The Value of the Flesh-Eating Zombie as a Metaphor in Pop Culture

I found my senior seminar project from 2011! This is how I earned my English degree 🤣

High-Brow Horror:

The Significance of the Flesh-Eating Zombie as a Metaphor in Popular Culture

Stories about flesh-eating walking dead have existed at least since the 7th century bc. In 1893, Ambrose Bierce wrote about the walking dead in The Death of Halpin Frayser. In contemporary culture, we refer to the walking dead as “zombies.” The concept of the zombie has long been associated with contemporary political context. In the 1930s and 1940s, a time of imperialism and exoticism, voodoo zombies derived from Haitian mythology became a popular motif in horror films. In these old films, people were killed and reanimated as slaves with no free will. Instead, they were entirely controlled by a Bokor, or dark voodoo priest. These films blatantly referenced the way that Haitians were being abused by white imperialists on dangerous sugar plantations.

George Romero popularized the modern concept of the zombie in 1968 with Night of the Living Dead. Beginning with his films, zombies were no longer docile slaves under the control of other individuals. Instead, they became a sort of zombie-vampire hybrid: mindless, decaying, unkillable, uncontrollable, walking dead with an insatiable hunger for human flesh. These creatures were even scarier than the originals because, rather than having another person think for them, no thinking was happening at all. There was no control over their impulses, and the condition spread quickly. The concept of contagious, uncontrollable, impulse-driven irrationality is terrifying. So, if zombies are so terrifying, why is zombie fiction so popular?

Popular culture is necessarily determined by how it resonates with society, and often reflects metaphorically the issues that a society faces in reality. Horror is no exception. For example, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, written during the scientific revolution at a time when scientist performed horrific experiments, draws from real-life attempts to reanimate the heads or body parts of dead animals via the use of galvanization. Mary Shelley lived at the time when “what used to be called ‘natural history’ became ‘biology'” (Morton 8). It has been said that the biology of that time “had gone too far in the direction of objective observation and pure reason” (Lienhard). A major purpose of biology in that age was to discover “the essence of life” without necessarily crediting nature or God (Morton 8). Science was no longer being held in check by religious morality, nor had it begun to be guided by ethics. It should come as no surprise then that some people, including Mary Shelley, began to speculate upon the consequences that could result from scientific success. In Shelley’s case, the result was a fascinating gothic novel with undercurrents of political and social commentary. Mary Shelley wrote about Frankenstein’s monster in 1816. Presently, Mary Shelley’s questions are still being explored in the genres of science fiction and horror, particularly in the field of monster stories. By placing their stories in a science-fiction framework, writers can use monsters to make indirect commentary about the negative aspects society. The habit of science-fiction horror is to ask its audience to consider what-if questions and encourage that audience to broaden the field of those questions to include real-life situations.

Monster stories have a long history in human culture. According to anthropologist David Gilmore, there are fifteen-thousand-year-old cave paintings depicting creatures which can only be described as monsters (Primal Fear), suggesting that modern society’s interest in monsters is not sudden. But what is a monster, and why, if we have never encountered one, do we tell tales of them? What purpose do monster stories serve?

Stephen T. Asma, in his book On Monsters: An Unnatural History of Our Worst Fears, claims that “[a]n action or a person or a thing is monstrous when it can’t be processed by our rationality, and also when we cannot readily relate to the emotional range involved” (10). Does that mean that we tell monster stories to explain the horribly inexplicable? That is one theory, and I, for one, see merit in it. In the 18th century, the legend of the vampire was used to account for misunderstood effects of decomposition in the grave (Guiley 37-39). But illuminating the inexplicable is not the only compelling explanation for the telling of monster tales. For example, Sigmund Freud said that monsters represent the uncanny, a feeling of familiar but unfamiliar. Monsters are people, but not people. Freud’s discussion of Doppelgangers is particularly relevant to the subject at hand.

Some of the most common monsters in popular culture are were-animals, ghosts, vampires, and zombies, all of which are examples of humans who have become monsters. If one thinks of these monsters on the same terms as doppelgangers and evil twins, one can begin to see these monsters as possible other selves, much like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. According to Freud, this idea of a second self is related to the desire for eternal life. As a person matures and comes to see the impossibility of eternal life, the desire must be repressed. In this way, the concept of another self becomes a thing to be feared and despised (Asma 189-190). When we see this kind of monster, we tend to infer, on some level, that the monster has always been a part of the individual but has only now gained dominance. This leads us to wonder which persona is the true identity of the character, the “good twin” or the “bad twin.” If a doppelganger is to be feared and despised because of its relationship to a desire for eternal life, could we not then say that earthly eternal life itself is taboo? If Feud’s theory holds true, perhaps the idea of a human becoming immortal must be feared and despised for the same reasons. If so, it would be natural to want to explain why immortality would be so wrong, and that could be another possible use for the monster story. After all, what are ghosts, vampires, and zombies if not examples of the evils of immortality?

The concept of immortality is ultimately selfish. If this generation were to achieve immortality, it would be denying future generations their rightful turns with the world. Already, longer life spans have caused global overpopulation. More people now have to share the same amount of Earth, and everyone suffers for it. (That is not to say that everyone does not also benefit from longer lifespan and more time with their loved ones.) Since each generation is living longer, each generation remains in power longer. The politics and values of the older generation still hold sway when a younger generation reaches adulthood. It makes sense, then, that, as a person attempts to move from the ego-centric phase of their development to a more socially acceptable mode of behavior, that person would seek, on a subconscious level, to demonize that kind of selfish desire. If monster stories are told, to some extent, to explain why selfish desires are bad, one might say that flesh-eating zombies, in particular, represent the ultimate level of selfishness: mindlessly devouring others to sooth their own cravings for human flesh.

In fiction, humanoid monsters allow artists to represent the darker side of human nature without making direct accusations against specific categories of people. This nearly subliminal commentary may be more effective than outright attacks because it is less likely to be censored, and because people eagerly seek out the material for entertainment, whereas few people would be likely to seek out criticism of themselves. Speculative works like zombie movies have the ability to provoke thought or educate while simultaneously entertaining. It works on the same principle as giving children gummy vitamins. The children enjoy the method of delivery for the thing the parent believes the child needs. Similarly, zombie narratives are used as a vehicle for much-needed thought-provoking commentary, and, just as gummy vitamins are ineffective if taken on an empty stomach, the commentary in zombie narratives is ineffective when received without the use of critical thinking.

The modern use of zombies in popular culture tends to critique society’s perceived monstrous tendencies, including the human capacity to mindlessly destroy and metaphorically devour others in order to survive or get ahead in life, the human inability to control greed for both knowledge and commodities, and the capacity for both necessary and gratuitous violence.

