Zombie Policy

 “A culture can create the conditions of its own extinction – we die by our own imagination,” someone* once wrote.  A chilling warning since culturally we’re engines of imaginative catastrophe.  We may ultimately imagine ourselves to death, but thankfully we’re not going to fall prey to vampires, our current pop-cultural darlings. Science proves their toothlessness. Not so much with zombies, though. Zombies aren’t as romantic but they’re almost as prevalent – they’ve even taken over Jane Austen. Thankfully, Daniel Drezner, professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, is on the case. In the most recent issues of Foreign Policy, Drezner lays out a prescient “international relations theory of zombies.”

This is not purely an academic exercise. “The Haitian government,” Drezner reminds us, “takes the threat seriously enough to have a law on the books to prevent outbreaks of zombiism.” Drezner realizes that most governments lack the foresight or cultural sensitivity required to peacefully legislate such prophylactic measures, so instead he formulates a series of countermeasures against a zombie outbreak, measures modeled on one of three leading international relations (IR) theories: realist, liberal, and neoconservative.  It’s reassuring, despite what George Romero would have you believe.

As Drezner writes:

The different international relations theories…provide a much greater variety of possible outcomes than the Hollywood zombie canon. Traditional zombie narratives in film and fiction are quick to get to the apocalypse. The theoretical approaches presented here, however, suggest that in the real world there would be a vigorous policy response to the menace of the living dead. Realism predicts an eventual live-and-let-live arrangement between the undead and everyone else. Liberals predict an imperfect but nevertheless useful counterzombie regime. Neoconservatives see the defeat of the zombie threat after a long, existential struggle. These scenarios suggest that maybe, just maybe, the zombie canon’s dominant narrative of human extinction is overstated.

(Social) Science saves us again!

Zombies are most decidedly not state actors, and as they stumble through their day they – each and every one of them – are a locus of terror. This does become a problem for the neoconservative tendency to see agglomerations of evil.

Again, Drezner:

….Other elements of neoconservatism might undercut the long-term viability of proponents’ initial policy pronouncements. For example, neoconservatives frequently assume that all adversaries are part of a single axis or alliance of evil enemies. To be sure, that assumption works when confined to zombies, but it is unlikely that neoconservatives would stop there. They would inevitably lump reanimated corpses with other human threats as part of a bigger World War III against authoritarian despots and zombies — an “Axis of Evil Dead.”

Further, though Drezner is an astute observer of the political scene, and he has written for me before, this critique is a bit slack. 28 Days Later fits the bill, yes, but what happens if there turn out to be good zombies – like a zombie version of that terrible dialectic between that nasty Lestat and the heroic vampire played by Brad Pitt? I know, as the Al Quada goons of the monstrous realm, zombies are not typically represented as riven by internecine struggle, but….we’ll, you get the point.

Beyond that, perhaps the IR frame is just inappropriate. I submit that zombies, like vampires,  are more the domain of domestic  policy (Take for instance the Southern Strategy of True Blood, a separate and unequal fear and loathing punctuated by occasional vampire/human miscegenation; race and sexuality are the bogymen that limply animate the soap opera. And since True Blood’s vampires don’t kill everything they eat, they provide a troubling wrinkle in the Vampire statistics linked to above). The real debate lies within a society, across class and race lines. I’m not sure what aspect of the zombie’s ambiguity – the active deathliness or the compromised lifeiness – causes their hunger for brains and their shitty manners, but it’s safe to assume that the problem lies in their radical liminality, their undefined yet undeniable humanness.

The French (of course) tried to deal with this in They Came Back, a strange not quite spooky zombie flick where a group of recently deceased citizens drag themselves back to their village. These zombies are peaceful, asking nothing other than integration into society. What is to be done? Well, this isn’t 28 Days Later, so the Leninist question does not provoke a Leninist response. Rather than firebombing the undead, they setup a triage and reclamation tent where families can bring home their dead – not quite the ha ha ha obverse of the Monty Python skit – and the municipality promptly sets about reincorporating the zombies.

The undead want to return to their old apartments, to work their old jobs, but there are complications. For one, a zombie’s diminished cognitive capacity makes it difficult to live in the modern era. They’re clumsy. They can’t remember much. They’ve all got a creepy glazed-over look. They stink.  Some of already living, suddenly elevated in  professional prestige, don’t really want to relinquish their jobs. There are not enough families willing to take in their dearly returned, so there aren’t enough places for the undead to unlive.

Yes, the French have turned zombie resurrection into a domestic public policy issue – an argument about treating people, however different or poor or alien with human dignity, or failing to do so. They Came Back is both an amusing and damning indictment of French immigration policy, and it leads me to think that zombie policy should be formulated at the domestic level. We don’t have to rely on theoretical models, though. All of our initial modeling can be gleaned from Arizona.

*Michael Washburn, June 23, 2010, when in need of a way to start a blog entry.

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2 Responses to Zombie Policy

  1. chris clark says:

    I have only one random comment on an altogether brilliant blog post: The scientific debunking of vampires espoused by Efthimiou and Sohang Gandhi (“Science proves their toothlessness”) is goofy. Every schoolboy knows that vampires are created through hive mechanics, i.e. only the head vampire, like the queen bee, can reproduce. And he polices his minions ruthlessly, as the three succubi who attempted to seduce Harker can attest. Just sayin’.

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