Disability: No, You Probably Aren't (and other thoughts on the Zombie Apocalypse)

[Content Note: Disabilities, Violence, Zombies, Apocalypses, Pregnancy/Abortion]

Are you prepared for the zombie apocalypse?

You don't have to answer that, because I can already tell you that, no, you probably aren't. Oh, you may know in a loose, vaguely defined sense what you need to do and have and be in order to be prepared for the zombie apocalypse, but this isn't G.I. Joe and knowing isn't half the battle. It's not even a quarter of the battle.

Of course, be fair, it's possible that you've been training night and day for the collapse of civilization. It's possible that you have been blessed with genes that ensure you never get sick and never need so much as a flu shot. It's possible that you're capable of walking for miles and sprinting over moderate distances to safety without pulling a muscle or straining yourself or tripping and breaking a leg. It's possible that you're a crack shot with your weapon of choice and additionally well trained in physical combat and escaping holds.

Maybe you've been preparing more than just your body. It's possible that you have a map in your home of all the nearby stores worth looting in the area, and you're ready and able to loot the stores of necessary items when the time comes. Maybe you own -- or know where to locate -- three or four conveniently-placed yachts and in a pinch you can load the yachts up with your stolen supplies, lash all the yachts together, and pilot your mega-craft to a nice secluded island somewhere.

It's possible that you've been training to be completely self-sufficient. Once on your island, maybe you can single-handedly clear out the island of marauding zombies and infected survivors. It's possible that you can erect your own wall around the island, high enough and strong enough to keep out the invading press of zombie bodies and also fully capable of repelling the bullets of would-be invaders back at them.

Maybe you know how long canned goods last before they go bad. Maybe you're capable of growing your own food, in all the varieties you might nutritionally need, right there on your island without a steady influx of new seeds or fertilizer every year. Maybe you can distill your own clean water and safely remove your own sewage. Maybe you can create your own clothes and blankets and coverings and shelter so that you won't die from exposure. Maybe you can grind your own glasses if your eyesight worsens or pull your own teeth if they get infected. And maybe you can be really super careful and never break any bones or sustain any cuts or get bitten by any disease carrying insects.

I mean, I doubt it, but it's possible. Maybe you really are 100% prepared for the zombie apocalypse.

But you probably aren't.

It's a common question -- are you prepared? -- on the internet, at parties, anywhere an icebreaker is needed. Some people can actually get quite taken with the subject, almost seeming to verve on a desire for the zombie apocalypse to occur, and other people can get understandably annoyed with this sentiment -- especially seeing as how pretty much anyone with a disability of pretty much any kind whatsoever (myself included) is pretty boned in a zombie apocalypse scenario. And you can probably see why "I am looking forward to a fictional occurrence which will result in your painful death" could be a bit of a downer in a conversation. I certainly can.

And yet still we're taken with zombie fiction. Why?

I don't think it's necessarily a disregard for or a distaste of people with disabilities. Certainly we live in a society that tends to ignore people with disabilities, if not outright ostracize them, and the ableism in our society is probably going to leak into any mainstream media like zombie fiction. But I think it's more complex than that. I don't think most of the people who are taken with zombie apocalypse fiction think it will be a fun or beneficial thing; I think most of the people who are taken with zombie apocalypse fiction enjoy imagining worst case survival scenarios as a fun mental pastime.

At least I know I do. When I was a kid, it was Robinson Crusoe and The Swiss Family Robinson, courtesy of the Great Illustrated Classics. The Swiss Family Robinson in particular captivated me: they had all the supplies they needed, right there on their boat, including a whole passel of animals. The only needs that arose were ones that could be quickly and inventively dealt with; I don't recall Mom Robinson ever fretting about herbal birth control or trying to decide whether a pregnancy-carried-to-term would be more or less dangerous than an attempt to self-induce a miscarriage. I even remember going somewhere as a child -- was it a Disney location? -- and walking through a "real" version of the Robinson tree house and marveling at how lovely everything was. Why couldn't I live in a tree, completely bereft of all modern technology, and yet cozy and comfortable by narrative fiat? It seemed so unfair.

I couldn't live on the Robinson island in privation any more than I could survive a zombie apocalypse. Probably none of us could, at least not for very long. (Obvious point: On a long enough timeline, no one gets out of life alive.) But isn't it the same portion of my brain that "prepares" for the zombie apocalypse now that once as a child "prepared" for living on the Robinson island? I think it is.

An awful lot of humans enjoy the act of planning. Planning provides a sense of security and a sense of control over our environment. And control over my environment is something that I really do not have. I can't control how much pollution is in the air around me or in the sea a few hours from me. I can't control the work that I do or how I am tasked or whether or not someone will be angry with me for things beyond my control. I can't influence my yearly performance report and the accompanying possible raise, despite the company fiction that I somehow can if I only clap my hands and believe. I can't control when my car will need new tires or when my back will give out or when the gloomy weather will send me into an unproductive funk or whether Husband will have to work late and we won't have our computer-playing-time together that night.

I can't control any of those things. But by god I can control whether or not I decide to head north to Canada or south to Mexico when the zombie outbreak occurs at the hospital across the street.

In my head, of course. In real life, I'd have as little control over my life then as I do now. But it's not real; it's a fantasy.

One of the things I've been realizing more and more lately is that quite a lot of literature is fantasy. Not in the orcs-and-magic sense but in the escapism sense. We've talked a little about the fact that just because the relationships in Twilight are abusive by Real World standards, that it does not automatically follow that the people who read Twilight as fans are necessarily pining for genuinely abusive relationships. The abuse in the fantasy is mitigated by the narrative control: as bad as Edward Cullen gets, he does not pose a real threat to Bella because she is protected by the power of being a protagonist.

I wonder, therefore, if we can't say that it follows that just because people with disabilities are well and truly boned in zombie apocalypse fiction, it doesn't automatically follow that the people who enjoy zombie apocalypse fiction are necessarily wanting people with disabilities dead, or even necessarily wanting the zombie apocalypse to occur at all. Oh, I'm sure there are one or two people out there who might fit the description, but I think that for the majority of folks the "are you prepared?" question is an invitation to fantasize, and not an expectation of reality.

Of course, being aware that not everyone likes your fantasy is part of being pleasant to be around. But that's true whether your fantasy is sparkly vampires or zombies. 

And maybe there's one more reason why zombies are so popular: they're not real. Shipwrecks and being castaway can happen, global nuclear war can happen, economic collapse can happen, diseases that make everyone drop dead can happen. Zombies -- that is, a disease that makes the dead get back up and walk around in full denial of everything we know about thermodynamics, biology, and physics -- can't happen. Perhaps it's telling that the popular apocalypse fantasy of choice is currently one that we can mentally put down and walk away from anytime it gets too real.

That doesn't mean our society is perfect on issues of abelism, because it's not. But it does mean that I think you can be a zombie-fan without automatically wanting me to be zombie nommage.*

* Unless you actually do want me to be zombie nommage. In which case... uhm... back at you? Ha! Comebacks, I rock at them.

98 comments:

Bayley G said...

I also find a lot of times when people bring the subject up, it's because they're fairly certain they're more prepared and more knowledgeable than me, thus having a better survival chance, and want to feel superior. But then, most of these conversations happen between me and several individuals with somewhat deficient social skills, often due to non-nuerotypicality, so maybe my frame of reference is skewed.

Anthony Rosa said...

Anecdotes do tend to show things other than the norm, yes.

Speaking of anecdotes, I've had such delightful conversations with people. Recently it's mostly been with a military friend of mine. They're actually quite fun, and not about acting superior to each other.

Of course, as we were talking about what we would do in this situation, we were not talking about the rest of society. The guy with a wheelchair who lives in my neighborhood, for example, never came up, either in thought or conversation. I'm fat, though, so it's not like this was just two thin military types discussing it. It was a thin military type and a fatter allegedly-smarty-type discussing it!

