We live in a pretty strange society. Walk up to a stranger at random and start talking about habeas corpus and they will probably think you are talking in a foreign language (which I suppose you are, in a way). Chances are they will not be thinking about its vital role in preserving their liberty or its historical roots. But pick a stranger and start talking about zombies, and they will know exactly what you are going on about, even though there is no such thing. So today, instead of pointing out what we got right with habeas corpus (a good thing to do, but boring) I am going to point out what we got wrong with zombies (a silly thing to do, but fun).
To begin with, let us clarify some ground-rules for what zombies are. Unfortunately for any Voodoo disciples out there, this post revolves around a heretical view of zombies. I am not going to blog about superstitious nonsense involving Haitian Voodoo sorcerers casting spells over people who have died already, in order to reanimate them and order them about because they have no will of their own. Nope, such zombies are obviously daft because nobody believes in magic any more. Instead, this blog is about Hollywood zombies, by which I mean the way zombies are depicted in Hollywood films, and not those Hollywood stars – Joan Rivers, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Burt Reynolds, Cher et al – who have plasticated their faces to the point where they look less life-like than a Madame Tussauds waxwork. Pity Michael Jackson, who made millions by dancing with zombie extras, and then spent millions to become one of the zombie extras. No, this post is about the zombie characters in films. In Hollywood films, the rules for zombie behaviour are fairly consistent, but the wrong conclusions are extrapolated from them. The zombie rules are:
- Zombies spread the contagion through biting and scratching, it being something to do with an HIV-like transmission of the zombie factor-Z into the victim’s bloodstream.
- Zombies are pretty dopey and tend to be squishy too.
- What Zombies lack in speed, they make up for in persistence.
So imagine what life would actually be like if there was an outbreak of the zombie disease. Some ordinary Joe Schmoes have been turned into zombies. What would happen next?
Well, for a start, I can tell you one thing that would not happen. The human race would not be saved by a group of attractive teenagers and twenty-somethings riding around on the back of a pick-up truck whilst firing handguns and impaling zombies with various combinations of sporting goods and garden tools. Those clowns would just haul their pretty little backsides as far away from any zombie as they could before the tank of their pick-up truck ran dry. Then they would pull over an old lady, threaten her with the handguns and drive off in her car. No, if anybody is going to be fighting zombies it will be homeowners. They are already distressed at mortgage payments and would be unwilling to let zombies move into their house rent-free. The homeowners would put up a good fight, especially once they had solved the problem of how to distinguish the zombies from all those other people who wander around aimlessly all day and night. Contrary to what you see in the movies, zombies are unlikely to have torn or ragged clothes, because health and safety officials have already removed every sticky-out nail and put fences around every thorny bush. Zombies are likely to be as erudite as most of your non-zombie neighbours. Zombies have bad posture, but then so do many people, so stand up straight if you do not want to be confused for a zombie. One way of telling a zombie from a normal person is that a zombie will be unusually pleased to see you. Another distinguishing feature for adult female zombies is that they would probably not trolley around a pushchair, though the vacant stare would be identical to that of some young mothers. The homeowners should also be on the look out for screaming, wild, feral children that run around and cause mayhem, as zombie kids would be better behaved than that.
Few of the favoured Hollywood weapons for fighting zombies can actually be found in the ordinary household. I mean, how many chainsaws do you own? Instead, I expect the most common homeowner weapons would be electric hedge trimmers, carving knifes, and improvised incendiary devices made using old bottles of creme de menthe and the ouzo brought back from the family holiday in Greece. The whisky and the vodka would only be sacrificed as a last resort. Traditional English sports fans could build a good innings of zombie kills using a cricket bat (much more lethal than the baseball variety) and golfers may get further wielding a driver instead of a nine iron. However, despite the resistance the zombies would face, I expect the zombies would prevail and take over most towns, thanks to their Roy Castle-esque dedication to their cause. Most places would fall long before the Independent Police Complaints Commission had reached a decision on why it took so long to respond to the many 999 enquiries asking “send help immediately because we are under attack by zombies…. arrgghhh…” which had wrongly been assumed to be a rash of prank calls. However, I feel sorry for any zombies intent on attacking Newcastle, Glasgow or Liverpool, as the resistance would be fearsome.
