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kill them with fire – or why “zombie” blogging is dangerous

May 18, 2015

There’s a new strategy in the fight against zombie properties. Actually it’s not a new strategy at all. It’s probably one of the oldest real estate strategies in history, and it’s a classic way to kill zombies. Fire. Kill it with fire. And so when the zombies are run-down vacant buildings, we call that arson.

CBS6 reporting from Schenectady, NY: “Arrest made in string of fires“:

City leaders acknowledge that vacant buildings, or so-called “zombie properties” where some of these arsons were, are a problem and they say they are working to clean those properties up or tear them down.

Now it looks from the article like this 22 year old is just a crazy arsonist, likes to play with fire. Or maybe he’s just the fall guy. Maybe I’ve seen too many Batman cartoons but it really wouldn’t surprise me if some larger interest encouraged that arsonist. Now of course, I am (half-)kidding. Because it’s dangerous to think this way.

Words have effects. The things we say make other people feel stuff, and sometimes very differently than the speaker intended. I don’t intend to encourage anyone to burn down buildings. I think I would prefer the strategy in Huntington — use the existing blight laws. See Newsday: “Huntington officials work to resurrect zombie houses, other abandoned homes” by Deborah S. Morris.

And Huntington’s success only further makes me wonder why we need Schneiderman‘s legislation. All the news rhetoric has been about vacant abandoned houses that should be considered blight, and yet the law is about banks and foreclosures… I suspect there are a lot of houses in the grey area and the town doesn’t really want to blight the homes, it wants them repaired, occupied and paying taxes.

Anyway, all this political conjecture is sort of dangerous because this ZombieLaw blog has always been a mix between serious academic newsworthy information and satire. Some people really don’t like satire. It scares them to not know for certain what is true. For many people it seems that it may be scarier to be uncertain than to be lied to. However, false information is also scary and I do try not to be false…. still there is a very real danger of playing into the very media politics I am trying to criticize. Truth becomes a zombie.

Part of why my hiatus lasted so long is that the Charlie Hebdo incident scared me. The first post that started this ZombieLaw blog was about “zombie Mohammed“. A recent headline at Ars is about a blogger being hacked to death (haha at the pun: he’s a blogger being “hacked” … with a machete!). Now, I don’t think anything I’m writing should get me killed but hey, ya never know who I’m pissing off. This whole ZombieLaw activity is sort of an OCD hobby of collecting zombie references, and sometimes that OCD-mentality makes it difficult for me to write at all. I really can’t control what people think after reading. So, this blog only exists when I can suppress that fear and just click publish anyway. Every time I click ‘publish’ it’s sort of like saying ‘fuck it all’. On the one hand, really, who cares what I write on the internet, it’s just another byte on the crap pile.

On the other hand, see, KDVR: “Denver woman wants apology after judge acquits her of lying to police“:

“I think they retaliate on anybody who speaks up, anybody who stands up for their civil rights,” said Lebrun, referring to Denver Police and the City Attorney’s office. Her legal nightmare began October 18th, when she became separated from a friend during Denver’s annual Zombie Crawl downtown
… Her attorney, Siddhartha Rathod argued, “Ms. Lebrun was charged because she complained about the conduct of Denver Police and they wanted to silence her.”

Yes, speaking is dangerous these days.

There is another more important danger, a new study reported in Journal of Applied Communication Research by researchers Julia Daisy Fraustino and Liang Ma about the “Use of Social Media and Humor in a Risk Campaign” (h/t NewsWire). The researchers reexamined the CDC zombie apocalypse emergency preparedness media campaign and studied the

benefits and pitfalls of using social media and humorous messaging for risk communication. Findings show social media can quickly spread information to new publics for minimal costs; however, experiment participants who received the humorous (i.e., zombie) risk message reported significantly weaker intentions to take protective actions in comparison to those who received the traditional, non-humorous risk message.

The researchers conclude:

Ultimately, this research found that the CDC’s zombie-preparedness campaign, while vastly increasing emergency-preparedness message exposure and deemed effective by campaign management, may have decreased publics’ intentions to take any of a host of preparedness actions or even to seek additional information. So, perhaps zombies have overtaken not only pop culture but also publics’ intent to prepare for a zombie apocalypse—or any emergency.

The word “zombie” helps spread the controversy but it doesn’t really help focus the problem or help us understand if any particular position is correct, worse it may lead to inaction. Nevertheless, the humorous juxtaposition of metaphors helps spread the message, so we are constantly exposed to zombie symbols in a big conceptual blender, buy much of it is deathly serious.

It’s sort of like Amanda Knox singing the Cranberries song “Zombie” in NYC (via TMZ): “Amanda Knox — Killing It At Karaoke“. Spreading celebrity and blurring meaning to keep her name alive in cultural consciousness. It doesn’t tell me one bit about what to think of her or what she may have done or didn’t do, and then by my commenting on it, I am unavoidably doing the same, spreading her meme, drawing attention away from other potential ideas. Like meanwhile, in the Irish Mirror, the actual: “Cranberries singer Dolores O’Riordan to face ‘air rage’ charges” in Ireland after landing on a flight from NYC. Is NYC zombie central?

Recall some old ZombieLaw posts from last year: “In Defense of Satire” and “Rebel Art“. There is a real value in trying to comprehend truth through alternative lenses. Many of the issues associated with zombies are very serious real issues. Hackers and identity security, guns, meat-eating, animal consciousness, the history of slavery, cultural appropriation, psychological impairments, Social Security, memory loss, climate change, ebola and global capitalism, and that’s just off the top of my head. There are lots of other issues that are of insanely serious concerns for the future of the anthropocene. We need to spread awareness and humor can do that, but it also threatens to weaken the importance of our cause, not to mention seriously offend some people (to the risk they might kill us for saying so).

What choice do we have? Do we sit silent. No. It’s funny. We must laugh. People will want to know what we’re laughing about. And they will laugh with us, and then we can all cry together, before we die together.

I hope you don’t think this makes zombie foreclosures or arson or blogger deaths or NYC or the philosophical difficulty of truth any less serious. It’s all funny but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do something about it. It’s not just a zombie, it’s somebody’s home. We can prepare for disasters. We can help save the community. See this message from Norwell Fire Department: “FIRE BLOG: Preparing for a zombie apocalypse could save your life” by Capt. Jeff Simpson

Or maybe it’s all just promotion. There’s Zombie Burger in Illinois using the “Human Centipede” to comic effect to sell the human consumption of animal flesh. Des Moines Register: “Look at Zombie Burger’s Human Centipede creation“. The cartoon South Park also used the human centipede idea, I actually thought it was a South Park original idea (“HUMANCENTiPAD“) but no, it’s a whole horror movie franchise “Human Centipede” with the third installment coming out next week, May 22. Human centipede gives whole new meaning to middle class, and to the entire capitalist food chain. Eat shit and pass it on. It’s part of social (media) contract.

Zombies, all of us, playin’ with fire, gun’ get burned. Livin’ in glass zombie houses, gotta put down the rock, gotta live together in this community, gotta make sure the place is safe for everyone, for the kids too, but there’s just no denying that the world’s become a human-shit-chain of zombie debts … we need to fix that.

  1. I was looking for some information on zombie foreclosures to read over lunch today when I came across your website.

    So. Many. Zombie posts!

    I actually just published a modern infographic about zombie foreclosures you would get a kick out of. The link should be in my name.



Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. NY Zombie properties update | zombielaw
  2. Judge Kopf admits he looks zombie – and the rest of the Federal Judiciary? | zombielaw

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