In other words... it's fantasy, yes. To which the statement of "But it does mean that I think you can be a zombie-fan without automatically wanting me to be zombie nommage" would be met, at least by my friends and me, with

"Um... duh?"

Can't speak for anyone I haven't spoken to about it, though! So again. Anecdotes ahoy!

Redwood Rhiadra said...

I even remember going somewhere as a child -- was it a Disney location? -- and walking through a "real" version of the Robinson tree house and marveling at how lovely everything was.

I know there's one at the original Disney World in Orlando (in the old Magic Kingdom) - I don't know about California's Disneyland. The Swiss Family Robinson movie (1960) was a Disney production, and the tree house is taken from the movie - it doesn't actually match the book all that well.

Dav said...

I think a big part of the appeal for me is not just the immediate survival scenario - in fact, that's not the big draw at all. The surviving the zombies is just the set-up for a sandbox fantasy. It's the part after the zombies kill almost everyone else (except my faithful dog). It's returning to a state where the world is a frontier again. After most people die, you get to live a nice fantasy pioneer life. Or maybe living in luxury amongst the ruins of New York. But no one I know thinks about living in an empty suburb in Nebraska, going from house to house and eating whatever canned goods are there until you die.

In that sense, I think the zombie fantasy is very American; it's an instant reset to a time when the world was ripe for exploitation and the resources seemed endless and you could settle any place and be happy. It's a fantasy that really appeals to me as a fantasy - it *is* an invitation to daydream with a clean slate. (Full disclosure: I'm writing a game now based on the concept, and the game is basically an opportunity to daydream.)

But like all bootstrap fantasies, it requires a lot of selectivity to be enjoyable. I wouldn't make it alone. Even if we picked some paragon of genetics, luck, and training, they probably wouldn't make it alone. But imagining surviving as part of a group is a terrible fantasy, both in terms of Fantasies Americans Like and in terms of my personal quirks. (I cannot imagine a worse hell than being stuck with a frightened, stressed, armed group of people who need to stay together ALL THE TIME to survive.) The fantasies I enjoy are actually not the ones that would be a good idea in case of actual emergency. Nor are they related to how I'd actually react in an actual zombie apocalypse. I like pretty much all clean-slate fantasies: I win the lottery, I discover I'm going to live forever, I am stranded on an island, I am on a new and strange planet, my mind is transferred onto a machine and can do whatever it wants, I am evil overlord of the entire world. I don't want any of these things to actually happen to me, though.

Michael Mock said...

Yeah, I think that's a large part of the appeal - that, and the fact that zombies are just dangerous enough (because of the infection factor) to be a reasonably credible worldwide threat, but not so dangerous that a typical human has no chance against a single zombie. You don't, by contrast, find people fantasizing about what they'd do if the Alien Queen escaped from the ancient stone temple under Antarctica and established a nest in the Amazon.

But the notion that a great deal of literature is actually fantasy... I'd basically agree. And in that light, the ever-popular fantasy novel Atlas Shrugged is a sort of spiritual kin to a lot of other apocalyptic (and post-apocalyptic) fantasies. Part of the appeal is the idea of some catastrophe (zombies, a worldwide flood that lasts 40 days, plague, nuclear exchange) coming along to clear the world of all the dross: the people we don't like, who don't seem to be doing anything or contributing anything, and seem to exist basically as obstacles for the rest of us. It's a chance to start over, to make things new and fresh and better.

It's a naive fantasy, of course. In the real world, we don't get to choose who survives, so anything "exciting" about the experience would likely also be completely horrifying. In the real world, we aren't the Chosen People who will be saved; odds are, we're all part of the dross that will be wiped away. And in the real world, starting over and building anew means reinventing an unbelievable number of technological, social, and political necessities by trial and error, with the emphasis on error.

It's probably also worth noting that an awful lot of the annoying, useless nobodies that I wouldn't mind seeing wiped out... probably feel exactly the same way about me.

chris the cynic said...

My sister is very zombie oriented. Part of it is that she thinks you can't go wrong in the zombie apocalypse. All of your problems are of the simple, "You can shoot at them," variety and if you fail, well then you'll be a zombie and not care anymore. I have tried, and failed, to express how horrific that concept is to me.

Anyway, I'm not a big zompocalypse person, so I could be way off here, but it seems to me that if I were I'd be interested in stories that tried to address these issues. Working very hard to make it so that people with disabilities weren't all going to die, epic quests to make sure there would be enough food for the people with food allergies, and generally dealing with the actual problems that would come from a zompocalypse because if your new community is one where anyone who falls behind is left behind and anyone with a disability is doomed, you have utterly failed to preserve your humanity. You've become a monster and maybe I should be rooting for the zombies.

Then again, I don't read zombie fiction, so maybe there's no room for that.

I do, oddly, occasionally write zombie fiction.

I have this one idea in my head of someone who has managed to find a perfectly little place, plenty of food, plenty of clean water, electricity, wide open fields surrounding it this allowing one to seen an approaching horde from a great distance, and is stuck there all alone. No sign of any humans whatsoever. He broadcasts on a radio, hoping some one will some day respond. Mostly he says how to find him, but with no one else to talk to he says all sorts of stuff, quotes poetry, tells his story in out of order fragments, and talks about how he uses his electricity. He watches the same few minutes of Apollo 13 over and over again. The part where the capsule goes into reentry and loses radio contact and you hear, "Odyssey, this is Houston. Do you read?" over and over again with no response, passed when people think it means the must be dead, and then finally Odyssey responds.

Will Wildman said...

+1 to the perspective of zombie apocalypse as a 'pioneer fantasy', but I will take it further than that: I think it's a class warfare fantasy. One of the things that often comes up in zombpocalypses is that the wealthy are just as doomed as everyone else - sometimes extra-doomed. They'll try to buy their way to safety and be told that their millions mean nothing, or they will successfully buy their way into a superfortress and then learn that just one of their entourage cut themselves on a doorknob at a bad moment and they will be devoured and bleed all over their mink lawn.

I think the zombie apocalypse, for certain people, is a fantasy about equality that they don't ever expect to see in their lives, when everyone loses so much that the most privileged people lose the capacity to oppress the least. It's basically Christianity's Revelation and Great White Throne Judgment, but with more shotguns.

Will Wildman said...

(Department of Redundancy Department: 'apocalypse' of course means 'revelation'.)

Jonathan Pelikan said...

I wouldn't necessarily call myself a zombie fan, because horror in general isn't my bag... except, as I remember saying once, "if I can fight back." hence, I prefer Gears of War to Alone in the Dark because the scary things in Gears can be solved with chest-high walls and chainsaw bayonets. Normal plagues and stuff aren't really things that you can have a war with. There's ways to make an outbreak interesting, but still... I end up playing a lot of zombie games such as Rebuild, a strategy game about, well, supplies and security more than fire-axing zombies.

I'm going to use this as yet another opportunity to plug World War Z. It differs from most Zombie stuff in that it isn't really about the lone hero pulling themselves up by their bootstraps and using their boots to stomp zombies to death. It reads astonishingly like a document you'd really find a decade or so after the zombie apocalypse.

Loquat said...

My sister's a big fan of zombie apocalypse fiction - one Christmas she even joked that the high-quality chef's knife she'd been given would make a good backup anti-zombie weapon - but she's well aware that her odds of surviving an actual apocalypse are low at best. Most likely our entire extended family would be zombie chow; none of us are terribly athletic or experienced with weapons. My father-in-law, on the other hand, has a large arsenal, a large plot of land he's already accustomed to gardening, and the necessary equipment to make his own bullets, which means way too many people would try to hide out with him, and they'd run out of food.

