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Offbeat – 19 July 2013

There’s a strong sociological and psychological underpinning in the complexity of post-millennial existence. Most of humanity’s existence has been defined by groups in which the individual finds belonging. What happens if the group becomes too large, or if the sub-group, the small group of friends in which the individual belongs, is subsumed by the vast mass of humanity around it?


I got hold of the book ‘World War Z’ the other day, and gave it a read, in advance of the movie. I’m not a huge fan of zombie lit. I’d rank them just a step above those sedated kiddies in Twilight. What I read surprised and gripped me.
It was, as the book blurb says, an oral history of the zombie war. The author, Max Brooks, interviews fictional characters about various aspects of a notional zombie war. The items are well researched. He put a lot of trouble into that. It’s a thought-provoking thing.
For those of you who haven’t read the new zombie lit, not the African and Haitian derived stuff, the premise of the stories is almost always the same. A mysterious plague causes the dead to come to life again, and the living who are bitten, to be infected, die and come to life as well. What follows is a tale of survival against the odds.
There’s a strong sociological and psychological underpinning in the complexity of post-millennial existence. Most of humanity’s existence has been defined by groups in which the individual finds belonging. What happens if the group becomes too large, or if the sub-group, the small group of friends in which the individual belongs, is subsumed by the vast mass of humanity around it?
If the individual or smaller group feels no connection to the larger group, or is marginalised, it is very easy to imagine the sense of alienation. It is also quite possible for hostility to develop if the larger group overrides the needs of the individual.
The new zombie lit is some kind of wish fulfillment: me and my buddies surviving in a world that treats us as food or wants to turn us into one of them.
I’m not sure why I dislike zombie lit, other than the fact that most of the stuff I have read has been badly written and extremely repetitive.
What World War Z does is it uses a sweeping brush to present a bigger picture of a global apocalypse. I don’t know how I will process the film, if I ever see it. The only way I can imagine it is a BBC mockumentary mini-series narrated by someone like David Attenborough or James Burke. Sometimes it’s better to see the movie, then read the book. I have a suspicion this will be true in this case.
One of the most engrossing things about the book is the detailed descriptions of social chaos, deprivation and, particularly, some brutal tactical decisions that squander the lives of hundreds of millions in an effort to save a core of humanity. In addition to that there is a fundamental reorganisation of economic systems and resources. In a post-apocalyptic scenario, for instance, an advertising executive can better be put to work planting vegetables.
The idea of a disease which transforms people into living dead is not likely, but there are various pointers to a future that might not be entirely dissimilar to World War Z.
On the topic of disease, there is the fact that humanity is far more concentrated than before, so the trajectories of new and interesting disease become far more threatening. That’s one threat. There are others. Climate change will force large parts of humanity to begin moving. So will famine.
Once a sufficient mass is achieved, these refugees will become similar to zombies in many ways. They will consume whatever they can. They will stop at nothing to get the resources they need.
As I read the book various thoughts went through my mind. Geopolitically, nations are preparing for the worst, closing off their borders and finding ways to restrict entry. Disaster planning is being put in place. The CDC publication on zombies was reportedly published to prepare people for natural and weather disasters. I somehow doubt that was the only thing on the minds of the authors.
The UK Royal Society got in on the action as well, with a treatise on the survival of civilisation in the face of the changing environment. It seems that they have their fears as well.
The apocalypse may be shambling towards us, but it is not the living dead: it is just folks looking for ways to survive.

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