All of these perspectives are ways to examine human nature through hypothetical circumstances. One might argue that the major attraction to zombie films is based on the gore factor, but I believe this explanation to be too simplistic. Why, after all, are people attracted to the gore? Connoisseurs of the genre claim that the gore is only incidental, and is necessary to the suspension of disbelief. I theorize that the real appeal of zombie fiction is that zombies are terrifying on multiple levels because of the questions they raise and the things they reveal about humanity and society.

While partaking of zombie films and fiction, one might ask oneself how very different the humans are from the zombies and which of the two species is more monstrous. After all, the zombies are acting on instinct. They are rarely shown to enjoy or even think about hurting others. They just do what they are programmed to do. Humans, on the other hand, are fully capable of rational thought, but still kill one another and are shown to derive pleasure from killing the zombies. These humans do not even eat their kills. The zombies kill on instinct. The expressions on their faces suggest nothing other than an effort to consume flesh. A zombie face tends to be confused, or, as Shaun of the Dead character, Diane, puts it, “vacant with a hint of sadness, like a drunk who’s lost a bet.” They do not appear to be angry or malicious. Humans, on the other hand, insult the zombies and make games out of the executions. In films such as the 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake, humans on a rooftop make a game of shooting zombies on the ground below even though there is no way that those zombies could pose an immediate threat. Zombies never play with their kills. It is the human, then, and not the zombie, who is prone to malice.

In the hope of offering some explanation for the popular appeal of the zombie genre, I will, in the following sections, show how scenarios in zombie fiction reflect real-life, contemporary anxieties and how zombies illustrate a monstrous humanity.

Contemporary Anxieties

Some contributing factors for the current obsession with the flesh-eating walking dead could be overpopulation, disease, war, the uncontrollable rise of science, high crime rates, terrorism, unofficial imperialism, and apocalyptic prophecies. All of these can be found as themes within zombie films.

Overpopulation, for example, permeates nearly every zombie film. A single Romero-style zombie can easily be overcome. They move slowly and clumsily, and they do not seem to be particularly talented problem solvers. The scary part about a zombie hoard is the hoard. The numbers cannot be overpowered without difficulty. Every zombie that you defeat is replaced with several more, and the epidemic spreads quickly because people are in such close proximity. In George Romero’s 1978 Dawn of the Dead, residents of an apartment building and the SWAT team sent to impose martial law are overrun with murderous corpses, but those corpses used to be residents of the building. Because there were so many people in such a small space, each monster had been able to kill multiple people, all of whom quickly reanimated to claim their own victims. By the time SWAT arrived at the scene, the building’s basement had already been stuffed with hungry zombies, a situation that could have been avoided in a less populated setting. This particular incident speaks to many parallel concerns related to such close quarters.

In this case, the zombie epidemic could easily be a metaphor for such things as drug use, crime, racism, disease or any other cultural problem that seems to spread on contact. In fact, the mindlessness of the zombies could very well be seen as the way in which people are often influenced to conform to destructive behavioral patterns to which they have been exposed. Zombies, then, represent conformist gang violence, unthinking mob mentality, desperate methamphetamine addicts who kill for their fix, and PCP users who kill without realizing it. These are just a few examples of how zombies are used as metaphors for high crime rates. Criminals become thoughtless, desperate, fiends who are willing to harm others in an effort to get whatever it is that they think they need.

Though the zombies may represent criminals, both they and the living represent mob mentality. The zombies are in large groups, acting out with mindless violence, but the living, also in groups, engage in behaviors that they would probably not participate in under normal circumstances. In these films, people stop considering the real consequences of their actions and move like a heard of terrified cattle. Some examples of this are the trampling of other humans in an effort to escape attackers in 28 Weeks Later, and a similar scene in I Am Legend, in which people fight for the chance to board a helicopter before the area is quarantined to prevent the spread of a virus that is sweeping the nation.

Actually, in many modern zombie movies, the agent that spreads the condition is a virus. While we could attribute this to a change in the public’s willingness to suspend disbelief, we must also recognize the trend as a not-so-subtle reminder of the fear society has of communicable disease. We have good reason to fear the spread of disease, particularly viral conditions for which there is no treatment. Who hasn’t heard of the bubonic plague, leprosy, yellow fever, Small pox, Cholera, malaria, meningitis, Ebola, Spanish Flu, Asian Flu, SARS, the West Nile virus, Swine Flu, Bird Flu, and HIV? All of these diseases have caused or are still causing a panic in the societies that have been exposed.

In the middle ages, nearly a third of Europe’s population was lost to the Black Death, or Bubonic Plague. Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron begins with a description of the plague that calls up scenes from the many zombie films that I have seen. In The Decameron, the narrator says of the Florentines during the plague that many

“would balk no passion or appetite they wished to gratify, drinking and reveling incessantly from tavern to tavern, or in private houses (which were frequently found deserted by the owners, and therefore common to every one), yet strenuously avoiding, with all this brutal indulgence, to come near the infected. And such, at that time, was the public distress, that the laws, human and divine, were no more regarded; for the officers, to put them in force, being either dead, sick, or in want of persons to assist them, every one did just as he pleased” (Boccaccio xxi).

Whole populations are wiped out in impossibly short time spans, just like in 28 Days Later, the Romero films, and, of course, the remakes of the Romero films. Family members abandon each other, and corpses are left in their homes to rot. Survivors loot abandoned properties, and anyone who is able tries to outrun the epidemic by going somewhere that is rumored to be safe. We see these same actions in virtually every zombie film since Romero’s 1978 Dawn of the Dead. Picture the beginning of The Walking Dead, in which the main character wakes in an abandoned hospital, surrounded by corpses. He goes home to find that his wife and child, along with everyone else he knew, have left in search of a place that is safe. It is possible that writers and directors deliberately reference stories of the plague, but it is also likely that such a situation has become archetypal in the human consciousness.

In Boccaccio’s time, diseases were often attributed to witchcraft, the wrath of God, or demons, but, as the science of biology progressed, people began to realize that viruses and bacterium were to blame. With the advent of biological weapons, we have come nearly full-circle. Now we find ourselves wondering if man can or will create a monster-illness that we wouldn’t be able to control. The majority of recent zombie films and stories holds zombiism to be the unexpected result of a man-made virus or chemical, demonstrating the age-old fear of uncontrolled scientific greed as well as our concern regarding terrorist attacks such as anthrax-contaminated mail. One way that terrorism affects a society is to cause a rupture in the national unity. When everyone gets jumpy after an attack, people turn on one another, never sure who the enemy is. After the attacks of September 11, 2001, many Americans became suspicious of and aggressive toward anyone who “looked Muslim.” Other Americans insisted that the American government might be to blame for the attacks. This kind of discord has been present in zombie films since Night of the Living Dead in 1968. When several groups of survivors find themselves hiding in the same farmhouse, the people fight over which man should be trusted to govern the actions of the others. In the end, the dispute leads them all to their deaths. At a time when no one knows who to trust or who is at fault, everyone becomes an enemy, whether zombie or human.