I recommend World War Z to anyone who hasn't read it. It takes a much more realistic view of what would likely happen, and while I don't recall anyone with a disability specifically being mentioned, it does have large enclaves of civilization preserving themselves and taking care of the vulnerable.

Ana Mardoll said...

I'm reading WWZ for book club right now and liking it a lot. He has a blind man in it who lives in the wilds of Japan as a "Gardener of the Gods". Not perfect, but it brought tears to my eyes, anyway.

He also has a guy in a wheelchair who talks about his time on neighborhood patrol and how they tried to keep him out because of his disability.

One other good thing about Brooks is the WHOLE BOOK basically takes as read that men and women will be more egalitarian in the apocalypse because as long as you can hold a gun, your naughty bits don't matter. (After the war is a different matter -- there's a quick interview with a Russian (?) breeder who is basically a Handmaid's Tale-esque prisoner.)

Lonespark said...

This reminds me in a vague way of my 10th grade English class, and how we were studying "escape literature" vs. something else I can't remember the name of that was supposed to be better. Or possibly it was "escape fiction" vs. "literary fiction?" All the girls and most of the boys liked the "escape" example better. The two boys who didn't were courageously interested in dense, complex, art. Or maybe they weren't and were anti-happy endings/contrarians/whatever, and maybe you should have provided more examples and/or not made us all feel like we'd chosen "wrong," eh Mr. Teacher Doood. Rrrrr.

Mime_Paradox said...

Yes, this. The novel I'm working on right now actually involves a zombie apocalypse (or post-apocalypse--it depends on how the logistics and the timeline shake out) and the idea came about precisely out of my desire to craft a take on Usagi Yojimbo (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Usagi_Yojimbo) set on present day America. While Usagi is a samurai epic instead of a Western, the parallels--such as the lone stranger walking into a small town to solve its problem before leaving, and the one-stroke sword battles which in a western would be a quick-draw duel--are definitively there. And while my work was meant to be more Y: The Last Man than it was Resident Evil--the emphasis is on how the world is now that the major cities are abandoned, the U.S. can't legally import or export anything, and how civil rights can degrade in communities have no viable authority higher than the mayor--I'd be lying if I said I'd given much thought to the particular difficulties disabled people would face. : (

Makabit said...

I once casually commented to a classroom full of teenagers that my husband's zombie plan makes use of our proximity to the local police department's lockup.

Two teenage boys shot to attention, and said with great interest and respect, "YOUR husband has a zombie plan?"

Merricat said...

Almost every day of my life, I’ve passed a sign that says NO EVACUATION POSSIBLE. Once or twice a year sirens get tested for a two minute stretch, and every December I get mailed a calendar that contains several pages of emergency information. I live fairly close to a nuclear power plant, in a place that has only one means of egress. Which is to say, I’ve had a lifetime of considering “what if” scenarios in terms of nuclear disaster.

The zombie apocalypse is so absurd in contrast that I actually prefer thinking about the hordes of hungry undead instead of the very real possibility of a nuke plant screw-up.

What strikes me about the ZA survival question is that it always seems to be meant in a physical way. Are you strong enough? Fast enough? What will you eat? Where will you go? I saw one of my cousins over the holidays, and he was telling me about the new gun he bought for himself. He jokingly said that he was prepared for the ZA. So I asked him…

(Trigger Warning for Gun Violence)

“Could you shoot me? Say I’m a zombie now. How easy do you think it will be to shoot me? Even if I’m all dead and hungry, could you really look at me and pull the trigger? Without hesitation? And once you do shoot me, how will you feel?”

It flustered my cousin for a bit, because he never thought of it like that before. It was only a question of killing them before they kill you. He had considered the physical toll, but never the emotional impact.

I’ve always assumed that the zombies who surround you after the apocalypse would have been the people who surrounded you in life. Family, friends, neighbors… I honestly don’t know if I could mentally distance myself enough to shoot them, even if it was a matter of survival. Even if I could, I’d probably always wonder if there had been anything left of them inside the zombie. The guilt would probably eat me alive. Well, if the zombies didn’t get to me first...

Lonespark said...

I think it's a class warfare fantasy. One of the things that often comes up in zombpocalypses is that the wealthy are just as doomed as everyone else - sometimes extra-doomed. They'll try to buy their way to safety and be told that their millions mean nothing, or they will successfully buy their way into a superfortress and then learn that just one of their entourage cut themselves on a doorknob at a bad moment and they will be devoured and bleed all over their mink lawn.

Good point. I love that stuff.
You have only earned yourselves The Right To Starve Last! Hahahaha!!! We are the 99% (of Zombies?)

Lonespark said...

I also have a copy of World War Z that's looking for a good home.

Kit Whitfield said...

Personally I think Night of the Living Dead was about all the zombie movies that the world needed. But this geek-kitsch zombie fashion ... I think it's partly just an easy fantasy of violence. In most stories, a hero who goes around killing everybody he sees may appeal to the power-fantasy side of the brain, but it may also trigger a certain sense of discomfort because killing people is not what nice people do. Zombies are already dead, so there's no guilt; they're de-souled, shuffling meat. At the same time, they're more human-looking than aliens or what-have-you.

Fantasies of cathartic violence involve dehumanising your victims. Zombies are the ultimate dehumanised humans.

Michael Mock said...

I have to say that the last several post-apocalyptic things I looked at (The Stand being the main one) seemed a lot different to me now than they did when I was in my teens and twenties.

For one thing, there's a scene in The Stand where they leave leave the old woman's plentiful farm for a city in Colorado. In my youth, that seemed like an obvious choice. Now, I find myself thinking: Wait, why are you driving away from the food??? And then when they get there, they start working to restore electricity. And again I'm thinking, No, you need to be learning to grow your own food! That canned stuff won't last - it hasn't been air conditioned all summer! Could someone at least figure out if there's enough wildlife to make hunting a viable option?

And don't get me started on Tooth and Nail...

Dav said...

Except I've been reading and watching a *lot* of recent work that complicates that somewhat. Part of that is what I like to watch and read, but there's plenty of it to consume. And even in the most conventional stories, the person that goes around killing all the zombies is not particularly venerated - in fact, usually that's the character that becomes the biggest risk to the survival of the group. Which doesn't mean that there isn't vicarious enjoyment of violence - clearly that's a piece of it, too, but I'd say there's more gleeful killing in other subgenres.

Michael: Tooth and Nail! Oh, man, I was telling someone about that movie the other day and trying to describe its awfulness and couldn't remember the name. Yay!

Even at the time I read The Stand, I spent several chapters going "But the corn is ripening! Don't you want to stick around long enough to at least have a seed crop? No? Okay - but are you sure Boulder is the place to go? I mean, that's not the mildest, most pleasant place to spend the winter or grow stuff. What about farther down the Rio Grande Valley? No? Okay, but surely you're going to want to locate near some current farms, right? Or cut down some trees to dry out in time for the fires you'll have to build to stay alive? Uh, anyone? Hello?"

I guess I should be grateful they didn't all settle down in Las Vegas. *That* would have been the pinnacle of silliness. Fortunately, I hit the pinnacle of silliness elsewhere, so that was all right.

Lonespark said...

Los Zombies...Unidos...Jamas Seran...Vencidos...

EdinburghEye said...

I asked my gf, who is sitting at the other end of the couch, "Are you prepared for the zombie apocalypse?" since it is the kind of thing she tends to remind me about ("How would we defend this place against the zombie hordes?") and I tend not to care about. My plan, should Zombie Apocalypse occur, is twofold: (1) Find gf, (2) Do whatever she tells me.

One of the reasons why I don't care for ZA plans (or any kind of apocalypse plans) is that the end of high-tech civilisation is the end of my ability to see.

