In the TV show The Walking Dead, the Centers for Disease Control blows itself sky high in the knowledge that all of humanity is infected with the zombie virus.
(Why am I writing about this??)
In real life, last week, the CDC issued an official statement saying it’s not expecting a zombie invasion. They may have slightly contributed to the problem themselves by issuing the tongue-in-cheek comic book-style novel Preparedness 101: Zombie Pandemic, which is really about how to be prepared for other kinds of emergencies.
But anything to do with zombies tends to get out of hand quite easily. After all, we humans are, to the best of our knowledge, the only animals who live with the awareness of our own mortality. We are obsessed with death and how to avoid it, and, of course, with how we might escape it and gain immortality. And if there’s one upside to being a zombie (or indeed a vampire), it is that you’ve cheated death.
No surprise, then, that the CDC announcement felt the need to follow hard on the heels of the zombie-like story of a police office in Miami shooting and killing a man whom they’d caught red-handed, so to speak, literally chewing the face off a homeless person (who is struggling to recover in hospital). As the Miami Herald described the scene:
By the time police arrived, most of the victim’s face was gone. Police found pieces of torn skin on the concrete sidewalk where the attack occurred.
Fueled by the Internet and widespread interest in the macabre case, some media reports have dubbed Eugene the “Causeway Cannibal” and the “Miami Zombie.”
… A preliminary review found the presence of marijuana in [the attacker] Eugene’s system, a law enforcement source said, which was no surprise because Eugene’s family and friends widely reported that he was fond of smoking pot. But marijuana doesn’t usually spark violent attacks. Whether the pills found in his stomach played a role in Eugene’s outburst of violence is unknown. Toxicology tests will take weeks to complete.
This might have all just drifted away in the daily news cycle, were it not for the fact that, a few days earlier, a 21-year-old Maryland man who had just been released from jail allegedly killed and ate parts of his housemate, and then directed the police to where they could find the body. According to CNN:
Harford County Sheriff Jesse Bane told reporters that Kinyua admitted killing his housemate, cutting him up, and then eating his heart and part of his brain.
A few days earlier, there had been the story of the New Jersey man who police say cut out his entrails in front of them and then threw these at the officers.
And the California man who bit off his cousin’s nose.
And the building contractor in Georgia who started biting people’s arms in a Lowe’s store.
And the mysterious rash that broke out at a school in Hollywood, Florida, (not far from Miami, where the guy chewed off the homeless man’s face). Twelve students and two teachers were rushed to the hospital after breaking out in a severe rash for which no diagnosis could be found. It had started when a class of 21 students began compulsively scratching themselves in a reading room and then broke out in hives. The infected students were transported in a plastic-lined school bus to a local hospital.
Necrotizing fasciitis sounds like something you might have caught from Benito MussoliniAnd another mysterious outbreak of rashes in Broward County, Florida, where four sixth-graders and a teacher were taken to hospital and the hazardous materials squad was brought in to investigate. (They found nothing.)
And last, but certainly not least, the terrifying flesh-eating bacteria, or necrotizing fasciitis, which sounds like something you might have caught from Benito Mussolini when he was turning Italians into zombies in the 1930s.
But flesh-eating bacteria are no joke. After a Georgia student gashed her leg on vacation, the bacteria crept in and started devouring muscle and fat, and leaving her fighting for her life with a breathing tube down her throat, an amputated leg, and the loss of both her hands.
At almost the same time, a paramedic in South Carolina was having a series of 11 surgeries to try to get ahead of another species of flesh-eating bacteria that had attacked her leg. According to Reuters:
A 1996 report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated there were 500 to 1,500 cases of necrotizing fasciitis annually in the United States, with about 20 percent of them fatal. The National Necrotizing Fasciitis Foundation has said that estimate is probably low.
Zombies and vampires
While the CDC, then, scrambles to reassure us that there’s no zombie apocalypse in motion, there’s plenty else for zombie and vampire aficionados to feast on. And for more on why we have such a taste for these stories, Heather Havrilesky explained in the New York Times last October why there’s an epidemic of zombies and vampires in our culture at the moment. Most of us, she says, have either vampire or zombie personalities:
Vampires are solitary and antisocial and sleep in the ground. Zombies are extroverts, hanging out in big, rowdy clusters, moaning and shrieking, and apparently never sleeping at all. Why do these sound like people I know? Maybe because these two approaches to being undead mirror two very different approaches to being alive. You’re either a vampire or a zombie, and it’s easy to tell which one.
Vampire types are artists, experts, loners. They tend to be moody and neurotic. They can be philosophy professors or stock traders. Zombie types, by contrast, are collaborators, leaders, fanatics and obsessives. They are group-oriented – either as leaders or followers. You’ll find them professionally as lawyers, teachers, politicians and people who join movements.
“Vampires aren’t joiners,” Havrilesky explains. “Vampires are internally directed, to the point of being self-indulgent, aloof and a little bit hedonistic.”
She gives examples of each type, including:
Sean Parker: Vampire. Mark Zuckerberg: Zombie.
Steve Jobs: Vampire. Bill Gates: Zombie.
New York: Vampires. Washington: Zombies.
A-Rod: Vampire. Jeter: Zombie.
Twitter: Vampires. Facebook: Zombies.
Barack Obama: Vampire. Mitt Romney: Zombie.
The Occupy movement, she says, is a zombie battle against the vampires of global finance. (The Tea Party is equally zombie.)
Being clear on who you are is most important. Some vampires masquerade as zombies, and vice versa:
Bill Clinton may have a zombie’s ability to memorize facts, but he’s obviously a vampire at heart. Despite Arianna Huffington’s zombielike aggregating instincts, no one but a vampire could beguile the rich and powerful into blogging for her free.
Which, again, is a good reason for knowing what you are.
We might add that the students who contracted a rash are, by definition, joiners, and therefore almost certainly zombies. But the guy who got out of prison in Maryland and chewed off a man’s face is probably very confused about his identity. Although he acted like a TV zombie, his personality strikes us as that of a vampire.
Havrilesky offers a few tips on how to deal with each species, like: Never tell a zombie a secret, and never tell a vampire to trust his or her instincts.
And finally there’s an explanation of what it means if you’re sure you’re neither a vampire nor a zombie:
It means you are an innocent bystander: a spectator, a consumer, a voter, a regular citizen. Or, as vampires and zombies like to put it: dead meat.