Similar to terrorism, many zombie movies seem to take their inspiration from war. The very first flesh-eating zombie movie, Night of the Living Dead, is said to have been a reaction to the Vietnam War. It makes sense if you realize that much of the American public disapproved of the military’s involvement in Vietnam. You might say that the country was very nearly torn apart. With chemical weapons like Agent Orange and napalm, it certainly seemed to many who saw the effects that the apocalypse was near. In later zombie films, the government and military become both heroes and villains during the zombie outbreaks, just as the government is often seen with mixed reactions in contemporary life. On one hand, the military have the weapons to stop the zombies, but, on the other, the military and government often seem to be responsible for the chaos. The military in the films ride in to presumably save the day, but their ruthless fulfillment of orders like martial law (Dawn of the Dead, both versions) and quarantine (Day of the Dead 2008, 28 Weeks Later) turn them into villains. If fact, National Guard officers rob college students in Diary of the Dead and, in Planet Terror, American veterans of the Middle East turn the population of an entire Texas town into zombies in an attempt to gain recognition for the horrors they experienced in the name of their country. The zombies in the Resident Evil series, Zombie Strippers, and Dead and Deader are all the results of government attempts to build super soldiers. Stephen T. Asma asks in On Monsters, “Are the current films and novels about apocalyptic, monstrous disease epidemics the result of contemporary anxieties over biochemical warfare?” (Asma 201). I think so. Zombiism, often created by a government for warlike purposes, affects everyone, including children and civilians, just as biochemical warfare does. A zombie apocalypse, like war, usually results in the murder of innocents, destruction, chaos, and terror for the middle and lower class, and relative safety (for a while) for the big wigs.

“Apocalyptic” seems to be the most appropriate description for these films. Most people associate the word apocalypse with the end of the world or, at least, the end of the world as we know it. Zombie movies certainly seem to present that. In the 1978 Dawn of the Dead, Peter, a descendent of a voodoo priest, suggests that the zombie epidemic happened because, “When there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth.” In The New International Version of the bible, Revelations 9:4-6 says of the angels during the battle of Armageddon:

“They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any plant or tree, but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads. /They were not given power to kill them, but only to torture them for five months… /During those days men will seek death, but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will elude them.”

Some people have suggested that those words refer to the living dead and, by extension, zombies, present during the biblical endgame. What many people do not realize is that the term “apocalypse” originally referred not to the events in the book of Revelations, but the revelation itself and, by extension, “[a]ny revelation or disclosure” (“Apocalypse”). If we choose to read zombies as a revelation of human nature, the word becomes even more apt.

Zombies as Monstrous Humanity

Zombies in film tend to exemplify the greed, thoughtlessness, and violence that make humanity monstrous. Greed is illustrated in the form of cannibalism, or consumption. These flesh-eating ghouls are exaggerated representations of the Americans and other capitalists: zombies as uncontrolled hedonists who consume mindlessly. Being dead, zombies don’t have to eat for survival, and yet they are willing to destroy and devour anyone they can catch, including their own family members. Taken less literally, this behavior can be compared to the way that some see big business and unethically ambitious individuals. Many people assume that leaders of the business world are willing to use up or destroy anyone or anything that gets in the way of what they want. Big business, when unethical, uses people up by way of sweatshops and near-slave wages, similar to the concept of eating the workers alive, taking without really giving back. Those in charge have everything to gain, and they do not seem to care that the people they use lose everything. Resources are used up faster than they can be replenished, much as the zombies use up or contaminate their food supply faster than can be sustained. For example, in 28 Days Later, the so-called zombies are essentially rabid, living human beings. At the beginning of the sequel, the zombies have begun to starve to death because there are not enough uninfected humans left for food.

Alternatively, if we choose to see the zombies as representative of ambitious individuals, we see that the zombies have no loyalty, and are willing to destroy men, women, children, family members, and the occasional horse in order to satisfy their own desires. Cannibalism, in zombie films, functions as a sort of osmosis of health, power, and purity. It is the theft of the “self” of the victim, replacing choice with desperation and thoughtless instinct.

The zombies do not think. Some people would (indeed, do) say that the majority of the population is already experiencing this condition. The opening scene of Shawn of the Dead illustrates this metaphor in a deliberately obvious way. As the scene opens, the camera pans up from stumbling feet to an open maw… which turns out to belong to a yawning slacker who has no idea that the zombie outbreak has begun. At the end of the film, the zombies are given minimum-wage jobs, and the post-apocalyptic world is shown to have changed very little. Politically, socially, and personally, humans, or at least Westerners, are often criticized as being oblivious to their impact on the world around them. Activists point out that Americans buy chocolate, coffee, and clothing that were brought about via slave labor, incidentally preventing the employment of those who refuse to work for such little pay. A majority shops at big-box stores that put local companies out of business and then move production away to those places where slave labor is available, inevitably destroying the economy wherever those businesses go. Environmentalists complain that people plant bulbs imported from Holland, allowing native species of plants to go extinct, which, in turn, allows the native insects and then the predators of those insects, the native birds, to go extinct. The underlying commentary of these socially-inspired zombie narratives is that the unthinking zombie who simply exists by following the path of least resistance is really not so very different from the human it used to be. Violent pacifists, zombies are unthinking wanderers and followers with no purpose other than the most basic instinct to feed. They make no effort to change the way things are in order to ensure that feeding will be an option in the future.

The worst part is that this thoughtless greed is contagious. Surrounded by people who are ruthless in regard to the achievement of their desires, each individual must also become ruthless or risk being consumed completely. Thus it is with the zombies. If they catch you, you will either become one of them or be ripped apart and devoured. They function as avatars for stereotypical religious extremists: Zombies as unthinking destroyers of lives and differences. Their influence is widespread and complete, creating a mindless pack of followers with no leader. And yet, without real guidance, they do not stop moving. They never stop. They just wander aimlessly and corrupt everyone they meet. Stephen T. Asma says in his book On Monsters that monsters represent the culturally foreign:

“Godless communism creates nihilistic, immoral monsters; Rabid capitalism and consumerism create hedonistic zombies (Karl Marx actually referred to capitalism as a “vampire” sucking the blood of the labor class);theocracy creates uncritical fanatical zealots. We know these are monstrous societies, the logic goes, because they produce monstrous results: genocide, terrorism, and torture” (Asma 243).

But every society has its version of monstrous results. Some are just more obvious than others. With globalization, all of these monstrous results are connected in a vast web of causes and effects.

