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ebola is metaphor for zombies

October 23, 2014

US News: “Get Your Ebola Groove On” by Steven Nelson:

“Ebola definitely has the ‘it’ factor for scary disease. It comes from scary dark Africa, monkeys are involved and blood comes out of your eyes. Only an actual zombie outbreak could be ‘hotter.’”

Ebola has all the media thinking zombies. And commentary from the major players:

Reuters: “Is Ebola the real ‘World War Z?’ (Spoiler alert: It’s not)” by Max Brooks … yes that Max Brooks, as in World War Z author and son of mega-producer and comedian Mel Brooks:

In my book, the main reason that the zombie virus spread out of control was because the industrialized world did not want to be inconvenienced.

Washington Post: “Surprise: Americans are confident in government’s ability to handle Ebola” by Paul Waldman:

as much as Republicans have been arguing that everything is spinning out of control and the government isn’t protecting us from a deadly disease that might just bring about a zombie apocalypse, it turns out that the public isn’t going quite as crazy as you might think.

Contrast, zombie international politics scholar Dan Drezner, also writing for Washington Post: “Yes, Ebola is pretty much following the standard zombie scenario” by Dan Drezner. This kind of outbreak scenario has been exactly what he has always been writing about:

after discussing the effects of domestic and bureaucratic politics on counter-zombie responses, I closed with the following rueful paragraph:

There is a tragic irony to these predictions and recommendations. Recall the discussion of how domestic politics would affect counterzombie policies: government institutions would be able to act in an unconstrained manner at first, but politics would impose a stronger constraint over time. The organizational perspective offers the reverse narrative — bureaucratic competency will improve over time. If both domestic political pressures and bureaucratic politics play a role in affecting government policies, their combined effect could be doubly disastrous. Government agencies would have the most autonomy when they are most likely to make bad decisions. By the time these bureaucracies adapted to new zombie exigencies, they would face political hurdles that could hamper their performance.

This is exactly what’s been happening over the past month.

This exposes the difference between the zombies of Brooks and Drezner. Drezner’s are real zombies to the extent that it is a real world and ebola containment is the same concept as zombie containment. Sure, the vectors are different, as they would be different for swine flu or some other new outbreak. But the idea of Drezner’s hypothetical has always been to educate and explore ideas for real world scenarios just like this. In contrast, Brooks is an entertainer. He is interested in survivalist training but his zombies have always been fiction and a sort of deadpan comedy. For disaster preppers, their preparations are for a world without government, off the grid, taking care of oneself. Public health responses contrast with ideas of survivalist self-reliance. Who is best to fight invisible and imaginary enemies, individual survivalists or political institutions?

CSUsignal: “Ebola-pocalypse: Panic in US is justified” by Brandi Pettes:

All that time you spent creating a fool-proof survival plan for a zombie apocalypse may not go to waste. Rather than protecting yourself from a sluggish undead human being trying to bite you, you’ll need to protect yourself from Ebola.

Yes, but the preparations might be rather different, cue sales of biomedical suits, less need to learn to shoot for the head and more need to remember to watch hands, learn not to touch your eyes. But who knows what to believe, the biggest viral pattern is the memes. Consider New Yorker: “Man Infected with Ebola Misinformation Through Casual Contact With Cable News” by Andy Borowitz.

And from The Conversation: “#Ebola in the USA: don’t trust what you read on Twitter“:

Whatever you do, don’t turn to Twitter for news about Ebola. The volume and tone of tweets and retweets about the disease will make you wish you were watching the zombie apocalypse of The Walking Dead instead. It is much less scary.

But at KPBS: “Zombies Versus Real Science: Which Is Scarier?” by Beth Accomando, Nicholas McVicker, reminds the value of zombie metaphors in quality neuroscience education, again plugging the recent efforts of Prof. Bradley Voytek:

Voytek’s enthusiasm and ability to engage an audience are clear. As a neuroscientist and a member of the Zombie Research Society he’s devoted to applying science to the zombie brain, which makes perfect sense to a zombie enthusiast like me.

KRDO: “Ebola may have scared stock market” by Emily Allen:

KRDO medical expert Dr. John Torres said the stock market’s symptoms should stabilize. “Now that people are able to take a step back and take a breath and say, ‘OK, it’s not as bad as we thought it was, this was not the zombie apocalypse we were thinking about, this is something that is very isolated, hard to get, and we are actually taking good control of it, I think we are going to be OK,” said Torres.

A medical expert evaluating the stock market? Makes perfect sense, because illness is not metaphor, it’s literal. The economy is literally alive, like a giant organism that lives with us inside it in a symbiotic relations (like the bacteria in our gut). Right?

OK so, ebola is a real literal virus but it is also a symbol of globalism’s instability. And yes, zombie is literally only a metaphor but in that way it is real as symbol. This is how my stance on zombies differs from Brooks and Drezner. I believe that for both of these esteemed scholars zombies are not real. For Brooks, he discusses zombies as pure fiction, drama, comedy, action, a good motivation for learning to survive, but fiction. For Drezner, zombies are hypothetical to be applied to real world political structures for analysis of those structures. Drezner uses zombies as a foil to explore the institutional structures of world politics. In contrast to both of these, my zombies here at ZombieLaw have been different. My zombie are not hypothetical, not fictional, they are literally printed words from real publications by real journalist and scholars using this word over and over and over again.

Perhaps, metaphor is illness. At first I resisted the ebola, it was too literal for my tastes. Eventually it was unavoidable. The stylized visual gore of Romero-stle Walking Dead zombies is too similar to ebola to avoid the connections. The ebola memes have taken hold and are working to shift through zombie’s popularity and shifting political conversations about money for homeland security, Africa, and trust in government, among other topics. Hey zombies, shake the donation buckets, it’s under two weeks til election, and start of the holiday season; rev up the fear-tactics, to inspire renewed faith in public health paternalism and rampant consumerism.

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