I am very short-sighted. Very, very short-sighted. I function perfectly well in a world where opticians test my vision annually and provide me with a renewed prescription and I can buy high-tech corrective lenses. (Even the lenses for specs that correct my vision are pretty high-tech, even though a 14th-century monk would recognise their function: the contact lenses I wear these days require even more supporting technology to make them and provide safe storage for them.

Without that continuing tech support, I'm not going to be very useful to any survivalist community. I do know how to cook, make bread from scratch (including how to make a sourdough starter and in principle how to grind grain to make flour), and the basics of gardening. I know a whole lot about a range of things about low-tech food gathering, farming, and prep that could in principle make me a welcome member of a post-apocalypse community that isn't planning to die when the tinned food goes off. But none of that is any use at all unless I can see - and at any point, I'm three pairs of specs getting broken from the end of my vision.

Just for added scare-value: I'm pretty certain I'm going to live long enough to see our oil-based civilisation collaprse when the oil runs out. At that point: end-game.

Lonespark said...

Hrrrm, I dunno. There's a lot of Decline going on. I don't know if we're at Fall yet. Something something slope breaks, different in different localities...

Lonespark said...

I would love a new open thread wherein I could gush about my shiny new Lesbian Steampunk Anthology.

Deird said...

For me, preparing for the zombie apocalypse is a fun, non-depressing way of achieving disaster-preparedness.

If I try to prepare for floods, fires, earthquakes, etc, I either
a) get totally depressed
or
b) shrug, think "Eh - never going to happen", and do nothing.

Whereas, I'm not preparing for natural disaster; I'm preparing for zombies! Fun!
And hence, I am well on the way to being fully stocked (food/water/oil lamps/bicycle) for whatever crisis next hits my town...

depizan said...

I don't care for disaster fiction*, and that includes zombie apocalypses. I want my fiction to be better than my reality, not worse than it. I'm into escapism and happy endings and fluff. Unabashedly so.


*Disaster fact is another story. I long for complete sets of shows like Mayday/Air Emergency and Seconds From Disaster. Real disasters are fascinating: how they happen, how people figure out how they happen, how people manage to avert them or rescue people affected by them. Fictional disasters seem like suffering porn to me. See also, I want my fiction to be better than reality fluff.

Smilodon said...

I live in Canada. When I got worried about zombies (yes, I know they're not real, but yes, I can still be worried - it was my transfer fear instead of fretting about exams), my boyfriend pointed out that zombies are not known for their driving skills, or use of public transit. Or even their fast walking. So if zombies hit Toronto, I do nothing, and the Canadian military/police force will likely have dealt with the problem before the requisite days it takes any zombie to reach me.

I like the idea of zombies as class warfare! I'd always seen (good) zombie flicks being about people, not about monsters - most of the time, the slow and shambly zombies wouldn't be a concern if you could actually rely on other human beings to not turn on each other (see: Night of the Living Dead, Land of the Dead, 28 Days Later). But Land of the Dead is also a perfect class warfare story - no matter how safe you build your enclave, you will eventually be overwhelmed by sheer numbers.

Antigone10 said...

My answer to "what would you do in the event of the zombie apocalypse" has always been "shoot myself". I live in civilization, just barely. I wouldn't live without it. Of course, that always makes people upset, probably because they don't like thinking about the messy details of living in non-civilization.

But, I like clean, cold water. I'm picky about food. I'm an extrovert, I need people. I am intimately aware on how interconnected we are on the globe, and one fault in the chain means things go to shit in a hurry. I would not want to live without my creature comforts, much less my basic necessities.

That's why my fantasy is Star Trek. Because it's more like super-civilization, plus all the benefits of frontier-exploring. :)

hapax said...

Add me to the side of those who don't really care for Zombie (or any other kind of) Apocalypses [insert ObBuffyRef here], although hapaxson adores them -- given his druthers, though, I think he'd prefer the Laser-Vision Robot Pterodactyl Apocalypse to humdrum old zombies, though.

I do occasionally amuse myself with the Sparkly Rainbow Unicorn Apocalypse, however, when humanity collapses beneath the fluffy cuddly avalanche of Niceness and Goodness and Pie For Everyone!

When I was (much, much) younger and in my resort-to-fantasy-violence-for-entertainment phase, my friends and I wouldn't ask people if they were "prepared for the Z.A." We generally (well, after a few drinks) would make a hand gesture at their throat and say "Imagine that this is a Khyber knife. You've got ten seconds to justify your continued existence. Nine. Eight..."

It was dreadfully obnoxious, of course. But it did start some interesting conversations.

Makabit said...

"I’ve always assumed that the zombies who surround you after the apocalypse would have been the people who surrounded you in life. Family, friends, neighbors… I honestly don’t know if I could mentally distance myself enough to shoot them, even if it was a matter of survival. Even if I could, I’d probably always wonder if there had been anything left of them inside the zombie. The guilt would probably eat me alive. Well, if the zombies didn’t get to me first..."

I must recommend, here, an insane and very wonderful movie called "Chopper Chicks in Zombietown", which is, in part, about a lesbian biker gang battling zombies. At a crucial moment, the people of the town refuse to fight the zombies because, "We knew them. They're good people."

Makabit said...

Also, highly recommend "Shaun of the Dead", for the scene where he tries to get his mother to abandon her now zombified husband.

Dav said...

Oh, I have no doubts about my survival odds in case of an apocalypse of pretty much any sort. (I have so far made it through a couple snopocalypses, though. Yay me and my fully functional gas and electricity and my job with personal holidays so I could stay home and drink cocoa.) And I rank quality of life as very important for me personally, and I've got several conditions that just wouldn't make the survival cut.

I dunno. I see where Kit and hapax are coming from. But if werewolves are partly about rage, I think zombies are about mortality, both of individuals and society. And part of that is violent: a struggle to stay alive, sometimes at impossible cost, sometimes a temporary victory. And I don't know how disturbed to be that my own fantasy scenarios require a Fantasy of Being Someone Else to work. (True for pretty much all my fantasies, actually.)

Can I recommend the excellent short "Zombie in a Penguin Suit"? (TW: gore, disturbing images of both zombie and human death, violence.)

Silver Adept said...

Yar. A lot of our science fiction and horror work is more about the humans that have survived instead of the monsters that threaten them. Mira Grant's Feed is a great book that's set after the apocalypse and the society that came into existence afterward.

I will not survive the zombie outbreak. But if I did, I will be useful to the next society, as I will be able to research and catalogue the knowledge of past and present.

Rikalous said...

Well, since the Class Warfare and World War Z topics haven't overlapped yet, I guess I'll do the honors. One section deals with a self-sufficient fortress which celebrities pay massive amounts of money to get to use. There was also a television crew there that was broadcasting the residents' reactions to various developments on the zombie front. Then the bodyguard-narrator and his buddies notices that there's a horde approaching, but when they get closer they see it's not zombies, it's desperate people who saw on TV that there's a self-sufficient fortress. The narrator and buddies decide that they can't very well mow down those people, and elect to get the hell out of dodge while it's being raided of food and medicine.

The guy who wrote World War Z had an earlier book, The Zombie Survival Guide, that had some short descriptions of previous zombie encounters at the end. One of them has a guy respond by kitting himself out with guns and going out to face Zed. His long range shots target the torso and do absolutely nothing to stop it. By the time it's gotten close enough to kill him, his hands are shaking so badly he can't hit the thing at all.

There's also one with a Roman legionnaire casually dispatching one because he'd been trained for zombies. That's not especially relevant to any thread of discussion, but it was pretty cool.

Rakka said...

