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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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The BattalionMay 4, 2024

Undead create cultural epidemic

 
 

The zombie apocalypse is upon us; the undead stalk the land and infect the everyday lives of people. They are infesting TV and books and starring in major motion pictures. They have taken a bite out of the media, fueling an obsession with the undead and creating a movement rivaling that of the hormonal vampire or nerdy wizard.
Zombies have always made up a cornerstone of the horror genre, but in recent years, they have taken on a life, or an undead life, of their own.
Justin Miller, a professor in the Department of Performance Studies at Texas A&M, said the recent reincarnation of zombies in the media originated in the Cold War era. Zombies during that time came to represent the idea of the communist next door and the Red Scare.
A rise in the popularity of zombies usually happens at the same as a war or upheaval, Miller said. In the 1960s it was the Cold War, and more recently it was 9/11 and the Iraqi war.
Miller said historical events such as the H1N1 epidemic and Mad Cow Disease can also cause a surge in the popularity of the undead, with many becoming fascinated with infection.
During the H1N1 scare, there was an increase in movies dealing with disease and infection, Miller said.
Kim Kattari, another professor in the Department of Performance Studies at Texas A&M, also said zombie popularity usually rises during times of great turmoil.
Zombies come to represent chaos and fear, Kattari said. People give themselves a sense of control by killing these fears in videogames and watching others triumph over them in movies.
Miller explained the current appeal to zombies as a macabre fantasy.
Audiences see the hero or antihero do something, and they wonder what they would have done in the same situation, Miller said.
The popularity of zombies has turned into somewhat of an obsession in pop-culture. With the successes of A&Es TV series The Walking Dead and various media spin offs leading the movement, todays zombies are very different than those of the past like in George Romeros Dawn of the Dead. Classic zombie flicks focused more on the struggle between humans and zombies, but shows like The Walking Dead place more focus upon human-to-human interactions and the morality of living in a post-apocalyptic society.
Kattari said this perspective is producing the genre to become more realistic.
The dead rising from their graves is unlikely, but more people are starting to see the reality of a breakdown of society, Kattari said.
Megan Troy, freshman special education major, said she likes the complexity of the zombie-human relationships in The Walking Dead, calling it one of her favorite TV shows.
Its insane to think how the zombies used to be people, but they become something so inhuman, Troy said. When seeing a character you know become a zombie, it can be hard to watch. You know who they were before, but know they have no feelings and just attack.
But could the idea of a zombie takeover ever hold true in reality? The answer, surprisingly, is yes. James Midkiff, Class of 2012 with a masters degree in biology, said an infection somewhat similar to the rage virus in 28 Days Later is possible.
There are many know substances that affect the human nervous system, so it is possible that a virus could develop the ability to do so as well, Midkiff said. The virus would have to block our brains from being able to do higher thinking processes and the feeling of fear leaving the infected as nothing more than a mindless animal whose only goal is to infect others.
Midkiff said the infected would be very different from the undead that are portrayed in movies and television.
They wouldnt be dead. A virus needs a living host to survive, Midkiff said. They wouldnt be trying to kill everything that moves. A viruss only goal is to grow and spread. So to have its host kill all other potential hosts would not be a wise move on its part.
Instead of trying to consume or kill other humans, the infected zombies would only try to infect more people and then flee, leaving the human alive but doomed to become another zombie.
In addition to viruses, the fungus Ophiocordyceps unilateralis is known to show zombie-like behavior in the living. The fungus, which occurs in tropical forests, infects ants and takes over their bodies.
The fungus affects the ants brain and causes it to attach itself to a leaf until it dies, only to have a fungal stalk will sprout from its head soon after.
But Midkiff said a virus, not a fungus, is the most likely means for a zombie apocalypse.
Bacteria are easier to cure with antibiotics, and fungal infections are hard to spread, Midkiff said.
Another movement infected with zombie culture is the physcobilly music scene, a rock genre that often references subjects such as a zombie apocalypse.
Instead of identifying with the survivors of a zombie apocalypse, physcobilly identifies with the zombies themselves, Kattari said. To [performers and audiences], it is an escape from their chaotic lives and from responsibility. You are at a bar and the bar tender asks you to pay your tab, but instead you eat him.
Even A&M is not safe from infection, as zombies sometimes roam the campus and students fight them off with nerf guns in the popular Humans vs. Zombies role-playing game.
HvZ is an elaborate game of tag in which zombies try to tag students to create more zombies, and humans keep them at bay by shooting nerf guns. Aggieland Urban Gaming Society holds games of HvZ twice a semester once at the beginning and one during dead week, or as the gaming society refers to it, undead week.
The zombies make the game, said Garret Wilson, freshman petroleum engineering major. Without them there wouldnt be that fear that comes with them. Being chased by other students isnt that scary, but the idea of the zombie horde is there and provides that sense of fear that makes the game so much fun.

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