[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.