Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Zombie awareness training

There's a saying that has been repeated often enough that it is nearly a cliché, and that is: Be careful what you wish for, you may get it.

The Center for Disease Control just found that out.

Last year, you may recall, the CDC posted a page on their website called "Zombie Preparedness."  The creators of this page said that the whole thing was a tongue-in-cheek way of calling attention to the wisdom of knowing what to do during an emergency, and recommended such measures as having an up-to-date first-aid kit, knowing escape routes from the house (and also which roads to take if you need to escape in a bigger way), and teaching younger members of the family what to do when bad things happen.  All of it, they said, could equally well apply to other, more mundane disasters, such as hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and the like.

Well, I'm sure that all of you have heard about the recent bizarre spate of human mutilations.  First, there was the drugged-out guy in Florida who ate a homeless man's face, putting him in the hospital with life-threatening injuries; the face-eater himself was ordered to stop by the police, but just looked up at them... and growled.  The police shot and killed him.  Then, a guy in Hackensack, New Jersey was holed up in his apartment with a knife, threatening to kill himself, and police ordered him to surrender -- so the guy stabbed himself, and proceeded to hurl pieces of his own intestines at the stunned cops.  Then a Canadian nutjob killed a former lover, ate part of him, and mailed other assorted parts to the Canadian governmental headquarters.  And then, just two days ago, two guys got in a fight in a Staten Island diner, and bit off and swallowed part of the guy's ear.

Not to mention the recent outbreak of "flesh-eating bacteria" in the American Southeast.

All of this has resulted in a flood of emails and calls into the CDC, from people terrified about the ongoing "zombie outbreak."  Sites have popped up all over the internet that we are seeing the beginning of the "zombie apocalypse" -- and that the CDC knew about it ahead of time, and that's what gave rise to the link on the CDC site about "zombie preparedness."  More insidiously, some conspiracy-minded types are suggesting that the CDC engineered the whole thing, and what we're seeing is a zombie-virus outbreak, √† la 28 Days Later.

Predictably, I'm not buying any of it.

The truth of the matter is that the whole thing boils down to a standard principle of media; once you've found a catchy idea that causes people to read what you write, continue to riff indefinitely on the same theme.  The Florida face-eater was certainly a wild story, and its release in national media was probably justified.  But once that happened, and people mentioned the z-word, the other stories were cast in the same light, to get the same kind of attention -- the suicidal self-stabber in Hackensack probably wouldn't have reached national media if it hadn't been for the first story, and neither would the ear-biter in Staten Island.  The Canadian killer was certainly big news... but the news agencies that released that story all mentioned the Florida case, cinching up the connection in people's minds between the two unrelated incidents.

And now, the CDC is catching major amounts of flak for their "Zombie Preparedness" site, from people who (1) believe that Shaun of the Dead was a scientific documentary, and (2) wouldn't recognize a joke if it walked up and, um, bit them.  The CDC Zombie Preparedness page itself has had so much traffic that several of the subsidiary links on the site have crashed or have been taken down.

So anyway, let's keep our eye on the ball, people.  There are no such things as zombies.  There have been a lot of movies about zombies, but they're fiction.  (If you're curious, here's the Wikipedia canonic list of zombie movies -- including such obvious winners as Zombie Attack from Outer Space and Violent Shit III: The Infantry of Doom.)  The CDC was just trying to be funny, but also call attention to emergency preparedness, with their site, and are neither covering up a zombie apocalypse, nor are they responsible for one.

Okay, have we got that straight, now?  Because I have to go make sure my shotgun is loaded.


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  2. Bravo, Gordon! It's funny to tease about the imminent, I mean, er, um, fictional zombie apocalypse, but you have to draw the line somewhere. My daughter said the same thing just last night, most of the stories are always happening, the face eater story just brought them to light. The media is so good at stoking the fires of mass hysteria.

    What? Oh that old thing? That's just my Glock 9mm. Doesn't everyone keep one by their computer?


  3. ZOMBIES!!!!111!1!1!

    The Walking Dead is a fantastic show that put the "Pseudo-Realistic Zombie Survival" genre back on the map (a la 28 days/weeks later)

    If you are not aware of this show, you need to be. Yes, it's that good.