Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Zombie Spring

It's the first day of spring, but it has felt like spring for weeks already. Global warming is well upon us. All these unseasonably balmy days have forced the flowers and pressured the trees to bud before their time. The downsides, of course, are coastal flooding, mass extinction, and malnutrition due to falling crop yields. In New York City, the warming has also brought about the unfortunate premature return of smartphone zombies.

(In winter, when cold nips at fingers, there's not so much sidewalk texting or talking, and we get a needed break from the scourge. I miss winter.)

iZombie illustration by Victor Kerlow

All the attendant ducking and weaving on the sidewalks has me thinking about Chuck Closterman's essay "My Zombie, Myself: Why Modern Life Feels Rather Undead," published in the New York Times in December 2010--and stuck in my mind ever since.

In that essay, he makes an eloquent argument about the rising popularity of zombies and how, with their computer-like brains and lack of consciousness, they've become an allegory for the way our day-to-day existence feels. He writes, "It’s not that zombies are changing to fit the world’s condition; it’s that the condition of the world seems more like a zombie offensive." And that offensive, concludes Closterman, is the Internet and email.

see more zombies here

But there are also zombies walking among us. You see them every day. They are attached to the Internet and electronic communications--you might even say they are humanoid extensions of the Internet.

Drifting down the sidewalk, gazing into electronic devices, iZombies are the living dead, constantly and mindlessly consuming. They lack consciousness. And, yes, they do eat brains. How many times have you tried to think while on the street or the bus, or in a cafe, only to have your thoughts snatched away by a loud-talking zombie on a cell phone or by a collision with a walking iPhone ghoul? The thought is gone--the zombie gobbled it up.

They're trying to turn us all into zombies by devouring our minds. The only way to shield yourself from them is to become like them--to turn on the iPod or tuck into the iPhone. Of course, the manufacturers of these devices want us all to be zombies. Zombies don't think, they shop. They'll stand in line for hours to buy electronics, cupcakes, hamburgers, shoes, whatever the Hive Leader tells them to desire.

Without an iPhone, I have to "play zombie" to keep them away from me. When I see them coming towards me, I look down and twiddle my thumbs in front of my chest, as if I'm texting, even though my hands are empty. "I'm an iZombie like you," this gesture says. "Don't hurt me." This fools them. They think I am one of them and they veer away. If I don't perform this empty-handed thumb twiddling, they will aim right at me.

When a texting zombie comes at you from behind, you will know them from the sound of their shuffling, stuttering steps, their weaving, jerky gait. They sound like zombies. In this situation, you have a few options (I have tried all three): 1. Run away to put distance between you and the zombie. 2. Stop short and brace for impact, thereby deflecting the zombie. 3. Start walking like a zombie--step left then suddenly right, stop and start again, weave from side to side. The zombie will tire of this and go around you.

Since Closterman's essay, zombies have become even more popular. They are everywhere. There's that Walking Dead show and the Zombie Crawls. In New York City, Ricky's pushed zombies as a personal ethos of cool with the slogans, "Zombies: Looking Dead. Feeling Good" and "Own Your Inner Zombie."

Somehow, zombies have become sex symbols.

There are zombie sex toys that simulate rotting genitals, because what's more exciting than intercourse with an animated corpse?

Of course, zombies are having sex with each other, not just silicone bits. A zombie doesn't want to be with a non-zombie and vice versa. The non-zombie might want to have an actual relationship, with real intimacy, or at least conversation, while the zombie would rather plug parts into other parts and send a bunch of text messages back and forth--sometimes simultaneously.

When zombies mate, they make baby zombies. Making a human baby into a zombie is simple--just give it electronic devices to play with and then ignore it. Its already primitive brain will wither quickly, along with its capacity for empathy. Soon it will want the same things all zombies want--mindless distraction and communal stupidity. It will aim to destroy thought because thought is frightening. It will grow up to devour the brains of non-zombies.

More zombies are coming every day. How will you protect your brain?

(Here's an idea--read more novels. They stimulate your brain, increase your empathy, and foster prosocial behavior--unlike, you know, "socially disruptive" narcissistic activities like updating your Facebook page.)