Thursday, February 16, 2017

ENGL 3053: WWZ

World War Z (2006)

World War Z: In some ways, this is a less archetypal zombie story than Train to Busan. For one thing, the novel is set long after the zombie outbreak, so that (for the most part) we lose the immediacy of the zombie attack. The sense of any real threat is lost. We know the world and its culture/s have, to some extent, survived.The interest then lies in learning how the cultures survived – as well as what did not survive.

One lesson remains the same, we might not be surprised to find: The rules of the old life will not serve you in this new life. Those who survive the Zombie Apocalypse (any apocalypse) have to learn new rules, new ways of living, and learn them fast. But we have another lesson being made clear in this book.

Interestingly, in World War Z, is an oral history which takes us all over the globe and gives the story of the zombie apocalypse not just (as the movie did) from one point of view (or the point of view of one band of heroes), but from the point of view of dozens and dozens of people, not all of them heroes, all over the world.

Yet while the ways in which people learn to survive – their new rules – differ in each country/each culture in the world of World War Z, ranging from the huge wall which is built around Israel, to the Redeker Plan (using most of the population as bait while saving the “valuable” people), to that plan used in the USA (DeStreRes – a massive bureaucratic organization of people and resources in the intermountain west), to the floating flotillas that run Radio Free Earth, ultimately Brooks’ novel concerns not the heroes (or villains) of his work, but their common enemy: the zombies.

In “World War Z and the End of Religion as We Know It,”Gayle R. Baldwin makes a connection between the zombies in Max Brooks’ World War Z and the common and faceless enemy the US has been fighting now for over fifteen years – the terrorist.

Just as Z and Zack have no clear motive, no identity, no soul, and no ability to be reasoned with, Baldwin points out, so does the concept “the terrorist” which has been inculcated into our culture. Just as a zombie can be anyone – anyone can be infected! – a terrorist can be anyone, since anyone can be infected by this dangerous ideology; anyone can become the savage and vile enemy. And just as any amount of resistance and violence is justified when fighting to stop the zombie horde, so any kind of resistance, any sort of violence, any sort of violation of legal and civil behavior is justified by our culture and our government when we are fighting “terrorism.”

In short, just like terrorists, zombies are the perfect enemy. They are brainless, driven to endlessly consume, driven by sheer emotion and greed; they are pure evil. Just like terrorists, they justified any act we wish to commit against them – or against anyone we can justifiably believe is in league with them.

Looked at through this lens, the attraction of a zombie narrative becomes clearer. We all live fences in by rules, by ethics, by moral boundaries. Zombies (or terrorists!) knock down those fences. In a zombie apocalypse, we can loot, we can pillage, we can slaughter at will both zombies and anyone or anything else that poses the slightest threat to us. We can abandon the sick, the poor, the dying. We can break any rule and every rule – eat our dead, shoot children, use civilians as bait. It is all justified because our enemy is so evil.

The tension in these works – World War Z, Train to Busan, and other works we’ll be looking at – comes from that very real attraction and our equally real understanding of the consequences of losing the fences of rules, ethics, and morality. 

As Baldwin suggests in her article, and as both World War Z and Train to Busan make clear, in their separate ways, throwing away your humanity in order to survive means you survive as something that’s not quite human. Maybe not a zombie (though note that in Train to Busan those who surrender their humanity do in fact end up as zombies) but no longer fit to be part of a human community, either.

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