Globalization, too, may be critiqued in zombie fiction. Often the outbreak is said to become global within days, spreading from one country to another by the influence of travelers, just as the monstrous aspects of culture are being spread by global contact. The countries of the East despise Western consumerism at the same time that they emulate it. America dropped a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima. The entire world was disgusted by the devastation. So disgusted, in fact, that they began developing their own monstrous weapons just in case they should ever “need” them. The citizens of each country do little or nothing to contest the government’s decision. Politicians dazzle and distract the voters similar to the way in which the operators of the military vehicle Dead Reckoning distract the zombies of Land of the Dead with fireworks. The zombies watch the show, fascinated, as machine guns cut them down. In this case, it is not the monstrousness of the zombies (or voters) that is being criticized. The censure relates to the human habit of “looking the other way.” This scene is a zombified version of claims that Americans gave up their first amendment rights in allowing the passing of The Patriot Act in 2001.

Survivors as Monstrous Humanity

If the zombies represent the monstrous side of humanity, one might expect the survivors to represent the more noble side of humanity. A few characters might, such as Deputy Rick Grimes in The walking Dead. He puts the needs of others before his own, and he tries to remain honorable and ethical throughout the first season of the series. But Officer Grimes is the exception to the rule. In a good deal of zombie fiction, the humans are also shown to be selfish, greedy, and monstrous, as if even the best side of humanity has a tendency to be horrible. This is reminiscent of American Literary Naturalism, a movement in which pessimism seemed to reign, and humans were characterized by “the beast within” while nature was characterized as an uncaring, amoral actor.

Uninfected survivors in zombie fiction are often beastly when other humans may be infected. In 28 Days Later, Selena, a true survivor, brutally murders her companion, Mark, immediately after he is bitten by one of the infected. One might argue that her actions were only rational, but to what extent is rationality monstrous when not tempered by compassion? This alludes to the same kind of ethical dilemma of sacrificing the few to save the many. In some zombie films, the possibly-infected are abandoned, in others, destroyed. In a few cases, survivors deny that their companions are infected, threatening to murder the humans who want to destroy the potentially infected before they turn into zombies and attack. In the most disturbing cases, such as Day of the Dead (The Romero version) and Dead and Deader, survivors keep the zombies as entertainment or experiments. Government quarantine is another common scenario. The government or military in zombie fiction frequently traps large numbers of survivors in an infected area in an attempt to contain the outbreak, effectively sacrificing those survivors to save themselves. On a purely rational level, this action makes sense, but many would call this purely rational method “inhumane.” To make matters worse, the Government usually causes or exacerbates the epidemic, as in 28 Days Later, 28 Weeks Later, Day of the Dead (both versions), Land of the Dead, Resident Evil, Dead and Deader, Zombie Strippers, and Planet Terror, further demonstrating human monstrosity.

Aside from the government’s treatment of survivors, the general treatment of the zombies or potential zombies is usually represented as callous. While the zombies kill by whatever means is most convenient (sometimes they just take a bite), in many films the humans kill in whatever way is most amusing or satisfying. Zombieland in particular is a great example of this. One subplot of the film seems to be ever-more creative zombie executions. An even more disturbing illustration of human violence against zombies can be found in Zombie Diaries, where a character called Goke literally tortures zombies by binding them and then cutting off parts of their bodies. In Survival of the Dead, a group of loutish bigots stake the still-animated heads of zombies in the woods just for fun. The fact that humans are capable even of imagining such things seems fairly monstrous.

In their zeal for zombie-slaying, the humans also have a habit of accidentally slaughtering humans. Most famously, Ben, the last human survivor in the farm house of Night of the Living Dead, gets shot by a trigger-happy cleanup crew at the end. Similarly, the group of survivors in Zombie Diaries mistakenly shoots a young woman and a little girl during one of their daily zombie slaughters. Zombieland tries to make this phenomenon funny when Bill Murray (as himself) dresses like a zombie and tries to scare characters “Columbus” and “Little Rock.” Columbus shoots Murray in the chest with a shotgun. Oops. The survivors seem a little broken up about the accident for a short time, but they eventually move on.

Another way that the survivors in zombie movies tend to be monstrous relates to the competition for resources. I mentioned earlier that the National Guard officers in Survival of the Dead robbed college students in Diary of the Dead. They didn’t take money. They took supplies: food and weapons, effectively dooming the kids to death either by starvation or zombie attack. In “Vatos,” the fourth episode of The Walking Dead, a group of apparent thugs takes one of the survivors hostage, asking for a bag of weapons as ransom. The survivors refuse to trade and threaten to kill one of the thugs if their friend isn’t released. At a time when most of the population is walking dead, both sets of survivors seem ready to kill the few who live over material things. Soldiers in 28 Days Later try to hold a woman and teenage girl prisoner because not many females have survived. They need the women for reproduction, and are willing to kill Jim, the ladies’ companion. The girls in Zombieland take everything, even the vehicle, from the guys when they first meet, which sets the guys after them on a mission of vengeance. In some movies it is food, in others it is shelter, weapons, transportation, or general territory, but nearly every example of zombie fiction contains a reference to competition for resources, and, in almost every case, the survivors are willing to kill or die for those resources. This demonstrates humanity’s warlike nature. The zombies, by contrast, seem willing to share. Maybe this is commentary about class distinction. A biased person might romanticize the metaphor to say that the upper classes who have everything are selfish and prone to fighting, while the lower classes (who seem to be running out of food) are willing to share what little they have got. Maybe zombies aren’t so monstrous.

Why we fear zombies

So, if zombies are slow and generally no more monstrous than the humans, why do we fear zombies? Well, obviously we would rather not be eaten. Pain is not pleasant, especially when you can watch the predator tear your body parts off and make a meal of them right in front of you. Worse than that, the condition of zombiism spreads by bite. It is terrifying to imagine being the mindless creature with no control over its own actions or desires, no choices, and no understanding. And think of the decay! It cannot be pleasant to wake up dead, or to be aware that you are going to wake up dead, possibly with your entrails falling out, or your lower half missing entirely, like one zombie in the premier of The Walking Dead. Neither does it sound nice to smell of rotting corpse, or to randomly lose pieces of flesh as it decomposes. Perhaps the fear we have of becoming a zombie is related to the fear we have of aging, becoming senile and decrepit.

Conversely, our fear of becoming a zombie may be based on the unpleasant thought of becoming the thing that you hate, the destroyer of everything that you love, and the thing that everyone else hates too. Although we do not like to admit it, I agree with Stephen T. Asma when he says that “[e]veryone has the potential to be monstrous” (Asma 8). Perhaps zombie imagery taps into our self-conscious fear of turning into whatever we consider to be monstrous, whether that is our parents, our countrymen, our enemies, or, my personal favorite, “sheeple.”

