a zombie in Chuck Palahniuk’s story in Playboy

But ya know what’s really sexy, Federal Courts!

There is one “zombie mode” in U.S. case law, from the Federal Court in the Northern District of Ohio, last year on a Social Security case:


Case No. 1:12 CV 01087
2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 55662

Decided April 1, 2013 by U.S. Magistrate Judge Vernelis K. Armstrong:

Plaintiff testified that while taking Zyprexa®, she experienced persistent symptoms of hallucinations, mood swings, and “being in zombie mode,” which she described as a state of being “stuck,” or “pausing” and “coming in and out.”


the Magistrate recommends that the Court affirm the Commissioner’s decision denying SSI and DIB benefits

Without having much knowledge of social security or reading the facts of this case closely, this does seem a humorously appropriate conclusion as the standard response of the Federal Court on “zombie mode”.

Reading the opinion a little closer, there is some other subtle implications for “zombie mode”. This particular Plaintiff has some history with drugs. This substantially complicates the psychological analysis. Medical understandings of drug addiction and self-medication are poorly understood and Social Security policy is still on zombie mode with regard to better ways to understand the complexity here.

This opinion becomes something of a pro forma ‘zombie mode’ rejection of a poor persons requesting help from the court in obtaining public assistance. The Social Security agency denied it and the court doesn’t just reopen the whole thing. And so the Plaintiff’s lawyers are asking for all their possible zombie arguments on everything as if drafted on zombie mode.

Notice for example, the Plaintiff contends that the ALJ errored by not indicating the weight given to the opinion of a treating source psychiatrist, but then the Court notes that the ALJ “specifically discredited his opinion”. It’s like maybe everyone is just going through the motions. The ALJ wrote:

Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: schizoaffective disorder; asthma, PCP and alcohol dependence disorder in remission … not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C. F. R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C. F. R. 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).

… I find that the Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels, but is limited to performing simple, routine work in a relatively static environment, can tolerate only limited contact with others including the general public, and cannot work in fast-past production environments. Furthermore, the Plaintiff must avoid exposure to irritants such as fumes, dust, odors, gases and poorly ventilated areas. …capable of performing past relevant work as a groundskeeper.

BUT WAIT – there’s another case worth looking at, not “zombie mode” but close enough:

Russell v. Astrue, 1:05-cv-01382 JMD, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 96806; 123 Soc. Sec. Rep. Service 556, October 16, 2007, Decided, Appeal after remand at, Decision reached on appeal by Russell v. Astrue, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 48109 (E.D. Cal., Apr. 26, 2011).

In the 2007 case, Magistrate Judge John M. Dixon remanded the case to Social Security after writing:

She will have anxiety attacks about three or four times in a month. AR 298. With the medication, they can go away within 30 minutes, but she is “nothing” after the medication. AR 298-299. She is “almost in a zombie type of mode.” AR 299. If she is at a job, she cannot take that land of medication because she would not be able to function. AR 299.

The case returned to the Court decided in 2011 by opinion of Magistrate Judge Sandra M. Snyder affirmed the eventual Social Security determination;

Plaintiff testified that she left her job at Walmart in April 2001 due to “anxiety attacks and the high risk pregnancy.” (Her youngest child was born in September 2001.) She experienced three or four anxiety attacks a month depending on her mood, location, or activity. Riding on the freeway gave her anxiety attacks. Her medication relieved the anxiety within thirty minutes but left her “almost in a zombie type of mode.” Plaintiff repeatedly asserted that because the medication that relieved her anxiety left her nauseated, dizzy, and sleepy, she was unable to work. She also quit her job because her panic attacks gave her diarrhea, which was overwhelming in view of her limited breaks on the job.

Another person denied.

Congress has provided a limited scope of judicial review of the Commissioner’s decision to deny benefits under the Act.


To paraphrase Fair, an ALJ cannot be required to believe every claimant’s otherwise unsupported allegation of disabling depression or anxiety, lest disability benefits be available for the asking, a result plainly contrary to 42 U.S.C. § 423 (d)(5)(A). Cf. 885 F.2d at 603.

I guess that would be zombie mode.


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