The zombie apocalypse theme seems to be roused from the dead repeatedly in pop culture, and I think the reason why it just won’t die is that it feels possible. It haunts us so relentlessly because a pandemic that causes widespread brain damage is not entirely unlikely. It could be caused by illness. A new, wildly abused drug could cause it. It could be a parasite. It’s just not unimaginable that sufferers of such an epidemic could become wandering, ravenous drool machines, not unlike your classic biter.
When I asked you on Twitter why you think we are so fascinated by the idea of a zombie apocalypse, you came up with some other answers that I believe also play a part in it. Some said it’s a way to explore our discomfort with the finality of death; others said it’s symbolic of dealing with unfinished business after we’re dead. There was also the suggestion that we are just generally preoccupied with our mortality and another that the zombie apocalypse trope allows us to play in a lawless universe.
I think these are all excellent answers and they probably all play a part in why we keep reanimating this theme. I believe, though, that one of the biggest reasons is that there’s a deep, dark corner of our mind that thinks it’s possible. It’s the same reason why fans of Star Trek are so enthusiastic: it feels like it could be possible. Albeit, the Star Trek version is a far more bright and hopeful future than the version in which Michonne gets to julienne walkers with a katana, but it’s the same idea. We can see some version of this laying ahead for us.
Now, before you get your rational-thinking, skeptic panties in a bunch and tell me I’m full of it for thinking that zombies are possible, I want to remind you that they’ve already happened.
That’s right, Mr. Doubty-Pants, zombies are already flipping real.
Don’t believe me? Well, strap on your shittin’ pants, as Negan would say because here are seven ways zombies are real:
Zombie carpenter ants – these ants have had their bodies taken over by Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, a parasitic fungus that takes control of the ant’s mind. Once infected, the ant is ultimately dead. The fungus is in the driver’s seat and forces the ant to cling to the underside of a leaf until a long stalk grows out of the ant’s head. The fungal stalk is capped with a spore-filled bulb that eventually bursts, sending its spores off to infect new ants. Yeah dudes, it’s pretty gross. I don’t even think Daryl Dixon would have the stomach for that.
Zombie rats – Listen, you’re going to want to get your lunch out of the way before you read this one because it’s going to mess up your appetite for a bit. So there’s this parasite, toxoplasma, and it needs to find its way into a cat’s digestive system to make babies. There are many ways a parasite could find its way into a cat’s digestive system, right? But this is God’s perfect creation, so the route toxoplasma takes is more twisted than a Twinkie-starved Tallahassee. How it works is, the parasite infects a rat. It then hijacks the rat’s brain, eliminating its fear of the smell of cat urine and replacing it with sexual arousal. Yes, that’s right. This zombie parasite makes rats sexually attracted to cat pee. Of course, this makes the rat more likely to be caught and consumed by a cat, where the parasite finds its final destination, in the cozy, welcoming cat belly.
Zombie spiders – I’m not crying as I type, I swear to the Flying Spaghetti Monster. So, parasitic wasps are a thing. The worst part is that they take over the bodies and minds of spiders. Scientists are unsure how as yet, but it’s probably a neurotoxin. The explanation is irrelevant. The point is that parasitic wasps are turning spiders into zombies. Because zombies alone aren’t scary enough, right? Effffffff.
Zombie crickets – nematomorphs are everywhere, I’ve learned. In my dog’s bowl, maybe. They could be in your toilet. They’re found frequently on farms and ranches in places where water collects. These god-forsaken worms grow inside of crickets and when it’s time to be free, they take over the brain of the worm, force it to go for a dip in the nearest H2O and wiggle their way out of the creature. You’d think the cricket would die afterwards, but miracle of all miracles, these emotionally wounded musicians can sometimes live on.
Zombie fish – these fish are infected with a parasitic worm called a fluke that takes control of the little fishy mind. It stops the fish from fearing the water surface, which makes it more likely that little Billy cutie-fin gets gobbled up by a bird.
Klüver–Bucy syndrome – this is a human affliction caused by brain damage and sees the sufferer behaving in ways that appear zombie-like. According to Wikipedia, people with this syndrome experience “compulsive eating, hypersexuality, insertion of inappropriate objects in the mouth, visual agnosia, and docility”. Imagine a pandemic that caused brain damage that resulted in Klüver–Bucy syndrome. Just think about that.
Encephalitis lethargica – Encephalitis lethargica is associated with extreme lethargy and delayed responses in humans. It can also result in psychosis. Get this, though. In 1917, there was a global epidemic of encephalitis lethargica that lasted until around 1928. It is uncommon now, but they still don’t know what causes it. What if the pandemic happens again?
There they are. Seven real ways we get zombies in the present world. I realize none of these involves the reanimation of dead flesh but are any of these things all that different? The bottom line here is the taking over of the mind – that’s when our lives are no longer ours. That’s when we are, essentially, the Walking Dead.
I dunno about you guys, but I’m going to have trouble sleeping tonight. Let me know in the comments why you think the zombie apocalypse trope prevails in pop culture. And don’t forget to double-tap.
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