Zombies never seem to drive cars, and even the most inept public transport official would likely suspend bus and train services in the midst of a zombie attack. This means that once the zombies had taken over a town, they are unlikely to have anywhere else to go. Dedicated though zombies may be, they would not be organized enough to send out scouting parties to walk in random directions with the hope of finding other municipalities. This point is glossed over in Hollywood films, where studio greed seems to guarantee that if a town is lost to zombies by the end of one film, the whole world is in peril at the start of the sequel. Instead, the zombies would just have to settle down to life in their new habitat, devoid of fresh meat apart from the occasional poorly-informed individual who drove into town to visit relatives. Which leads us to the next mystery of Hollywood zombies, which is why they never eat each other. Presumably zombies taste similar to ordinary people, and have the same nutritional value as the rest of us. It seems unlikely that zombie flesh would be poisonous to other zombies. So once all the ordinary people have had a chunk bitten out of them, it would be inevitable that the hungry zombies would resort to eating each other. In the end, after the zombies had gone through a cannibalistic frenzy, there would be only one very fat zombie left. After a while he would starve to death, leaving the town ready to be repopulated. However, let us indulge the Hollywood fantasy a little longer and assume that zombies find cannibalism as repugnant as we do. Short of humans to feast on, we can only assume that the zombies would do what most of us would do in a post-apocalyptic scenario, and eat anything else on offer. Zombies may struggle to open tin cans, but I expect even the dumbest zombie can open a fridge door. In supermarkets, zombies may survive for many months by consuming long-life milk and Mr. Kipling individual fruit pies. In many ways, life in zombie town would be pretty similar to life in the average university halls of residence. Devoid of the facilities or knowledge to prepare food, lacking the motivation to stick to a regular schedule of activities, getting used to a new and unfamiliar way of life, and controlled by the most basic of emotional needs, the zombie’s behaviour would be remarkably similar to that of most first-year undergraduates.
Even first-year undergraduates have to move on eventually, and it is to be hoped that the authorities will try to take back zombie town after a while. In doing so, they should be mindful of the value of property, and minimize the need for heavy ordnance. Indeed, there is no reason to clear out the zombies from the town in order to resettle people. It would be more cost-effective to provide settlers with all-over body armour. The body armour should be a burqa made of chain mail. Wearing the chain mail burqa would remove most of the stress when encountering a zombie, as there would be no possibility of the zombie biting or scratching their way through the garment. The anxiety of encounters with the slow-moving and weak zombies would be reduced to the same level experienced when riding on a crowded tube train, or trying to get served in a busy bar on a Saturday night. After a while, the zombies would tire of chipping their teeth on the chain mail, and would learn to peacefully cohabit with the resettlers. However, the zombies would still be starving to death, and hence will plague any grocers or butchers that reopen their stores. Rather than fighting the zombies, the townsfolk may prefer to keep the zombies as pets, feeding them scraps and getting mild amusement from taking them out on walks and throwing sausages for them to chase after. Former loved ones, now turned into zombies, would have special sentimental value and serve as ideal playmates for the family’s children. The house-trained zombie would be a willing participant in games of dressing up and musical statues. The cleverer zombies may even be able to act out popular television shows whilst playing charades. Zombies, like dogs and cats, would accept their role in society in exchange for regular food. As with dogs, there would still be the occasional unprovoked attack, and some aggressive zombies may still need to be put down. However, sometimes a zombie may actually be encouraged to bite or scratch in order to spread the factor-Z infection. For example, zombie infection may be offered to elderly relatives who are in pain and nearing the end of their days. With zombie revitalization, a grandparent may go on being a loved member of the family for many more decades. This would also alleviate the costs of healthcare. Zombies may also provide a low-cost source of manpower for many service industries. With appropriate supervision, fast food restaurants, car valet services and coffee shops could be almost entirely staffed by zombies, leaving more leisure time for the rest of the town’s inhabitants.
Despite all the negative Hollywood propaganda, it seems to me that zombies would bring tangible benefits to our economy and way of life. In many areas where our society currently faces difficult choices – childcare, low-paid jobs, health services for an aging population – zombification would be a boon. Zombies and humans could work together for a better world. Our more courageous political leaders would band together with zombies to usher in a new era of human-zombie prosperity and joy. In time, zombies would fight for and gain their zombie rights and would overcome the mindless prejudice spouted by the mass media. The struggle for zombie civil rights would help us to refresh our understanding of human rights, by adding new meaning to old phrases like habeas corpus. Just imagine the placards: “help the undead, improve quality of life”, “love me, love my zombie”, and “zombies: live and let die”. You see, the problem with the Hollywood portrayal of zombies is not that they would pose a risk to our survival. The problem is that zombies would be so like the rest of us.