Are You Ready for the Zombie Apocalypse?

Spoiler Alert: We’re in this Movie and It’s Already Started

Photo by ActionVance on Unsplash

I’ve been having this thought for awhile, keeping it to myself, wondering if anyone else is having it too. The parallels are everywhere. The plot points uncanny. It’s like we’ve seen this movie before.

I think we are living in a Zombie Apocalypse.

Remember not-so-long ago when it was a game we played on social media? How will you prepare for the Zombie Apocalypse? Who, of your family and friends, will be in your apocalypse crew?

The trend was largely fueled by the glut of television shows, movies and books that proliferated pop culture at the time, particularly The Walking Dead.

The Center for Disease Control even came out with a Zombie Preparedness campaign, a satirical effort to raise awareness for disaster readiness. There were plenty who deliberately or naively overlooked the satire. I remember conversations with some who were convinced that an End Times-style zombie infestation was more than a real possibility, it was inevitable. We would someday come face-to-dead face with the actuality of a world overrun by brainless human fiends, and those who survived would be left to negotiate the fraught and frightening landscape of a dark new world.

It looks like they may have been right. But probably not in the way they expected.

Here and There — Cedar Keys, Fla. 2020 Photo by S. Spehar

Division, tribalism, Us versus them. Two realities, but only one of them real. Alternate sets of facts, but only one set of them factual. The righteous and the delusional. The Living and the Undead. Survivors and Zombies. You see where I’m going with this.

Since we’re now at the point where the movie begins, and it wasn’t the drama of a meteor contamination or a lab experiment gone awry, perhaps I should review our backstory. Full disclosure: I was well into multiple discarded drafts of this piece, trying to do just that, when Rush Limbaugh croaked. That’s when it all clicked in my head.

That’s our origin story, right there. Not that it should come as a revelation or anything but the guy has been so irrelevant in recent years that it’s easy to forget he was a key progenitor of the fake-facts, alternative truth universe. Okay, that was a huge understatement. He was the original carrier, if you will, of a virus — an arguably more-destructive one — that has been infecting this country since long before COVID-19 was the twinkle in a bat’s eye. Rush Limbaugh was the Bringer of the Plague.

He provided an endless array of shiny baubles to expand his customer base. He was a master at making the petty grievances of fearful, failing, middle-class white supremacists seem reasonable, because he was entertaining. He spoke to their suppressed resentments and submerged rage, provided a cathartic release by making it okay to project blame for their shameful self-loathing on Others. He did it in a way that was obnoxious and polarizing, but also seemed kind of harmless, at least in the beginning. I had liberal-minded friends who were regular listeners, because they wanted to hear what he would say next. That’s how he drew them in, his flock. He normalized his abhorrent morality so that Joe Everyman too could absolve himself, and feel okay about celebrating the deaths of sick queers.

You either plant your flag on the field of rationality, common sense and long-established social ethics, or you put your faith in the unhinged psychobabble of a megalomaniac whom you decided to support once upon a time because he “spoke his mind,” and at this point you’ve just come way too far to let it go. You either believe Joe Biden won the election, with no qualifiers whatsoever, or….well, you’re a zombie.

Gradually and eventually, entertainment becomes viewpoint, alternative versions of easily-verifiable facts become legitimatized, and just like that, the ground shifted, ever so little, under our feet (we barely noticed it) as a generation of the infected — the virus dormant in their consciousness — grew into a significant measure of cultural, social and political relevance. An entire segment of the American population imbued with the belief, and the assurance, that embracing their own desired truth as reality is not only acceptable, but comforting. Even triumphant. It made them — in another bizarro example of their alternate-reality universe — free-thinkers, and not sheep.

Joyland — Wichita, KS, 2013 Photo by S. Spehar

With the onset of round the clock cable news and the Information Age, that schism became a wedge, one we felt as more than a tremor. More sources for propaganda and steady streams of disinformation proliferated the public discourse. The wackos on the fringes with their conspiracy theories and paranoid xenophobia were normalized now, on the airwaves and the interwebs.

And then a thunderous split in the firmament. Facts, civility, empathy, principals — all of it tumbled into the abyss. The country trembled on it’s foundations as Donald J. Trump was elected as President of the United States. (I still find it astonishing to hear, read or write that sentence in full.)

This was, in many ways, the very apotheosis of Limbaugh’s raison d’être. At that moment, though he became irrelevant as a human, he was immortalized in the disembodied politics of nihilism that engulfed roughly 40% of American voters.

Because whatever your feelings about his death––and the public eulogizing has been mostly swift and fierce––it is a fact that his legacy lives on in the embodiment of this contagion, eating America from the inside. The very fact that so many have the unchecked compulsion to mirthfully dance on his grave in public forums illustrates this fact. Though I find these reactions understandable, justifiable and hilarious, I have realized that my own feelings are what I can only describe as indifference. Don’t get me wrong — I think the man was a real grade-A pile of shit. I just personally find indulging in that kind of gleeful Schadenfreudic hatred exhausting, especially for a human who deserves to be remembered as little more than a parasite, to be flicked off the sleeve of our collective consciousness.

