Tuesday, May 14, 2013

GUEST BLOGGER POST: Zombie Apocalypse Now by Abbie Normal

Zombie Apocalypse Now

The Zombie Apocalypse has begun.

“Hold on!” you say. “I don’t see hoards of zombies wandering the streets, trying to eat me or turning me into one of them with a bite!”

Well, let’s take a look at just exactly what a zombie is.

The dictionary will tell you that a zombie is a reanimated corpse, whose origins are in Haiti and West Africa. This is the part of the world where “Voodoo” originated and made its way to Louisiana. The word is also related to a snake deity, a fetish (god) called “Kikongo Zumbi”. Also, a ‘Zombie’ is a tall mixed drink consisting of several kinds of rum, liqueur, and fruit juice which, I must admit, sounds delicious.

This is not the kind of zombie that we have come to know-and-love in our U.S. of A. and not the kind of zombie I’m talking about here. Our popular culture has developed the notion of the zombie as a person who has been infected with something that kills them, until they get up again and start moaning and biting everything. They are dead in the sense that all higher reasoning has ceased and their basic bodily functions have ended. So, no choice, no heartbeat, no lung, kidney nor liver function, but in some mysterious way (that is contagious) their lower brain and spinal columns have reanimated their limbs to propel them to attain nourishment which their bodies don’t need since they are post-mortem. The lower brain’s instincts compel our zombies’ bodies to consume needlessly and mindlessly.

Remind you of anyone you know?

The popular zombie has replaced most of our monsters such as the Werewolf, the Vampire, and the Alien. A myriad of variations on the zombie theme have been the central focus of many movies and TV shows. Nationally, people have organized ‘Zombie Walks’ and even the CDC has recently used the zombie apocalypse as a matrix to demonstrate how to respond to a pandemic or devastating natural disaster. Zombies are at once, scary and fascinating to us.

The scary part is obvious; they’re hopelessly dead, decaying, and they want to eat you. If they don’t eat you, their bite will turn you into one of them… just wandering, decaying, unthinking, and hungry. The fascination with and elaboration on the zombie motif is of more subtle importance, but I’ll come back to that after I make the argument that you are in fact, a zombie.

Firstly, you are a zombie because you should be dead. If you’re reading this, then you have likely been vaccinated or suffered an illness in your lifetime which would have likely resulted in your death were it not for the current state of medical science and basic sanitation. Medical science has inoculated you but it has also taught you to wash your hands with soap and water, and to cover your mouth when you cough. Such basic sanitation is the single greatest boon to human survival and propagation that the world has yet seen. That your body didn’t at some point actually suffer real death is irrelevant. You are re-animated in some way; something, somewhere, somehow, would’ve otherwise shut your little life down but yet here you are, and so you qualify as the living dead.

Secondly, you are a zombie because you crave that which you do not need. Addicts don’t need Heroin, Crack, nor Booze. Fat people and cops don’t need doughnuts, Gamblers don’t need Blackjack, and as horny as you may be, you do not need porn. Even though you may not crave any of the above, the fact remains that all you need is drinking water, nourishment, shelter, and a social group to cooperate with in order to secure such things. Drinking water doesn’t need plastic bottles, nourishment doesn’t need genetic modification, shelter doesn’t need a mortgage, and social cooperation doesn’t need ‘American Idol’. You may not crave drugs, nor fat, nor porn to get you through the day, but you do need whatever it takes to make that mortgage or rent payment on time. That shelter you make payments on, enables everything and anything else. Participation in debt, addiction, and pop culture makes you a mindless consumer.