Aside from becoming a zombie, being surrounded by zombies may be even more frightening. Politically, zombies are selfish, stupid, creatures who consume obsessively and destroy anyone who isn’t like them. If they dominate, violence and persecution abound. What is more, if your group is surrounded by zombies, one or more of your loved ones may become a zombie also. This relates to the concept of situational evil. In On Monsters, Asma discusses the experiments of Stanley Milgram, an American psychologist who, in the 1960’s, performed a series of experiments that suggested that “evil” is often based on the situation in which the evil-doer is placed. The main focus of this experiment series was to determine the relationship between obedience and authority. Reflecting on the Nazi Holocaust, Milgram wanted to show that the Nazi soldiers were not inherently monstrous. Rather, they did monstrous things because they were told to and because everyone else was going along with the orders. This relates to zombies because the contagious nature of the condition can be compared to the communicable nature of behaving monstrously. If we are surrounded by monsters, we may become monsters ourselves and, if not ourselves, our loved ones may be bitten (or “brain-washed”). As Asma points out, monsters after the end of the Enlightenment could not be defeated by reason. They are, as he says, “features of irrevocable irrationality” (Asma 202).

On a more personal level, we do not want to be surrounded by zombies because zombies want to take everything from us: our lives, our loved ones, our individuality, our brains, our humanity, our personhood. Perhaps this is how Americans felt about communists during The Red Scare. Zombies could be seen as a more rabid illustration of that fear than George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Socially speaking, zombies are the ultimate conformists, and they have no personality. They would be quite boring as casual companions, and they would insist that you become just like them. Zombies, then, can represent the dangerous power of conformity. If large numbers of people were to conform to certain wicked ideals, the entire world would be in danger.

In this situation, the numbers would be overwhelming, and we, as humans, are terrified of feeling or being helpless. Zombies are scary because they usually win: they are too powerful for us to fight (like bi-partisan government, capitalism, communism, terrorism, war, human nature, cancer, AIDS, God, etc.).

So we fear the idea of feeling helpless, but we partake of zombie fiction anyway. Why? Because it offers hope. When we watch the films, we see the mistakes made by the survivors, and we think that we would be smart enough to not make that mistake. We see how long they survive against the odds, and we begin to think that perhaps we are not as helpless as we tend to believe. But that leads to another fear.

We fear being the only one left. In a zombie apocalypse, that usually means the last one left alive, isolated, estranged, and lonely, like Dr. Robert Neville in I Am Legend. The last survivor in New York, Neville begins to go insane, talking to mannequins and staging them as citizens of the city in which he lives. While that situation would certainly be horrible, in real life we could apply similar feelings to being the only one who cares about a certain thing or the only one who feels a certain way. We could apply those emotions to the fear of being abandoned by God, our friends, our family, or even our colleagues. Humans are social creatures by nature, and our inherent need to be with others of our own kind certainly plays a part in our fear of the zombie narrative.

Most importantly, we fear zombies because they are, or were, us. As zombies, they are no one. Zombies are mindless, bloodthirsty automatons, and we all have the potential to become one. We all have the potential, too, to alienate our peers, leaving us isolated, and it doesn’t even have to be deliberate. Another accurate and relevant thing that Asma says is that “[m]odern organization alienates us from each other and from our own self, reducing our humanity and tilting us toward zombie status” (Asma 245). I think all of us feel this way on some level, and that is another reason why zombies are uncannily frightening.

Why We Love Zombie Fiction

It may sound odd to say that we love stories of things that we fear, but it is not a new concept. In the eighteenth century, during the rise of the gothic novel, the feeling we feel when encountering something horrible from a safe distance was referred to as a frisson, or a pleasurable shiver or thrill. Horror has a strange attraction to it on multiple levels. Many contend that horror is enjoyed as a socially-sanctioned way to exercise aggression. It is perfectly acceptable to hate zombies, and also acceptable to kill them in as violent a way as you desire. There is merit in this theory: it explains the popularity of videogames in which the player must attack and destroy zombies, or indeed any enemy. This popularity can also be explained by morbid curiosity to see what it would look like if certain disturbing things were to happen, so the violence and gore do play their parts in attracting an audience for zombie fiction. Other lures include a vent for frustration with human nature or with political situations. As social creatures, we are programmed to respect our own kind, and we are all supposed to be proud of and loyal to the groups to which we belong. When we are feeling at odds with this programming, the metaphors to be found or created in zombie fiction can help us to relieve this frustration. No matter how misanthropic we are feeling, we always find ourselves hoping that the “good” human will survive in the end, and, though many zombie movies or stories have ambiguous (or, in the case of Zombie Diaries, downright pessimistic) endings, the ends of most zombie fiction offer some kind of hope. In 28 Days Later, the zombies have essentially destroyed themselves with their rage and greed, love survives, and one can infer that the three protagonists will be rescued by the plane flying above their distress signal. In The Walking Dead, the survivors have met other survivors, many of whom seem to be “good” people, Officer Grimes is reunited with his family, and the lot of them is on their way to somewhere that might be better. In the original Day of the Dead, we find that the zombies are capable of developing affection and being trained, and the three most moral humans board a helicopter and fly to an island where they can start over.

Conclusion

Zombie fiction, like all speculative fiction, gives both the creator and the audience a safe venue in which we can critique society at a nearly subliminal level, suggesting that science may be going too far or that the government has become heartless, without actually saying it explicitly. We can express our horror at the monstrous behavior of humanity, and we can take an exercise in imagination to see what it might be like if a large part of the population were wiped out, or if the “good guys” finally turned on the “bad guys.” What we find in that last situation is that by turning to violence, the “good guys” become as bad as the zombies. In this way, one could even say that zombie fiction is a didactic brutality-deterrent.

Additionally, Zombies provide an outlet for violence against humans by absolving guilt with the excuse of monsters. When we watch zombies getting hacked to pieces, we don’t have to feel guilty about enjoying the gore because, hey, they’re zombies. It is only rational to kill them before they kill you.

Most importantly, however, zombie fiction provides a venue to explore human nature, asking questions like, “What would a mother do if her daughter became a flesh-eating monster and ate her father’s arm?” Seen as a metaphor, the question becomes, “How should a parent react when a child takes unfair advantage of the family or puts others in danger?” or “What do you do if your child is a sociopath or serial killer?”