But still…zombies.

They’re not going anywhere, and neither is the virus that feeds them. The endless sources of misinformation masquerading as news will keep emerging in the form of things called Newsmax and OAN, spawns born out of the gelatinous body of Fox News, like infant clones popping out of a wet Gremlin, and then suddenly coming into prominence when Fox was deemed too centrist, like the small evil head that emerges out of the big evil head of the Alien queen.

In other words, the death of Limbaugh will not stop the virulent dissemination of divisive and bigoted belief systems. It will in fact serve as a validation, a memorial to them. QAnon is not going quietly into the good night. The slightly rounded edges of Trumpist fascism are not going to evaporate because The Donald got stripped of his megaphone.

And unlike other viruses we’ve met––ahem––zombie-ism cannot be stopped by masking or vaccinations. Social distancing though? A necessary and instinctual defensive technique employed to simply keep them the fuck away, both physically and out of our mind’s periphery. Prolonged exposure to the irrational ravings of a zombie is bad for mental health. (One might even say it’s like someone is eating your brain, if one wanted to beat this metaphor into pitiable submission.) You’ve probably already been doing it for years now: unfriending on social media; walking away from frustrating encounters we have in bars or the subway; avoiding that certain relative in situations where you absolutely have to be in the same room. I think we all believed it would somehow pass, at some point, but it’s not. It’s become amplified on a greater scale. It is embedded into the way we make and maintain social contact.

It’s no longer a matter of consciously choosing a side. Because if you’ve come this far, and you’re still not sure, that is a very large elephant in a very small room. And perhaps I can help with that.

Prepared to Die — Atlanta, Ga. 2018 Photo by S. Spehar

You either believe in verifiable truths like video evidence and reputable journalism, or you don’t. You either accept the best available analysis of scientists and doctors, or you don’t. You either plant your flag on the field of rationality, common sense and long-established social ethics, or you put your faith in the unhinged psychobabble of a megalomaniac whom you decided to support once upon a time because he “spoke his mind,” and at this point you’ve just come way too far to let it go. You either believe Joe Biden won the election, with no qualifiers whatsoever, or….well, you’re a zombie.

And to that point, remember this: zombies don’t know they’re zombies. They just know they have an insatiable desire to eat brains. Likewise, white supremacists and bigots don’t see themselves that way either. When they look in the mirror, they see patriots, and dream about the America they have recast in their warped image as Great Again.

In every great zombie fiction, the survivors––huddled in the resolve of their predicament, alone and yet together in a world gone mad––are fighting to simply survive. They accept the grim reality that they now live in a world where the zombies cannot be eradicated, and they only hope to mount their fortifications, do their best to live one day at a time in their frightening new reality. They will not hesitate, for the well-being of the rest, to sacrifice any among them who become infected.

The zombies though? They are relentless. They exist only to infect. They will not stop until there are only zombies left.

There is no doubt, with or without my handy Zombie Apocalypse metaphor, that each of us has already been considering the very tangible implications of our broken and divided America, and what it means for us going forward. If you have been drawing breath for just, let’s say, the past 3 months alone, you can probably rattle off a myriad of examples in which we are continuously imperiled by the undead hordes among us, in sickening and terrifying ways. The organized mob of anti-vaxxers at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, who halted the dissemination of a vaccine to hundreds who had waited hours for it. The censuring of Republican politicians by their local and state loyalists for literally doing the right thing. The events of January 6th. You heard about that right? Those are just off the top of my head.

I’m not even gonna mention the rabbit-holes inhabited by the QAnon Qult, who probably represent the most virulent and far-gone of the front-line zombie army. According to a January poll, around 30% of Republicans have “favorable views” about the conspiracy theory.

That statistic alone illustrates that there is a segment of the populace that is even more terrifying than the radicalized insurrectionists and the ignorant demonstrators and the overtly-organized white supremacist terrorists.

It’s the zombies who do nothing. They don’t act, they simply accept the alternate reality without complaint. They condone, they comply, they enable. They accept, despite all evidence to the contrary, that our last national election was a sham. And any election in the future, where their preferred candidate loses? That one’s going to be illegitimate, too.

Or, they casually engage in Both-Sides-ism, and decry that their tacit support for a nationalist white-supremacist shouldn’t mean that we can’t leave politics out of our personal interactions.

Unfortunately, unlike that other big virus that’s been in the news, this infestation lacks one thing that a global Coronavirus pandemic inherently contains: the possibility of a solution. And endgame, if you will.

There isn’t a light at the end of this particular tunnel, unless it’s the proverbial oncoming train. It’s not going to stop. It’s not going to get better, at least not in the foreseeable future.

Take up your weapons of truth and righteousness, gather your uninfected crew around you, fortify your compound. America is in for a rough episode, and as far as I can tell, this one is unscripted, and so the ending hasn’t been written.

But let’s face it — even in the zombie movies with happy endings, are they really happy endings?

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Steve Spehar

Steve Spehar

Writer, photographer, actor, poet, musings on life, philosophy, travel, culture, art, politics & zen. Based in New Orleans, living in a garage by the river.