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The Problem with Zombies

Updated on June 5, 2011

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I’ve seen my fair share of zombie movies in my life,  and I’ve read my fair share of zombie literature in my life, so I feel adequately prepared should a zombie apocalypse occur.  I’ve got chainsaws and boom sticks at the ready.  However, I’ve noticed a few things about the zombies portrayed as of late that have given me some concern for the public preparing for the inevitable outbreak of undead hordes, and with the recent rise in zombie popularity, I thought I’d take a minute to point out some inconsistencies with most zombie lore that might create issues for those trying to survive a real zombie apocalypse.

My first point of contention: the over-night takeover.  Tell me if this sounds familiar: our main character is traveling home from a long day of work.  The streets seem eerily quiet, everything is tranquil and without fault.  Our character goes through a quick post work routine (if it’s a female lead they take a nice steamy shower), and then dozes off to sleep setting the alarm for 6:00AM the next morning (remember kids, zombies don’t take over on weekends).  Of course, when our main character awakens to the alarm (or a snarling member of the recently undead), the entire world has changed in a matter of six or seven hours.  The streets are filled with ravenous undead, cars are flipped over, buildings are burning.  People are screaming and running through the streets trying to find a safe haven.  But there is no such place.  The zombies have taken over the entire world.

So here’s my problem with that scenario: how the heck did they take over so fast?  I could understand a small outbreak, but almost all of these stories show a world completely overrun even though the day before was pretty normal.  Oh, and by the way, how did our main character not wake up during this whole takeover?  Cars are crashing, buildings are blowing up, the military is having shootouts with hordes of zombies, but our hero managed to sleep peacefully through the entire ordeal?  It seems like this zombie takeover would be a bit of a noisy transition.  But I digress: back to the scale and speed of the zombie takeover.  Wouldn’t there be some kind of warning?  Doctors wouldn’t find a small batch of zombies in some obscure country and warn the news devouring public of a potential outbreak?  I think about the bird flu and the swine flu and all the other kinds of flu, and I remember very distinctly everyone freaking out before it had even become a problem.  So you’re telling me that a disease that would basically wipe out everything we know and love wouldn’t get so much as a segment dedicated to it on the Today Show before it hit big?  It seems a little unlikely.  Now, some may argue (nerds) that the zombies spread like a virus, and viruses can spread rather quickly. However, that logic doesn’t hold up either.  Zombies traditionally spread their “undead-ness” through biting the victim. If that’s the case, how did it travel so fast?  Biting is a rather slow process. We would have to assume that many of the victims even put up a fight. Do these zombies possess the same powers as Santa Claus on Christmas?  Airborne diseases don’t do as much damage in six or seven hours!  These zombies must be doing some serious work.  This brings me to my next issue: zombie speed.

Why are zombies so freakin’ fast now?  I remember when I was a kid, zombies traveled at a pretty reasonable speed (Dawn of the Dead, Resident Evil), but now-a-days, they seemed to have developed Olympian quicks and endurance.  What about becoming undead makes you faster?  Let’s say it’s the traditional evil-zombies-being-reincarnated-by-some-mystical-force group.  They were dead.  They were buried.  They are decaying.  How is that going to increase their speed?  You’d think that losing 70% of your muscle tissue would slow you down, but that is apparently not the case.

What about the virus zombies though, right? They’re not decaying. True. They aren’t decaying, but they’re sick and they’re still humans.  Walk around town today.  How many people around you look fast?  Maybe one or two, right?  The majority of people are fat and unathletic!  Getting sick isn’t going to turn you into Usain Bolt.  You’ll be just as pathetic a physical specimen as you were before the virus fried your brain.  Yet, in many stories, zombies run at an incredible rate of speed.  Not only that, but they are relentless!

Zombies never give up.  It’s surprising considering how apathetic we are as a species.  No one does anything for themselves anymore.  We have drive up food, drive up medicine, drive up money, even drive up liquor stores (honest: I saw one)!  Humans have become increasingly lazier over the last 100 years as technology has taken over all the work. BUT…when we become zombies, suddenly our work ethic kicks right back in.  We aren’t giving up!  We’ll run through walls, travel across the country on foot, and get through any obstacle in our way to get a taste of those sweet brains.  I’m pretty sure in a real zombie apocalypse, we won’t have to worry about relentless undead.  They’ll get bored within five to ten minutes and sit around watching flesh fall off each other.  Now, I know that some will argue (nerds) that becoming a zombie may put you in touch with your more animalistic side. After all, we did evolve from primates, right? Let me try to poke a hole in this argument as well.

I enjoy the occasional nature programming, and I’ve made an interesting observation as of late.  Animals don’t give chase for very long.  They don’t have the endurance or mindset to keep after the same thing all day.  If the lion can’t catch the gazelle, it doesn’t chase it across the entire African continent. Ever been chased by a dog?  Did it last all day?  Or, how about this, have you ever played with a dog?  They run in circles and jump around, but after a few minutes, they’re tired!  Animals need rest just like humans do.  And they don’t exactly have the highest brain capacity, do they?  My dog forgets that I was even around every time I turn a corner.  When I come back, I might as well have been gone for a decade.  So, you’re zombie may want to eat you at the moment, but if you are out of sight long enough, they’ll move on.

What does this all mean? Does this mean we shouldn’t prepare for the undead uprising? Should the gripping fear of flesh eaters be stricken from our subconscious? No. I’m not discrediting the destructive force of zombies. I’m simply saying that we might be wrong about how this whole thing is going to go down. A real zombie apocalypse probably won’t make for a very good movie.  Much like any real story, if it isn’t embellished, it’s probably boring.  No, the real zombie apocalypse won’t be an apocalypse at all. It will be slow, probably only regional, and most of all it will be apathetic.

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