Thirdly, you are a zombie because you have no higher reasoning. You are incapable of real joy, fear, love, nor hate, and you have abandoned both doubt and faith. You are cranky and absent until you get your first cup of coffee, your first cigarette, your first happy pill, your first drink, your first bong hit… your first fix. From there, you continue to self-medicate throughout the day. Without these, who’s to say who you really are, and what sorts of decisions you might truly make? If you have any higher reasoning left after you’re properly drugged, it is exposed relentlessly to commercial imagery, which further serve to marginalize whatever individual creativity and higher reasoning is left. So here you are, living the sad life you never imagined you would live. Your dreams of youth have been subsumed to the demands of bills. Before bed, you look in the mirror and lament your age. In the morning, you fight the crowds in order to stand in line for your coffee, then flip through a ‘People’ magazine which informs you of exactly who is more attractive than you and reinforces how shallow and worthless you are… especially since you still can’t afford that new Be-Am-Double-You that you always wanted. Every last emotion and thought you have left is channelled into an ever-changing mist of egotistical desire. You have no higher reasoning.

So, you are a zombie. You are a re-animated automaton with no higher reasoning, which mindlessly consumes for no reason.

I believe that we have become so culturally fascinated with the zombie because the zombie is us. We seem to be as less scared of them as we are deeply aware yet confused as to the extent to which we resemble them. I am not a zombie, or am I? It’s the rest of the world that appears to me to be zombified, but I may be infected. After all, the zombie affliction spreads by bites, and who is most likely to bite me? Most likely it is someone I know: my family, my friends, and my acquaintances are more likely to be around me, and therefore more likely to zombify me… or consume me. So I am in a sea of potential threats that could be my mom, dad, sister, brother, coworker, or even the guy running the hot dog stand I love so much. Everything familiar to me is a potentially lethal threat, if they turn zombie. The fear and the fascination present themselves simultaneously to the subconscious; the hickey nip my girlfriend gave me could turn me zombie like her and even though we’d both be zombies, we’d be incapable of loving each other anymore in the way we are accustomed. But if we keep holding hands and our credit cards don’t expire, maybe we could both still contribute to Black Friday.

What scares us most about zombies is nihilism: the futility and ultimate meaninglessness of human life. It’s easy to recognize the mindless automaton among us… or is it? The movie “Shaun of the Dead” illustrated how long it would take for the average person to recognize that the zombies walked among us, since their behavior is now so commonplace. My biggest laugh of that movie was at the end, when it had been determined that the undead could still serve a purpose doing menial work such as collecting grocery carts.

But I digress. Nihilism: meaninglessness, oblivion, The Void. What scares and fascinates us so much about zombies is that the zombie fate is an existential dead-end (pun intended). There’s no Rapture, no Revelation, no atomic oblivion. Where’s the justice, the retribution, the rationale, the intervention of a personal savior? How does the ‘Zombie Apocalypse’ define the culmination of human consciousness through history? How does such an end to humanity define who we were?

The answer to the ‘Zombie Apocalypse’ is that there is nothing but mindless, purposeless consumption, roving the earth forever and ever until shit runs out.

Remind you of anyone you know?

Monday, May 13, 2013

Futureland is Coming Soon

I've always had an active healthy interest in the future.  The focus this blog has had on Peak Oil is not just about forecasting when global production of all fuels will permanently decline in output, but about trying to socially prepare for what kind of world we will live in.  That type of forecasting is usually done best through fictional scenarios.  James Howard Kunstler has done that deliberately through the literary efforts of A World Made By Hand and The Witch of Hebron.  I've enjoyed his works, but I want to get into a book by Walter Mosley that doesn't deal directly with Peak Oil (though one story does obliquely, I encourage you to read the book to see if you can find it) but deals more with the sociological aspects of a high-tech, low resource, overpopulated future.  That book is Futureland.

Futureland is a collection of nine short stories that was released in the wake of 9/11 (November 2001, though obviously the writing of these stories occurred prior to 9/11) set in an America of the future where the divide between rich and poor has never been wider; many corporations have become sovereign nations.  There are many fascinating aspects of this dystopic vision as far as the different types of technology, the different types of drugs and the different types of living arrangements.  One aspect I found particularly fascinating is how working people in the future don't seem to own anything.  It seems like everything from the place you reside to the furniture you sit on to the appliances you use are all part of your life on a rental or subscription basis.  As long as you can pay the bills to your subscriptions, you can enjoy the life of a "prod".  If you can't, you become part of the White Noise (permanently unemployed) in an area below the super-skyscrapers called Common Ground which never sees the light of day.