The biggest question, since zombies were once human, is, of course, ” What makes us human?” Empathy? Is that humanity? If so, do we lose our humanity when we lose the ability to empathize with the zombies? Would the zombies be less monstrous if they could empathize with humans? In the Day of the Dead remake with Mena Suvari, one zombie seems to remember some of what he thought in life: he’s protective of the girl he was attracted to, and even sacrifices himself to save her from the other zombies. This is the only case I can remember where zombies attacked and destroyed a fellow zombie… but was he a fellow zombie, or was he something else? If he did not eat human flesh and empathized with the humans, maybe he was human. On the other hand, the “zombies” in 28 Days Later and I Am Legend are not actually dead; they’ve simply been infected with a virus. If they aren’t zombies, are they still human? Do the infection and the beastly behavior make them something other than human? I believe that zombie fiction, in whatever form, is related to the Gothic tales of the Enlightenment and the Literary Naturalism in the United States in that it critiques science, society, and human nature via metaphor, and it show humans to ultimately be beasts whose behavior is molded by a combination of social environment, heredity, and an uncaring natural world.

Works Cited

28 Days Later. Dir. Danny Boyle and Toby James. Star. Cillian Murphy. 20th Century Fox, 2003. Film.

28 Weeks Later. Dir. Jaun Carlos Fresnadillo. 20th Century Fox, 2007. Film.

“apocalypse, n.”. OED Online. March 2011. Oxford University Press. 7 April 2011 <http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/9229?redirectedFrom=apocalypse&gt;.

Asma, Stephen T. Monsters: A History of our Worst Fears. NY: Oxford UP, 2009. Print.

Boccoccio, Giovanni. The Decameron: or Ten Days Entertainment of Boccaccio. India Paper Edition. Cincinnatti: Stewart Kidd Co, 1920.

Brooks, Max. The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead. NY: THREE RIVERS PRESS, 2003. Print.

Craig, Wilson. “Zombies lurch into popular culture.” USA Today n.d.: Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 1 Mar. 2010.

Cuthbert, Alan W.. “doppelganger.” The Oxford Companion to the Body. Edited by Colin Blakemore and Sheila Jennett. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Accessed via answers.com, at http://www.answers.com/topic/doppelg-nger#ixzz1BzjszDbU.

Dawn of the Dead. Dir. George A. Romero. 1978. Starz / Anchor Bay, 2004. Film.

Dawn of the Dead. Dir. Zack Snyder. 2004. Universal Studios, 2004. Film.

Day of the Dead. Dir. George A. Romero. 1985. Starz / Anchor Bay, 1998. Film.

Day of the Dead. Dir. Steve Miner. 2007. DOD Productions, LLC, 2007. Film.

Dead Alive. Dir. Peter Jackson. 1992. Lions Gate: 1998. Film.

Dead and Deader. Dir. Patrick Dinhut. Starz Home Entertainment, LLC, 2007.

Diary of the Dead. Dir. George A. Romero. 2007. The Weinstein Company, 2008. Film.

Greene, Richard and Silem Mohammed, ed. Zombies, Vampires, and Philosophy. Popular Culture and Philosophy Series. Chicago: Open Court, 2006. Print.

“frisson, n.”. OED Online. March 2011. Oxford University Press. 10 April 2011 <http://proxy.rockford.edu:2174/view/Entry/74785?redirectedFrom=frisson&gt;.

Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. Vampires. NY: Chelsea House, 2008. Print.

I Am Legend. Dir. Francis Lawrence. Warner Bros. Pictures, 2007.

“Invasion of the living dead.” Economist 393.8662 (2009): 147. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 1 Mar. 2010.

Jung, Carl “Approaching the Unconscious.” Man and his Symbols. N.P. Dell, 1978

Land of the Dead. Dir. George A. Romero. Universal Studios, 2005.

Lienhard, John H. “Frankenstein, Faust, and Pygmalion” Engines of Our Ingenuity. The University of Houston. 12 Oct. 2001. Web. 24 Nov. 2009.

Morton, Timothy. A Routledge Literary Sourcebook on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. London: Routledge, 2002. Print.

Night of the Living Dead. Dir. George A. Romero. 1968. Digiview Entertainment, 2005.

Phillips, Michael. “Romero’s germ-warfare thriller gets revived, ably, in Iowa.” The Chicago Tribune. 25 Feb. 2010. Web. 1 Mar. 2010.

Planet Terror. Dir. Robert Rodriguez. 2007. Troublemaker Studios, 2007. Film.

Potter, Andrew. “Undead like me: why we love our zombies.” Maclean’s 04 June 2007: 14. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 1 Mar. 2010.

Primal Fear: Our Deepest Fears Revealed. Dir. Ken Winikur. Nar. Todd Schick. A&E Television Networks, 2008. Film.

Resident Evil. Dir. Paul W.S. Anderson. 2002. Sony Pictures, 2004. Film.

Resident Evil: Apocalypse. Dir. Alexander Witt. Written by Paul W.S. Anderson . Sony Pictures, 2004. Film.

Resident Evil: Extinction. Dir. Alexander Witt. Sony Pictures, 2007. Film.

“Revelation 9.” The New International Version. Online Parallel Bible Project. Glassport, PA: Biblos.com, 2004. Web. Accessed 7 April, 2011. <http://niv.scripturetext.com/revelation/9.htm&gt;

Shaun of the Dead. Dir. Edgar Wright. Written by Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright. Universal Studios, 2004.

Skal, David J. The Monster Show: A cultural History of Horror. W.W. Norton & Company. NY: 1993. Print.

“sheeple, n.”. OED Online. March 2011. Oxford University Press. 10 April 2011 <http://proxy.rockford.edu:2174/view/Entry/276420?redirectedFrom=sheeple&gt;.

Survival of the Dead . George A. Romero. 2009. Magnolia Home Entertainment, 2010.

Walcut, Charles Child. American Literary Naturalism, A Divided Stream. The U of Minnesota P, Minneapolis: 1956.

Waldman, Paul. “The Left and the Living Dead.” The American Prospect. 16 Jun. 2009. Web. 7 Mar. 2010.

The Walking Dead: Season One. Dir. Frank Darabont. AMC and Anchor Bay Entertainment, 2010. Film.

Williams, Tony. The Cinema of George A. Romero. Directors’ Cuts. Wallflower Press, London: 2003.

Wloszczyna, Susan. “Zombies rise to conquer all ‘decayeds’.” USA Today n.d.: Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 1 Mar. 2010.

Williams, Tony. The Cinema of George A. Romero: Knight of the Living Dead. Wallflower Press: London, 2003. Print.

Zombie Diaries, The. Dir. Michael Bartlett and Kevin Gates. Off World Films and Bleeding Edge Film, Ltd., 2007. Film.

Zombieland. Dir. Ruben Fleischer. 2009. Sony Pictures, 2010. Film.

Annotated Bibliography

28 Days Later. Dir. Danny Boyle and Toby James. Star. Cillian Murphy. 20th Century Fox, 2003. Film.

Explores what would happen in a world where a zombie-causing rage-virus epidemic took over Europe. In this series, the zombies may not actually be dead, and some might argue that, being alive, these creatures are not true zombies.