It hadn't occurred to me that the "badass lone survivor" would be so common as many people's first reaction to ZA. Personally, I've not gotten to watching zombie movies, so I don't know if that is the aftermath they present - if they do it's indeed very problematic. My preparedness scheme for long-term/ permanent disaster that takes down current civilization is and has always been "find a group of people who are reliable and can do stuff that you can't. And get books about edible wild. And stock some seeds." Because, well, nobody can live safely just on their own, there's too little margin of error. The whole "every man (it's never woman") on his own" schtick I noticed in my brief peek at survivalist culture is idiotic. Of course the culture is also apparently waiting with bated breath for Government Crackdown On Rugged Manly Manlyness.

Zombie apocalypse is of course unlikely in itself. However, seeing how the world is going it would feel dangerous to not be the least prepared, at least in the "if things start to go badly, let's meet in That Place and wait there", where That Place is somewhere independent of electricity for heat.

Lonespark said...

Apropos of little, but related to World War Z, someone wrote a House/WWZ fanfic crossover that involves agreeing and attempting to put someone you love out their misery, except you didn't have to...and it was good, yet I was kind of disturbed at how completely it's infiltrated my head-canon. WWZ universe can be very big, so that's no problem, but I never even gave a crap about House... Well done, writer I don't quite remember. It's on AO3...

Lonespark said...

So the only other zombie work I'm familiar with, I'm only familiar with via an author interview...

Has anybody read Zone One? What did you think?

Smilodon said...

I know that a significant part of science fiction is the "fiction", but in my brief experience with nanotech, we were delighted if we could make the compounds into little balls with a narrow size distribution rather than a bunch of random sizes. I was estatic when I managed to make some into triangle shapes instead of just balls. Which isn't to discount your idea of nanotech for a future-times story- but it's not a concern that people who are planning for the zombie apocolyse today need to fret about.

If we accept as canon that you must be bitten for the virus to spread, it's just really hard to imagine even a super-viralent rabies getting out of control in less densly populated areas. I'd buy it as an airborne virus. But 28 days later was set in England, and used fast-running zombies, and even they decided to gloss over the "why don't swat teams put this down _before_ it becomes a major threat" question.

Merricat said...

The “badass lone survivor” trope seems to me like a materialistic fantasy. Sure, you’re fighting alone, but you’re fighting with all this awesome stuff you’ve scavenged.

UPS left a package on my neighbor’s steps earlier. It’s possible we’ll get some rain today, so I might go over and put the box in his garage. I know he doesn’t lock his door. If the sky keeps clear, the package will stay on his steps until he gets home from work. No one will take it. No one will go into his unlocked house. It’s the social contract, is all. Don’t take what isn’t yours. Don’t go where you shouldn’t be.

To be honest, though, I want that box. I have no idea what’s in it. I just want it. I could walk next door, tuck that box under my arm, and say “Well, it’s mine now.” There’s nothing standing in my way except this nebulous sort of communal agreement to not be a jerk.

For me, the lone survivor scenario is just an excuse to think about rummaging around in other people’s stuff. Okay, so I’d go to that house over there because the owner is a hunter and there will be guns, or maybe that house a couple streets over where that weird guy lives because who knows what he’s got in there. ZA, nuclear disaster, plague, rapture, whatever. I just want to see what other people have. I want to play with their toys, look in their closets, and take whatever I want because I can.

It would take the utter collapse of civilization for me to feel comfortable enough to break that social contract and go into someone's house without permission. That’s how strongly I’ve been conditioned by the society in which I live.

So if I ever fantasize about being the lone survivor, it’s not because I want everyone around me to die. It’s just that I really, really want to see what they have. And then take it.

hapax said...

Not particularly relevant, but "the guy who wrote WORLD WAR Z" happens to be the son of Mel Brooks (yes, *that* Mel Brooks) and Anne Bancroft.

Who is actually somebody I would want to hang with during the ZA, just for the great stories he must have.

redsixwing said...

I kind of love zombie fiction. A lot of kinds of horror do nothing for me - lots of gore, for instance, is a real yawn (sadly, Death Troopers fell into that category, even though I'd think Star Wars + zombies would be hard to mess up) unless there's something more interesting behind it - but the "body is not your own, we've met the enemy and he is us" that makes up the backbone of (my opinion of) a really good zombie story is much more something that hits my literary kinks.

As people have mentioned, that good story is not so much about zombies. They are, as villainous fantasy creatures go, not terribly interesting. For instance, I'd never use them as the primary bad guy in a roleplaying campaign - you really can solve anything a zombie can throw at you with sufficient amounts of force, and that doesn't make a very interesting campaign. The real story tends to be (as Feed) the people behind what's going on with the zombies, making them into a dangerously mobile sort of hostile environment rather than anything more involved.

The thought of "one misstep and I join that hungry horde outside" has some serious legs, at least for me, and can make a great piece of backdrop to whatever people are actually -doing- in a story. Likewise, the politics of trust become not only interesting, but vital, with the zombies there to present a hostile environment (Night of the Living Dead, Feed again).

I am one of those people who enjoys thinking about worst-case scenarios, and the zombie apocalypse is one of my favorites through sheer absurdity. I know that, with asthma and poor vision unassisted by glasses, I wouldn't last long in a single one of them. That doesn't mean I can't organize my particular escapist disaster fantasy around things like "... and then I hole up in the library, and make sure that the information society will need when it reforms itself will continue to exist as long as I can."

I kind of forgot where I was going with that comment.

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Ana Mardoll said...

Atwood has a game like that in her novel "Life Before Man". The participants did NOT like each other afterward. Ha.

I did not know that about Max Brooks descending from Mel Brooks. That's kind of awesome.

storiteller said...

It's a common question -- are you prepared? -- on the internet, at parties, anywhere an icebreaker is needed.

I would recommend responding with "Are you ready for a velociraptor attack?" http://xkcd.com/87/

In that sense, I think the zombie fantasy is very American; it's an instant reset to a time when the world was ripe for exploitation and the resources seemed endless and you could settle any place and be happy.

I think that's what's so completely horrifying about Cormac McCarthy's The Road (which Ana has written about before, if I remember correctly.) It takes that fantasy and completely turns it on its head - there is nowhere to settle, there are no resources, and everything is the most desperately horrifying thing ever. In it's own way, I think it's about as realistic as other zombie movies - a lot is left unexplained - but it definitely plays off of the romance of the pioneer fantasy.

Whereas, I'm not preparing for natural disaster; I'm preparing for zombies! Fun!

The U.S. Center for Disease Control did a clever mini-campaign about being prepared for the ZA that was really about being prepared for disasters in general: http://blogs.cdc.gov/publichealthmatters/2011/05/preparedness-101-zombie-apocalypse/. It was a great use of tapping into cultural memes and social media to get a useful PSA across.

You have only earned yourselves The Right To Starve Last! Hahahaha!!! We are the 99% (of Zombies?)

I actually dressed up as a zombie protestor for our local zombie walk - I held a sign saying "Zombies are part of the 99% too" on one side and "Occupy D.C. Graveyards" on the other. And of course, dressed up in my best protestor clothes (lots of buttons), which I have plenty of because I'm a pretty avid activist. It was a fun way of poking a bit of fun at myself.

But that does bring me to the question - zombie movies where we're supposed to care about the humans are one thing, but what about zombie walks? I think they're a bit of a lark in that you get to pretend you're this ridiculous creature and fake-scare small children who are out watching it, but I like vaguely ironic things. I'm more curious what it means for the larger culture.

Brad said...

Coming in March from Vertigo: The New Deadwardians, "a high-concept, Edwardian-era exercise in class warfare in which the rich become vampires in order to protect themselves from the poor, who are all zombies."

http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=35996

Ross said...