So why am I writing now about this aspect of a fictional book written twelve years ago?  Well, my good buddy DC sent me an article about the future of DVDs that he thought would feed my sense of paranoia regarding conspiracy and corporate control.  He was right!

One Day, Two Rants (or… They Can Take My Discs When They Pry Them from My Cold Dead Hands!)

May 01, 2013 - 3:08 pm   |   By   
Okay, finally we come to Rant #2... some concerns about Hollywood’s “digital streaming” future.  Anyone remember DIVX?  The pay per view disc format that thankfully came and went in the early days of DVD?  Well, if and when physical media finally goes away – say over the next decade or two – the Hollywood studios’ whole motivation behind DIVX will finally be realized.  Consumers will have no option or ability to own or copy films or TV shows.  In fact, the whole concept of “ownership” will disappear as it currently exists.  Your access to movie and TV content will be completely controlled by the studios.  You’ll have pay to access content – either per title or as a monthly subscription – and if one of the studios wants to take away that access, they can do it.  Just like that.  If a studio decides all those old Westerns aren’t popular anymore and they’re just taking up valuable server space “in the cloud”, they can just pull them down and you can’t watch them anymore.  And if you’d like to watch the widest variety of titles from all the different studios, you’re probably going to have to subscribe to more than one – maybe even several – different streaming services.  Each studio could have their own.  That’s about as consumer unfriendly as it gets.

Today, of course, if you want pretty much any film or TV show that’s currently (or formerly) available on a physical disc, you can just one-stop shop on Amazon (or eBay) and the disc is at your house in a few mouse clicks plus a couple of days.  On the music side of things, at least the all-digital music industry is more friendly.  I currently have iTunes installed on my computer’s hard drive filled with thousands of songs in high-quality that I’ve ripped from legally purchased CDs and downloads.  The files exist on my hard drive, and they’re backed up on a second drive and on my iPod.  I control them.  I can listen to them whenever I want.  The record companies can’t take them away from me.  (Film and TV video files downloaded from iTunes are a different issue, as they have DRM.)  But Hollywood doesn’t want to work like that in the future.  Are you an UltraViolet user?  Cool, right?  Your movies are stored in the cloud.  Sure, you can access them from any device you want via the cloud, but the movies aren’t on your hard drive.  You have no real control over them whatsoever.  Whatever you do, be sure to keep those Blu-ray and DVD versions!  Because if you sell the discs, thinking that all you’ll ever need in the future is the UV version online, sooner or later you’re going to lose access to those films.  You’re going to get screwed.

The bottom line is this: In the all-digital future, Hollywood needs to revise their concept of ownership to be more consumer friendly.  Hollywood needs to let you own and keep legal digital movie and TV files on your own drives – files they can’t remotely deactivate or deny you access to by pulling them off the cloud.  But trust me, they don’t want to do that and they’re going to fight doing it tooth and nail.  Hollywood is, right now, building a digital future in which your control over your media that you’ve purchased legally is an illusion.  Now, some of you younger readers are probably thinking, “Yeah, so what?  The cloud is cool!  Discs are for dinosaurs, man!”  Well… if you’re a movie fan, especially someone who has loved building and enjoying a large library collection of your favorite films and TV shows on disc – discs that you can watch whenever and wherever you want – it’s something you’d be smart to think long and hard about.

It's not exactly Walter Mosley's complete vision come to fruition, but the writing on the wall is quite legible.  I hope that everyone, but particularly the teen-25 demographic that is devouring the latest technological advances, takes Mr. Hunt's advice to heart and thinks long and hard about what this direction from the Hollywood studios portends regarding the future of corporate control and the popular reaction to it.  Anyone who cares about putting a freeze on creeping fascism should oppose this developing trend with both their dollars and sense!