Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Zombies and the right to survive

A few years ago, with such titles as 28 Days Later and the remake of Dawn of the Dead, the Zombie genre came back into vogue. Then, we started seeing movies, TV shows, and even video games starting to deal with Life After the Zombie Apocalypse, like Land of the Dead, AMC’s The Walking Dead and The Last Of Us for the Playstation 3. Now, of course post-apocalyptic works aren’t new, and I think the issue I’m going to address first began with the genre, but it’s something that has interested me as I’ve observed these more contemporary theories at what that sort of world would be like.

Namely: the longer a person survives in a hellish landscape such as the zombie apocalypse, the more likely they are to be reviled by other survivors (who, ironically, must have survived just as long). I’ll use The Walking Dead here because it’s the one I’m most familiar with, but I’ll also address The Last of Us later on.


In this most recent season The Walking Dead, Rick and company find a housing development that built a very well-engineered wall back in the early days, and have been fending for themselves admirably since the beginning. They were staying below the radar, neither advertising their presence nor allowing others to come and join them. However, for some reason that is far from clear, they decide that they want to start letting other people in. Their “recruiter” follows Rick and company for a while, then offers them the opportunity to “audition” for membership in their group.

When Rick and the group enter the community, they have a hard time adjusting. Their behaviors, which they learned through trial and error, based on the needs of their nomadic lifestyle, don’t apply. They find themselves either relieved or repulsed by the fact that these people have few worries beyond those of pre-apocalypse suburbanites. Michonne wants the group to integrate, Carol seems to look at them as nothing more than a cache of supplies to take from, and Rick thinks he’s going to have to hammer them into his mold in order for everyone to survive.

In the meantime, the members of the community that Rick & Co have joined welcome them without reservation, by and large, until their personalities and ideologies start clashing. Right off the bat, Glen makes enemies with the leader’s son (who later ends up dead by no fault of Glen’s). Rick gets a crush on a woman whose husband beats her. Sasha hates everyone and wants to make sure everyone knows it—she is suffering from PTSD. So, the residents of Alexandria start to think of the newcomers as bad eggs.

It’s a recurring theme in the interactions between Rick & Co and anyone else. From the evil ones, you hear “Yeah, we’re bad, but at least we admit we’re bad—you all still think you’re the good guys!” From the rest, there is a shying away if not a verbal proclamation that Rick and his group are too bad. All of the “good” groups they meet have this feeling of newness, like they just logged on to the zombie apocalypse within the last month or so and boy howdy, things started getting hard when they ran out of toilet paper. It feels a bit disingenuous to me, that so many people would be so scandalized by the fact that Rick’s group has had to kill people to survive. It’s always perceived as their failing; there doesn’t seem to be any benefit of the doubt. Doesn’t matter if they were gonna eatcha, you can’t go around killing people. I myself have met nothing but hippies and eaten nothing but rainbows and bacon since this whole thing started. Can’t you be more like me?


In The Last of Us, you’re escorting a girl who holds the key to the cure of zombie-ism to the rebel movement who is resisting the martial law that was put into place at the beginning of the outbreak and has not let up (twenty years later). You kill zombies, but almost just as often you kill people. In the style of video games, you don’t really have a choice about that: dudes are shooting at you, you shoot back, the game progresses. But the further you go, the more you run into people who’ve “heard tell of the psychopath traveling with the little girl,” just as if you were seeking out people to kill rather than attempting to pass peacefully through an area. TLoU is interesting, though, because it’s a game, and one of the things that makes games different from movies is the idea that maybe you have a choice in how things go. And in TLoU, you really don’t. To a large extent, you can’t even choose to kill as few people as possible; the encounter doesn’t end until every last opponent is dead. In the very end, you don’t get to choose how to handle the “choice” that’s presented to you. It feels very weird, because it really does feel like you have a choice—if you didn’t, why didn’t they just make it a cinema? It feels like Joel is in charge and just lets you think you’re driving. But whatever, that’s tangential to my point.


My point is this: the longer someone survives after the apocalypse begins, it seems the less the rest of the human race believes that s/he deserves it. “The things you have done to survive make you an unsavory character,” seems to be the message. Individuals who view their own actions as being less deplorable than the ones the others have perpetrated feel entitled to judge. But I guess that’s why their group only very rarely, if ever, grows: individuals or other groups hold up their rap sheet next to the protagonist’s and find them to be similar.

That sorta brings up the right to survive, to me. Are we all entitled to do what we have to to survive? A game outside of the genre of zombie post-apocalypse is This War of Mine. (I have not played it, but only heard of it through James Recommends.) In this game, you play a civilian living in a city under seige. You have to make decisions about what you do to survive. You have a group, and you have to figure out how to keep everyone alive. You keep your shelter up, and you scavenge for food. This frequently means you have to choose between taking your supplies from others in this city, or not having enough food for everyone to live. So, you make judgement calls. Will this person you’re stealing from live without those supplies you’re taking? Would they live even if they had the supplies? Do you help a survivor in danger, or do you take advantage of the distraction to take the supplies? What right does a person have to survive?

I don’t even begin to know the answer to that question, to be honest. But it’s a fun brain worm. What do you think?

Word count: 40,808 (齨)

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