I'm a big zombie fan largely as a subsidiary to being a big fictional apocalypse fan. These are some really nifty conclusions you've drawn. I've been doing a review of Captain Power recently, a post-apocalyptic kids' show from the 80s. It's a Robot Holocaust instead of a Zombie Apocalypse, but one of the things which occurred to me and which I've been pointing out in my reviews is that I am increasingly of the opinion that post-apocalypse fiction is essentially just a sci-fi twist on the literary tradition of the castaway adventure. I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who thought that.

LMM22 said...

C.S. Lewis's book Of This and Other Worlds has an interesting essay about escape fiction. Who dislikes escape? Jailers. He also suggests that the more explicit kind of escape fiction, the type with dragons and vampires and zombies, is probably better for you than the less explicit type, set in the ostensibly real world.

That was his argument, anyway. He may be right.


Except that, as Moorcock points out [1], jailers love escapism. What they hate is escape.

I'm a big fan of sf/f, but I'm not going to pretend that, by reading it, I'm doing anything that's politically subversive, any more than WoW is politically subversive. If anything, it's the reverse: it's a pacifier, and, to the extent that people come to believe that the fantasy is reality, it prevents escape.

(I think everything is complicated by the fact that Lewis was a Christian, and, to some extent (I'm not particularly familiar with his theology), the world was a prison. Which complicates things: when it comes to mind / body dualism, fantasy is an actual escape.)

[1] I tried sourcing this, but all I could find were paraphrases and an interview with Mieville who (mistakenly, IMHO, as this does not sound anything like him) attributes the quote to Pratchett. So maybe Mieville said it. Either way, it's a good point.

Will Wildman said...

I'm a big fan of sf/f, but I'm not going to pretend that, by reading it, I'm doing anything that's politically subversive, any more than WoW is politically subversive. If anything, it's the reverse: it's a pacifier, and, to the extent that people come to believe that the fantasy is reality, it prevents escape.

Wait, you mean my worgen druid's Valor points aren't a Marxist commentary on the concept of capital as dead labour?

I would tend to agree that there are very few things wherein reading them is an inherently subversive act, but in turn I think that speculative fiction should cleave more closely to its heritage as a progressive vehicle. We make fun of how Uhura is one of the most obviously Token Black People in the history of television, but I tend to think that we lack perspective on the matter - imagine the probable reactions if the next Star Trek TV series had a chief engineer who was trans, or a captain who was Arab and Muslim, and no one in the cast ever commented on it at all, not even as a vague curiosity.

Reality being partly defined by actions, I think that sometimes when people believe the fantasy is reality, they start acting like it as well, and the reality is the part that ends up changing.

LMM22 said...

I think that speculative fiction should cleave more closely to its heritage as a progressive vehicle. We make fun of how Uhura is one of the most obviously Token Black People in the history of television, but I tend to think that we lack perspective on the matter....

Indeed we do -- two episodes of Star Talk (Neil Degrasse Tyson's podcast) were dedicated to an interview with Nichelle Nichols, and both of them (Neil is black) emphasize how revolutionary Uhura was. (You *have* heard the story about how MLK Jr. saved Star Trek, right? (Nichols recounts it, in much more detail than I'd heard in the past. She had me in tears.) For some reason all the teachers cared about was his "I have a dream" speech. But what he said to Nichols now, that was awesome. :P)

But sf/f isn't inheritly a progressive vehicle (indeed, Mieville has made the case many times that traditional fantasy -- with its emphasis on the preservation and value of social structures, its clear divide between good and evil, and its intrinsic racial dynamics), and the aspects of sf/f which are progressive are rarely true escapism. (Star Trek is a very rare exception -- and it's an exception because, in a lot of ways, it *wasn't* escapism (see this contemporary article, for example (cited on Wikipedia).)

MaryKaye said...

I played Humans Versus Zombies tag for a week last term. As a 48-year-old professor I make a rather slow zombie (and I was a zombie from Monday morning on--oops!) but I had a blast. Caught one victim, scared several others badly.

I notice that since then I've been dreaming (literally, not daydreaming) about HvZT, which is really unusual for me as generally new experiences take years to make it into my dreams. Obviously my subconscious was impressed.

My biggest observation about the game is that it's really fun to be a zombie. That's not something you get in zombie fiction, but in the game, the zombies are calm and confident and in control of campus. You walk down the street and see other zombies and it's hey, we're the Big Menace and we RULE. The humans look more and more small, scared, and paranoid as the week goes on. (Of the original 800+ humans, exactly five survived through Friday night's mission, though up till then there were fifty or more.)

And the particular fun of it is, it's wholly and viscerally engrossing to hunt. (Also to be hunted, but that's much more stressful.) I spent more time than I could afford away from work, hunting, because it was such a wonderful and complete distraction from the standard problems of my life. Your senses go on high alert--you see every scrap of orange, the color that marks humans and zombies--your mind tries to encompass the whole campus street layout as you reckon where the target might go, what he might do, where your allies are, whether you're about to be Nerfed. You feel, ironically, very much alive.

I have a huge government grant due this month. I can't really afford to run around chasing the undergrads. But I'm going to sign up for this term's game anyway, because I can't resist the possibility of *not thinking about that grant* for a couple of hunts a day.

Ana Mardoll said...

I've heard of these campus events -- Don DeLillo has one in End Zone -- but I've never been part of a campus that had one. That sounds amazingly fun, the way you describe it. I love the "solidarity" of zombies.

depizan said...

We may need some defining of terms here. Also some acknowledgment that things are very different depending on whether or not one is mentally well. Because some of what you said there is, from my perspective (though obviously not yours) fine grade A bullshit.

Most fiction isn't politically subversive, whether it's intended to be escapism or not and regardless of what genre its in. Politically subversive vs. not is a completely different axis from escapism or not. Unless you mean something very different by "escapism" (and possibly "politically subversive") than I do. Escapism (by my definition) is fiction that presents a world, or at least a story, that is better than reality and ends well. I've no idea what meaning you're using because no part of that excludes being also politically subversive, depending on what you mean by that.

And please explain what you meant by calling escapism a pacifier that presents escape. Because what I'm hearing is "escapism is bad and you shouldn't read it or watch it. Also, you should feel bad for liking it." I really hope that's not the case because if you are not a mentally well person, you fucking need to escape from reality to stay a functioning member of society, or at least I do. I need something saying positive things because reality sure as fuck won't. And neither will realistic fiction. I'd like to spend a little time in a world that's maybe a little less fucked up than ours so that I can function in ours. So don't fucking tell me that it's bad.

And really, how exactly is one person supposed to literally escape from what's fucked up in our world? Kill myself? At least escapist fiction gives me some hope that I can make my life better. I know, just existing in our modern world is fucking over other people. What the fuck do you want me to do about it? The best i can do, especially since I don't exactly have tons of money, is try not to shit on the people I directly interact with and shop local and/or fair trade when I can. And vote for people who are the least likely to keep fucking people over. I lack the money and the mental health to do much else.

I am trying very hard to be polite about this (and failing) but I get really sick of people telling me that what brings me joy, and helps me survive life is bad and I should feel bad for engaging in it. Non-escapism fiction renders me non-functional. It is destructive to my mental health, which, as I mentioned, I kinda don't have anyway. Anxiety disorders (and related depression) are hell to live with. Please don't shit on my lifeline, thanks.

chris the cynic said...

So, if I'm reading this right, you're saying it is like the song I linked to earlier?

Lonespark said...

Neil Degrasse Tyson has a podcast and I haven't listened to it before? WTF have I been doing with my life?

Lonespark said...

I think it's clearly factual that many jailers and authoritarians and oppressors do want to suppress the imagination, and proscribe what people think about. In that context, even the goofiest escapism is somewhat subversive and empowering.

Otherwise, I agree with LMM2 and Dezipan, both, since fantasies can offer a million What Ifs to engage with problems and restrictions and present worlds that are better, regarding a given problem/restriction/oppression...which doesn't necessarily provide a blueprint for effective change, but can certainly provide inspiration and hope and just plain acknowledgement that those kinds of dreams are shared and treasured by others.