28 Weeks Later. Dir. Jaun Carlos Fresnadillo. 20th Century Fox, 2007. Film.

Explores how human bonds would be affected in a zombie epidemic if some humans were found to be immune to the zombies-causing virus.

Adams, John Joseph, ed. The Living Dead. San Francisco: Nightshade Books, 2008. Print.

This is a collection of zombie-themed short stories by popular authors such as Sherman Alexi, Neil Gaiman, George R.R. Martin, and Stephen King.

Asma, Stephen T. Monsters: A History of our Worst Fears. NY: Oxford UP, 2009. Print.

This Book looks at the human fascination with monsters from a psychological perspective.

Boccoccio, Giovanni. The Decameron: or Ten Days Entertainment of Boccaccio. India Paper Edition. Cincinnatti: Stewart Kidd Co, 1920.

Boccaccio wrote a fictional tale of several young people who go to the country to escape the plague.

Brooks, Max. The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead. NY: THREE RIVERS PRESS, 2003. Print.

Craig, Wilson. “Zombies lurch into popular culture.” USA Today n.d.: Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 1 Mar. 2010.

This article discusses the prominence of zombies in pop-culture.

Dawn of the Dead. Dir. George A. Romero. 1979. Starz / Anchor Bay, 2004. Film.

This film uses a zombie epidemic to explore consumerism.

Dawn of the Dead. Dir. Zack Snyder. 2004. Universal Studios, 2004. Film.

A remake of the original.

Day of the Dead. Dir. George A. Romero. 1985. Starz / Anchor Bay, 1998. Film.

This film uses the zombie epidemic to explore the themes regarding government and science.

Day of the Dead. Dir. Steve Miner. 2007. DOD Productions, LLC, 2007. Film.
A very loose remake of the original.

Dead Alive. Dir. Peter Jackson. 1992. Lions Gate: 1998. Film.

This film uses a campy, humorous approach to explore psychological themes in a zombie-ridden world.

Dead and Deader. Dir. Patrick Dinhut. Starz Home Entertainment, LLC, 2007.

This comedy takes a satirical look at both the US military and the scientific search for human immortality.

Diary of the Dead. Dir. George A. Romero. 2007. The Weinstein Company, 2008. Film.

This film uses the zombie epidemic to explore themes regarding the media.

Greene, Richard and Silem Mohammed, ed. Zombies, Vampires, and Philosophy. Popular Culture and Philosophy Series. Chicago: Open Court, 2006. Print.

This book includes philosophical Essays regarding the living dead and society.

I Am Legend. Dir. Francis Lawrence. Warner Bros. Pictures, 2007.

Mutant plague victims resembling both zombies and vampires (zompires, if you will) have taken over NYC. The virus was caused by scientific meddling, and one surviving virologist has made it his mission to find the cure.

“Invasion of the living dead.” Economist 393.8662 (2009): 147. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 1 Mar. 2010.

This article discusses the history of zombies in pop-culture and the explosion of zombie culture in recent years.

Land of the Dead. Dir. George A. Romero. Universal Studios, 2005.

The fourth in George Romero’s Dead series explores corporate greed, class distinction, intelligence, evolution, and human nature.

Night of the Living Dead. Dir. George A. Romero. 1968. Digiview Entertainment, 2005.

The first modern zombie movie, this film explores multiple themes regarding society, race, family, gender, and war. Many people associate this film’s social critique with the Vietnam War.

Phillips, Michael. “Romero’s germ-warfare thriller gets revived, ably, in Iowa.” The Chicago Tribune. 25 Feb. 2010. Web. 1 Mar. 2010.

This article reviews The Crazies, a 2010 remake of Night of the Living Dead, and discusses the various movies which may have impacted its making.

Planet Terror. Dir. Robert Rodriguez. 2007. Troublemaker Studios, 2007. Film.

In this film, a bio-weapon has created a zombie epidemic.

Potter, Andrew. “Undead like me: why we love our zombies.” Maclean’s 04 June 2007: 14. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 1 Mar. 2010.

This article claims that zombie movies have a way of “commenting on humanity’s suicidal tendencies [such as] [n]uclear Armageddon, biological warfare, toxic pollution, genetic engineering.”

Primal Fear: Our Deepest Fears Revealed. Dir. Ken Winikur. Nar. Todd Schick. A&E Television Networks, 2008. Film.

This film discusses fear and monsters from an interdisciplinary perspective.

Resident Evil. Dir. Paul W.S. Anderson. 2002. Sony Pictures, 2004. Film.

In this video-game-inspired film, secret scientific research to create a super soldier has led to a virus that creates zombies. The heroin of the film is a prototype super soldier trying to fight off the zombies and super-zombies created by Umbrella Corp. The film explores corporate corruption and the dangers of unrestrained scientific exploration.

Resident Evil: Apocalypse. Dir. Alexander Witt. Written by Paul W.S. Anderson . Sony Pictures, 2004. Film.

This film continues the story line from Resident Evil with Umbrella Corp trying to cover its mistakes by sending a super soldier to assassinate the survivors of the first film. The virus mutates, causing new creatures.

Resident Evil: Extinction. Dir. Alexander Witt. Sony Pictures, 2007. Film.

In the third installment of the Resident Evil series, humanity faces extinction at the hands of zombies, bio-engineered super soldiers, and other genetically mutated creatures, all the result of Umbrella Corp’s meddling with nature.

Shaun of the Dead. Dir. Edgar Wright. Written by Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright. Universal Studios, 2004.

This comedy satirizes nearly every aspect of western society and nods to all of the most well-known zombie movies. The most obvious theme is that society is already functioning as if most of the population were zombies.

Skal, David J. The Monster Show: A cultural History of Horror. W.W. Norton & Company. NY: 1993. Print.

This book chronicles the horror movie genre and America’s obsession with monsters. It includes interviews with writers, directors, and other participants in the making of the genre.

Waldman, Paul. “The Left and the Living Dead.” The American Prospect.16 Jun. 2009. Web. 7 Mar. 2010.

This humorous article discusses the value of the zombie in relation to politics.

Williams, Tony. The Cinema of George A. Romero. Directors’ Cuts. Wallflower Press, London: 2003.

This book discusses the walking dead as envisioned by George A. Romero, considered the father of the flesh-eating zombie genre.

Wloszczyna, Susan. “Zombies rise to conquer all ‘decayeds’.” USA Today n.d.: Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 1 Mar. 2010.

This article lists and describes zombie movies since the beginning of the film industry.

Zombie Diaries, The. Dir. Michael Bartlett and Kevin Gates. Off World Films and Bleeding Edge Film, Ltd., 2007. Film.

