Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Zombies: What's the Fascination?

Author: Olivia Grace Burbage

 Cartoon of a zombie
Zombies. Why are we all so curious about zombies? More fiction than fact, the zombie is, at its barest minimum, the living corpse of a human body. But how can it be a living corpse? If “living” refers to the presence of life and “corpse” refers to the presence of death, how can the two words come together to describe one creature? That is exactly the point. Nothing can be both alive and dead – functioning yet not processing, thinking, or controlling itself – can it?
A zombie is a flesh eating, supposed to be dead human who acts on to its desire for flesh and nothing else. It does not think, remember, or rationalize. To kill a zombie, according to J. Gordon Melton’s The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead, a sharp blow to the head should do it (831). That, of course, is not so simple when the zombie is desperately trying to eat you. They hang out in mobs, which makes destroying them even more difficult, and as far as their concern over keeping up appearances – it doesn’t exist. J. Gordon Melton describes them as decomposing human bodies wearing horrid expressions (831). Their hair isn’t combed, their clothes are tattered, and their bodies, trying desperately to decompose, eventually form gaping holes. I ask again, why are we all so curious about zombies?

Map of Haiti
So where did the zombie come from? Someone’s overactive imagination, perhaps? Actually, the zombie was first born out of Haitian voodoo. Before modern science came to the rescue with its current definition of the death-state – no response, no breathing, no heart-rate, and no brain activity – many people were buried alive. Haiti, with its limited technology and medical knowledge, buried many a live person. So when these allegedly dead humans came back from the dead, the scare must have been tremendous. During the 1980s, an author named Wade Davis encountered this first hand when he traveled to Haiti to perform some research (Hall). He actually met and carried on a conversation with a man who wore a scar on his face from the nail of his coffin. (Hall) Perhaps it was stories like this that led to the birth of the zombie.
Maybe, however, it was the use of a certain drug called tetrodotoxin, discovered in Haiti by ethnobotanists and anthropologists according to research done by Penn State's James Conroy. Tetrodotoxin is a “potent neurotoxin,” taken from the puffer fish. This poison is so deadly that the amount in one fish is enough to kill about thirty people (Conroy). Haitian witchdoctors used this drug, so zombies may have developed through its use. The problem with such a drug being the cause of zombification is that the amount given to a person would have to be so specific that it would shut down their mental processes, almost to the point of a coma, yet not kill them. Author of the book The Zombie Movie Encyclopedia Peter Dendle believes that a few rare times in history this phenomenon may have happened, but not enough to fear the coming of the zombie apocalypse (Conroy).
So, if zombies as we know them are not living bodies returning from a too early burial or the result of this powerful neurotoxin, what are they? Who can define and describe a zombie? Because zombies are mostly the result of overactive imaginations, they are incredibly difficult to define. I may feel confident in my description of a zombie, but someone else may disagree on nearly every point. But on one point, most every expert in the field agrees: zombies are fiction. What they are is not nearly as important as why we let them go to our heads.

Works Cited:
Brand, Anton. “#9403566 – Cartoon of a green zombie hand coming out of the earth.”
Cartoon. 123RF. N.p. 12 Oct. 2012. Web. 22 Oct. 2012.
 Conroy, James. ResearchPennState. The Pennsylvania State University. 29 Oct. 2007.
Web. 18 Oct. 2012.

Engdahl, F. William. “The Fateful Geological Prize Called Haiti.” Map.
Fluxguru. Blogger. Web. Friday, Feb. 4 2011. 22 Oct. 2012.

Hall, Carla. “Back From The Realm of The Zombies: Author Wade Davis’ Account Of
            His Voodoo Pilgrimages Haiti’s Zombies.” Washington Post. 7 Feb. 1986: 1+.
            Washington Post (Historical) (ProQuest). Web. 17 Oct. 2012

Melton, J. Gordon. The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead. Canton: Visible
Ink Press, 2011. Print.

Links for further research:

ABC Science
Has fascinating research about actual cases of zombification in Haiti and gives more detail on the process.

Also talks about Haitian zombies but from a more skeptical point of view. It goes into much more detail about the most widely known case of Haitian zombification

Offers a workable definition based on the opinion of the author of what a zombie actually is

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