Lonespark said...

Except it's Depizan, and I knew that, and I still typed it wrong. Sorry!

LMM22 said...

I think it's clearly factual that many jailers and authoritarians and oppressors do want to suppress the imagination, and proscribe what people think about. In that context, even the goofiest escapism is somewhat subversive and empowering.

I would distinguish between a jailer (either literally or an oppressor in general) and an abuser. An abuser is someone who is concerned about denying you happiness -- thus, escapism is something that should be denied. A jailer -- or an oppressor -- is someone different: they're mainly concerned about preventing you from either escaping or considerably reversing societal circumstances. In such a case, escapist stories of the type that Lewis explicitly points to -- i.e. ones which can never happen -- should probably be encouraged, as they're counter-productive to any sort of revolt. (The owner of a factory doesn't care if the workers go home and tell stories about dragons; if he hears people discussing unionization -- or even stories of collectivism -- however, he may get concerned.)

In either case, my point remains: escapism is nice, but it's not politically meaningful in the way that Lewis clearly tries to make it.

depizan said...

I don't know, you offered an example that literally proved him right in the middle of telling us poor saps who aren't as smart as you that he was completely wrong. Funny how it turns out that jailers actually do hate escapism. (Whether or not they should.)

(Maybe we should draw a distinction between things intended by the author or the giver as escapism and things consumed for escapist purposes -- I think the vast majority of the stuff that does result in subversion and societal change are things that appear escapist but have a great deal of thought put into them.)

Or, golly gee, maybe things can be both escapist and meaningful. (For one thing, there's not that much escapist fiction that deals with no social issues or ideas or the human experience or other things that supposedly only literary fiction deals with.)

I might point out that I don't think anyone was talking about escapist fiction inherently subverting the status quo before you decided to lecture us.

Will Wildman said...

The owner of a factory doesn't care if the workers go home and tell stories about dragons; if he hears people discussing unionization -- or even stories of collectivism -- however, he may get concerned.

But that gets into the question of what the dragon is and what the story about it says. I mean: metaphor, allegory, simile, analogy, archetype, these are important things. If it's one of those dragons-demand-ladyvirgin-sacrifices scenarios in exchange for the dragon allowing them a few trinkets from his cave to buy the coal to run their factory, and the villagers heroically band together to drive off the dragon, thus gaining permanent access to its physical capital - I mean, hoard of treasure - then, well, suddenly you are talking about a communist uprising against the capitalists, aren't you?

A story which featured dragons but somehow did not alter the state of the world in some way would be boring. I think it's a facet of what Pratchett said when he remarked that he's written about journalism and government policy and civil rights but as soon as you put one dragon in they call it a fantasy. The dragons are a hallmark of escapist literature, but they aren't its source.

(Even the ancient 'farmboy goes adventuring, becomes king' is a shot at the idea that commoners don't have it in them to be rulers. Adding in the 'but he actually has Royal Blood' thing is vexing, but at least leaves 'you can't judge someone by their circumstances' as an antiestablishment claim'.)

chris the cynic said...

Except it's Depizan, and I knew that, and I still typed it wrong. Sorry!

Ok, I'm going to be completely random. This is a conversation from The Nameless Mod, hidden so that it might be found only by people who go off the beaten path:

Treskton MUHUHUHAAHAHAHAHAAAH!
Trestkon What the hell!? Who are you!? And why do you look like me!? And how come you can laugh like that when I can't!
Treskton You fool. Walking around in these imaginary scenes, completely unaware of what's happening around you. Do you think this is the only real world, Trestkon? Do you think you are any more real than I?
Trestkon You better not start monologueing, you cheap copycat! How did you get that outfit? Those are my clothes!
Treskton And your face.
Trestkon And my fa-- oh my God... who ARE you!?
Treskton You have heard my name many times before. I am a shadow of yourself. A warped image of your own person. I am Treskton!
Trestkon Good... God...
Treskton I was created from the countless number of times your name was misspelled.
Every time somebody switched a letter around or mispronounced your name, a small part of me popped into existence. The final straw was when PC Gamer called you Treskton in the preview they printed last May. That was when the concept of my character was finally formulated, and I was complete.
And here I am. Face to face with you. Finally.
Trestkon What-- what do you want?
Treskton I am here to destroy you and take your place, Trestkon. I have waited long for this moment. Finally I will be accepted, and YOU will be the shadow.
Trestkon This world doesn't have room for the both of us, Treskton. I will eliminate you once and for all, wretched typo!
Treskton We'll see if you have what it takes... to defeat yourself!

Ana Mardoll said...

Will, I love this comment so much. I plan to steal it, but considering my recent history that probably means I'll quote it entirely out of context in favor of a position you may or may not support. But I'll be doing it out of admiration! *grins*

(Who said imitation was the most sincere form of flattery?)

Izzy said...

Yep. And it's important to remember that "doesn't completely solve a problem" != "is completely useless". Otherwise, you become Internet Libertarian Guy: "If there are any problems with anything the government does ever, the whole concept is horrible!"

And nobody likes ILG, nor should they.

The Smart Bitches over at smartbitchestrashybooks.com have an entire book on how actual woman have used romance novels to improve their lives, whether it's figuring out what they want (or don't want) or not settling for Schlubby McDoofus because they have another source of romantic stimulation or whatever. Plenty of people have used fictional examples to become better people, or to be all "...waaaait a second, X situation seems a lot like the RL equivalent of Y..." or whatever.

Fred over on Slacktivist did a lot of good, I think, comparing the Religious Right to the various Buffy villains who want to end the world.

Honestly? I would really be very happy if "escapism" as a term dropped out of the language: the associations with Harold Bloom and his pet stick, and similar, are too strong for me. For that matter, I could also take issue with "gritty realism" as a term, insofar as it seems to imply that life is inherently squalid and everyone in it dysfunctional. But that might be me over-nitpicking.

Ana Mardoll said...

I am concerned with the direction this conversation is taking and I'm not sure what to do about it.

The only thing of value that I think I can offer is a Tone Argument:

LMM22, when you said "I'm a big fan of sf/f, but I'm not going to pretend that, by reading it, I'm doing anything that's politically subversive," it was not at all clear to me who you were referencing. If I default to "zie is addressing the thread at large", it sounds like you think other members of the thread at large are "pretending" when they think their reading is a subversive act.

Generally, it is very easy to ruffle feathers when one is perceived as making a statement about what other people believe and/or pretend to believe. I know it got my back up a little. I also know that this post I am making right this very moment is a Tone Argument. I'm not sure what to do about that.

Here is the moderator part for everyone in general and LMM22 in particular:

Moderator Voice:

I would like it very much if everyone stayed and continued to discuss this as their personal spoons allow, but I would appreciate it if everyone would avoid terms like "asshole", even if one feels that someone else is. I understand that anger is a healthy and appropriate response in many circumstances for many people. However, once terms like "asshole" are brought in, I believe it starts to become personal and I don't think that adds anything useful to the conversation. Thank you.

LMM22 said...

And it's important to remember that "doesn't completely solve a problem" != "is completely useless".

Do me a favor and stop attacking what depizan thinks I said and start interacting with what I actually said please.

I gave multiple examples of apparently escapist literature which had real-life consequences. I also pointed out that, in the vast majority of those cases, the escapism came from the point of view of the viewer, not of the writer, who had deliberate intentions in mind. I also pointed out that, in many cases, escapist literature does serve as a release valve (a older woman in a conservative town and a bad marriage may read romance novels in her spare time instead of working towards a divorce, or -- as one of my friends observed about his high-school friends -- a group of low-wage workers may play D&D to substitute their thwarted ambitions with fantasy characters who achieve great things) -- but very few jailers actually disagree with that sort of thing. It may even be encouraged.

