Thursday, June 20, 2013

In Which I Talk About Zombies

Confession: I have an addiction to technology. Or, at least, the technology I am able to own given that I am a poor graduate student. My laptop is turned on first thing in the morning, my smart phone is never more than a few inches from my fingertips and I spend a vast majority of my afternoons either staring at Facebook, Twitter, random Tumblr's, and YouTube. With most of these social media sites, I am not creating anything--nothing significant at any rate. A tweet is only 140 characters and is either bemoaning boredom or song lyrics. My status's on Facebook are to-do lists or schedules. I scroll through Tumblr pages looking for pictures and gifs I like rather than uploading anything innovative and I have never made a YouTube video. In other words, I am a technology zombie. 

"Wait wait wait." I hear you cry, " a technology zombie? Isn't that rather antithetical and oxymoronic? Zombies are mindless killing machines who are only out for one thing: food. Technology develops and changes, ergo cannot possibly relate to zombies. How does that correlate to technology?" In their recent video, PBS Idea Channel proposed that zombies are actually a symbol for our over reliance on technology.

In this new video, host Mike points out that in the past other creatures/monsters like aliens, vampires, Godzilla, and unrepentant murderers have arisen in TV and literature during times of social or political upheaval and reflect society's fears about said upheavals. Overtime, once these upheavals have been calmed, the monsters that grew up around them also change; vampires are no longer horrifying "others" but instead have been re-imagined as lonely souls desperately seeking human companionship and integration into society--they just happen to drink blood.

I was instantly reminded of one of my favorite Vlogbrothers videos in which John (in a stunning turn of events) is in an airport and yells about how we now live in a world full of shout-y walls. John also points out that if the shout-y walls don't dull your fear of silence, then we all have smart phones where the voices of billions on Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook are just a swipe away. We don't actually need to have these devices; our lives were perfectly normal without them, and once upon a time we were capable of functioning without needing to have our iPhones and Droids locked in our tight grips. It is the fear of silence, the fear of disconnect that we seek to avoid. Even now, trying to type up this blog, one of the tabs of Firefox is open to Facebook, and I occasionally pop over to check my news feed (incidentally does anyone else remember when Facebook changed over to the news feed way back in 2006 or so? I was a sophomore in college and for the longest time we called it the "stalker" feed because we thought it was creepy and wrong. Now, if you took away my news feed I'd probably go withdraws like an addict. I need my news feed).

We live in a world of shout-y walls and zombies have come to symbolize our over dependence on one thing, in this case the need to be linked into the technology we find so hard to live without. We crave it, like zombies crave brains, but the sad part is we aren't fully congnizant of this desire. We've become dull to it and perhaps ironically, in order to make our selves feel better about the dullness, we go deeper into need for technology, updating our phones, adding new aps, buying pads so that we now have a small arsenal of technology, because having a laptop and smart phone was one thing but you aren't complete until you have an iPad.

So, yes I would agree with the PBS Idea Channel that zombies symbolize our over dependence for technology but what I'm most interested in is the question of what comes next. What monster is lurking around the corner, what foe will our heroes and heroines have to face in the future? I would propose that it will not be a monster in the traditional sense. Vampires and zombies (and to a much lesser extent, aliens) have been or are on their way to being essentially neutered. I think the next big foe is the government. Now, let me be clear: I am very much a liberal. I believe in big government and the power of the feds. I think small government is ineffective and useless and creates more headaches than solutions to problems. But where I draw the line is in super big, controlling, shadowy oligarchy type of government. In recent weeks, reports of security leaks (NSA and Verizon, spring to mind) and the government "spying" on people have surfaced. How many of you saw headlines with words like "Big Brother" "1984" or "Orwellian?" I would contend that this is the next big monster for literature and TV: some sort of government that not only spies on its inhabitants but, going further, dictates and controls every aspect of human existence: what job you can have, who you marry, where you live, the times you are allowed to be outside, to what music you can listen, what books you can read, what art you can view, what movies you can watch, ect. Look at the state of juvenile fiction right now and tell me we aren't headed there, or maybe already on the cusp. Series like Divergent, the Hunger Games, Delirium, Uglies, and Matched all portray governments that have strict control over the land. In some, like The Hunger Games, the government is given a voice and a face, but in many the government is felt but remains unseen. In the series Delirium (a series I fully intend to review in a later blog post) those outside the tightly controlled confines of the world call it Zomibeland and refer to the passive, uncaring, unfeeling people as Zombies. In Matched the government controllers are never met and when rebellion comes the controllers seem to simply float away on air. Often times the scariest monsters are the ones that aren't seen.

So how do we combat this? In the novels already out and I suspect in the ones to come, it's up to a few individuals, a small band of people who can barely eek out an existence outside of society but somehow--almost miraculously--manage to turn the tide and live without the oligarchy interfering. Often times the oligarchy doesn't even fall; the freedom fighters just manage to create a separate would outside of society. All in all, it's not very hopeful. I am reminded of Aldus Huxley's phenomenal work Brave New World--a book I had to read in high school and one that has stayed with me ever since. Maybe there is no stemming the rising tide of bigger than big government headed our way. Maybe the only thing we can honestly do is hunker down and try to survive: resistance as rebellion morphed into invisibility as rebellion. In the end the Savage just wants to be left alone. He wants all the horrors of the world thrust upon him and he takes them willingly:
"But I like the inconveniences."
"We don't," said the Controller. "We prefer to do things comfortably."

"But I don't want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin."
"In fact," said Mustapha Mond, "you're claiming the right to be unhappy."
"All right then," said the Savage defiantly, "I'm claiming the right to be unhappy."

And that, PBS Idea Channel, is what I suspect is coming next: a return to where we've already been in literature come to life in the real world. 

I recognize that this a very different post from my Mad Men television reviews, but I saw the PBS video last night and all these ideas turned in my head while I slept. Had to write them down somewhere. Fear not, back to deconstructing Don Draper next time.

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