Ana Mardoll said...

I would also like to add that if we can take anything from the Stanford Prison Experiment, it would seem that many jailers can internalize a concept that a "good" jailer is an abuser, based on social cues about prison and it's existence as a means of punishment in addition to quarantine.

Izzy said...

...wow, I'm not in any shape to respond to this.

I had a drink or two at lunch, and you are quoting Moorcock, who...does not seem like the sort of guy I'd have liked, from everything I've heard/read. This is not gonna end well if I go into detail. So, briefly:

I think you have valid points; I also think that the way you're presenting them is reminiscent to some--me, for one--of the Everything Must Address a Current Social Problem or Be Pointless, and Harold Bloom, and so forth. And the first, blind response to that, at least for *me*, is "no, buddy, *your* momma," because I have the delicate grace of a NYC cabdriver, at least as they are portrayed in most media. I don't know if this is on-point or an example of genre author over-defensiveness.

So: am not ignoring you if you see me on other threads, will respond in more detail later.

LMM22 said...

I also think that the way you're presenting them is reminiscent to some--me, for one--of the Everything Must Address a Current Social Problem or Be Pointless, and Harold Bloom, and so forth.

How many times do I have to repeat myself?

Nothing has to address anything to have a point. That's not the issue. As I've said, I've spent a good chunk of my life reading escapist literature, and I don't particularly regret it.

That doesn't mean that the act of reading escapist literature -- which is defined as literature which does not address social problems -- is somehow politically subversive, as the quote implies it is.

I have no problem with escapist literature. It's quite valuable in its own way. What it isn't is hated by jailers, and what it isn't is an act of rebellion. The issue I have is with C.S. Lewis' quote, which seems to present his work as far more important than it actually is.

Ana Mardoll said...

That doesn't mean that the act of reading escapist literature -- which is defined as literature which does not address social problems -- is somehow politically subversive, as the quote implies it is.

I have no problem with escapist literature. It's quite valuable in its own way. What it isn't is hated by jailers, and what it isn't is an act of rebellion.


I don't follow this. Why is escapist literature not necessarily an act of rebellion and/or politically subversive?

How would we even go about defining that? I see pro-choice messages in Twilight where other people see anti-abortion messages. This seems like a very difficult position to just outright assert. :/

LMM22 said...

This is probably a pointless battle -- it's clear you don't want me on this board for some reason -- but let me state two things:

First of all, what I was replying to was the quote by C.S. Lewis, which states that "jailers hate escapism." Lewis is clearly assuming that, somehow, reading fantasy novels is politically subversive -- which it's not. I would not pretend it is; he does. Not anyone on this thread, but Lewis himself.

Second of all, have you *read* dezipan's replies to me? He's the one who got personal here. I didn't say he was an asshole, I said he had no right to be an asshole towards me -- i.e. to behave in an abusive way, as I am perceiving him to be. ("Golly gee" + quote mining == abuse, as far as I am concerned.)

Either way, it doesn't matter. I'm leaving. I enjoyed this blog, but clearly you object to me -- and clearly you're not willing to moderate in good faith.

Goodbye. I won't be reading your blog again.

Ana Mardoll said...

I'm sorry that I gave the impression that I don't want you here. No blog is for everyone, so I completely understand if you want to leave or -- for that matter -- if you change your mind later and decide to return. Thank you for your contribution to this thread, even the parts that I disagreed with. Well wishes to you.

chris the cynic said...

It looks like it's probably too late to get an answer, but in case anyone still here has one I'll ask the question.

Looking over the conversation I'm confused about something, when was the claim made that escapist literature is subversive?

Ana Mardoll said...

It seems to have been extrapolated from here, from the reference to "jailers" disliking escape:

http://www.anamardoll.com/2012/01/deconstruction-no-you-probably-arent.html#comment-404416072

But I was a little confused on that, too.

depizan said...

I want to apologize for losing my temper. Anger and lots of swearing, and being sarcastic, is not a good way to get one's points across - it's rude and it tends to make one unclear. It's also pretty assholely.

I'm sorry.

Ana Mardoll said...

It happens to all of us, but it's very good of you to say so. Thank you. Hugs? :)

depizan said...

Hugs are good.

Ana Mardoll said...

*LOTS of hugs*

Loquat said...

The funny thing is, the whole argument of "jailers are a-ok with escapist literature, because fantasy escape distracts people from actually escaping" only works if you define "jailer" to only apply to people attempting to physically confine/oppress others. Once you open it up to include jailers of the mind, like the secret police in a totalitarian government, that argument falls flat on its face - North Korea might be the ultimate real-world example, but pretty much every twentieth-century totalitarian government did at least some banning of ideas they didn't like.

And hey, maybe that guy'll come back and be more reasonable once he's out of manic-rage mode.

Izzy said...

Okay, seems there's been some flouncing while I sobered up, so I'll respond more generally.

Certainly any fiction can be used for escape--some lend themselves more than others, but while I would not read 1984 to get away from my troubles, plenty of people immerse themselves in the Game of Thrones world, which does not sound like a pleasant place--just as anything else can. Sometimes this is inspiring and leads to RL awesome; sometimes it's just the best you can do while you wait for the dentist to see you or to recover from your breakup, which is still useful; and *sometimes*, though not often, it becomes a substitute for taking action in RL. So Lewis's quote might not be across-the-board true, but:

1) Situations 1 and 2 still outnumber situation 3, as far as I'm aware.
2) I honestly saw it less as a statement that escapist lit is innately subversive than as a "no, fuck *you*, buddy" to the people who were throwing the term around all "...well, that's just *escapism*": like, if you're so concerned about people escaping, what does that make *you*, huh? And I'm on board with that sentiment.

storiteller said...

I think part of the problem of the definition that LMM22 was using was that it was inherently self-contradictory.

Escapist Literature: Not to be confused with escape literature, escapist literature is designed primarily for imaginative entertainment rather than readings designed for provoking thought or addressing serious social issues. The term is derogatory in connotation, though one might argue such writing serves a psychological purpose by offering a relief from the stresses or tedium of mundane life. Arguably, the vast bulk of popular reading is escapist in nature.

It created a catch-22, at least the way that LMM22 was using it. It implies that art "primarily designed for imaginative entertainment" CANNOT have readings designed for provoking thought or addressing serious social issues, which is ridiculous. There's plenty of art that's incredibly entertaining and imaginative and yet does address serious social issues. I'd argue that most feminist SF falls into this category, like the "The Left Hand of Darkness," which isn't inherently political but addresses major gender issues. Or one of the most escapist shows ever, Doctor Who. And if you're about to say Doctor Who doesn't get into major political/social issues - even though it sometimes botches them up - this guy has a book and many, many thousands of words he'd like to sell you. As would probably the entire academic area of pop culture studies.

Also, if you follow that definition, anything fictional that does want to provoke thought is going to be awful and deadly boring. "Message" books that don't care about imaginative entertainment first are actually usually worse at making change because they're preaching and no one actually wants to read them.

Marc Mielke said...

It never ceases to amaze me that other people have fantasies that AREN'T Fantasies of Being Someone Else. Mine all start there.

Timothy (TRiG) said...

"escape fiction" vs. "literary fiction"

C.S. Lewis's book Of This and Other Worlds has an interesting essay about escape fiction. Who dislikes escape? Jailers. He also suggests that the more explicit kind of escape fiction, the type with dragons and vampires and zombies, is probably better for you than the less explicit type, set in the ostensibly real world.

Fantasizing about being a knight on a white charger is healthier than fantasizing about being a star on the school football team, because at least you know it's a fantasy.

That was his argument, anyway. He may be right.

TRiG.

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