This documentary-style film drives home the concept of the zombies as foils for the humans, asking which of the two is more evil.

Zombieland. Dir. Ruben Fleischer. 2009. Sony Pictures, 2010. Film.

This film takes a humorous approach to examining the concepts of family and entertainment in a world where few humans have not become or been killed by zombies.

Your opinion, please.

I started writing a book a few months ago. I woke in the middle of the night with a story clawing at my throat, so I slipped out of bed, opened Google Docs, and typed for hours on an annoying, digital keyboard that insisted on replacing correctly-spelled common words with arbitrary esoteric terms for unrelated topics. It was torture, but the writing demon inside me would not take no for an answer. Eventually, I came back to myself and realized that the sun would be up soon, and so would my son. I was definitely going to regret staying up so late. So I went to bed without finishing the story, and didn’t touch it for months. I’m re-reading it, and I do think I’d like to finish it, but I’m kind of wondering if this first paragraph would compel anyone to finish reading the story. Oh, Content Warning: Naughty F-word.

When the queen of the fairies gave birth to a half human child, the fairy court would not tolerate its presence in their kingdom. Mischievous male fairies had always enjoyed planting their seed in unwitting human women, but the resulting children were never allowed to take part in fairy society. No one could fathom what had possessed their wise queen to fuck a human king and then harbor the resulting abomination within her very body, but they all agreed that the creature could not be allowed to dwell within their world, learning their secrets, and perhaps sharing them with her human brethren. The queen, for her part, had fallen in love with the child from the first beat of her heart. She could no more abandon the child than she could abandon Faerie.

Anyway, thank you if you are willing to share your (respectful) opinion.

Fiction – “The Souvenir”

Content Warning: Domestic Abuse, Abortion discussion, anti-Republican rhetoric, extremely foul language.
The three random words for this challenge were “Cabin, Souvenir, Ink.” I feel like the concept had potential, but I’m not afraid to say I don’t like this one much. 

 

The Souvenir

 

Thumpthumpthump.

 

Shit.

 

Of course I did. Of fucking course. First I forget my god damned phone, then that asshat cop had to pull me over for outdated registration. Fucking outdated registration! Like there aren’t any god damned criminals to catch. What, did you run out of innocent black teens to shoot? Fucking republican. He wouldn’t have checked the registration if I didn’t have a pro-choice sticker.  

And now this shit. Of course I don’t have a spare. That would mean that something was going my way.

Maybe I slam the door a little harder than I need to… And fuck me! Are those my god damned keys in the ignition?

I try the handle,but I know it’s locked. Old ass piece of shit.

They don’t have pay phones on the highway anymore. Who the hell ever needs a fucking pay phone anymore? Though a few assholes honk, not one fucking person pulls over to offer help on my two-mile trek back to the last bar I passed.  

A neon sign reads, “Ink” high above a big cabin set forever back from the highway. I don’t see a single car in the parking lot, but it’s packed with bikes and pockets of people chatting and laughing while smoking something other than tobacco.

As I finally make it to the door, I see a vinyl sign for some kind of charity ride for “the family.” BBQ and corn on the cob, five bucks per plate. Not my kind of place. Definitely not my kind of food.

There aren’t bouncers or anything. Aren’t there bouncers at all of the bars in books? It’s full, but not crowded. The light is dim but not dark. There aren’t any clouds of smoke. The music is loud, but the bartender can hear me fine as I ask about borrowing a phone.

“We ain’t got a public phone, shug. Anything I can help you with?”

She’s younger than I am. Maybe in her early twenties. Star tattoos sprinkle one cheekbone, the side of her neck, and behind her heavily-pierced ear. Purple bangs sweep over her forehead, but the rest of her head is shaved. I don’t think she’s wearing any make-up.

“I got a flat up the road and then locked my keys in the damn car. I don’t have a spare.” God damnit. I’m fucking crying. Look, I’m not one of those weepy bitches, but enough is fucking enough. I’m at the end of my rope. What do you think is the source of that phase? Because right now I’m imagining myself dangling from a rafter. Bitches don’t hang themselves, though. A nurse once told me that women pop pills or cut themselves. Men shoot themselves or hang themselves. I wouldn’t do any of that shit. Someone has to clean up, you know? Someone’s going to find you and be fucked up for the rest of their life.

“What’s your poison?” It’s the bartender, and at first I think she’s hearing my thoughts.

“Huh? Oh, shit,” I shake my head. “I’m pregnant.”

Her face lights up. “Congratulations,” she swats my hand. “When are you due?”

“I don’t know. Just found out, you know? Peed on a stick and got two stripes.” I sit on a stool and smash my cheeks into my hands. I’m sure it’s not flattering, but it’s automatic. I’m fucking tired.

“Punkin!” she yells across the room. “Get over here.”

A forty-something biker bitch appears beside her. Can I call them biker bitches?

“What’s up, Souvy?” Punkin asks.

“I gotta take a break. You okay out here?”

“Sure.”

The star-faced bartender disappears into the back and comes out through a door to put her arms around my shoulders.

“C’mon, shug,” she tugs me off the stool, and I follow her into an office.

“I’m Souvy,” she says as she closes the door behind us. “Souvenir.”

“Rachel,” I say as I hold out my hand. “That your real name?”

“Hell no. Even Punkin ain’t that mean. Charlotte. But nobody uses their given names here. Punkin — that’s my mom — calls me Souvenir because I’m what she was left with when she got knocked up by one mean bastard. I’m guessing from that bruise, you kinda get that.”

At this point I’m fucking blown away. Of all the shit that’s happened to me today, this shit. I’ve started for the door, when I hear her talking behind me.

“Hey, Pops. You busy?” I turn to see her holding a phone to her ear. “Yeah, girl came in needin’ help with a flat. She locked her keys in the car too…. Nah, she’s real sweet. Seems like she could use some help… Yeah, I’ll get her all set up. Thanks, Pops. Bye.”

“Pops says he’s all tied up at the shop right now, but he can be here in the morning if you can wait, or he’ll work something out if you really gotta get goin.'”

“I’ve got nowhere to go.”

“You mean you’ve got nowhere to be or nowhere to go?”

Wow. I’ve never considered the difference before, but I guess it a pretty fucking big one.

“Both, I guess. Fuck.”

“Well, come on then,” and she opens a door that seems to lead to a basement or something. We get down the stairs, and there’s a big room with a bunch of doors around the walls. The walls look like cabin walls — you know, logs and shit — and I wonder if it’s real or some kind of facade. She grabs a key from a hook, opens a door, and I see a bed with a stack of linens on top of the mattress. There’s a desk and a dresser, just like a hotel room. She hands me the key. The bathroom is the one with the pink chick on it. You can shower there if you want. You want something to eat?”

“How much is it?”

“Well, if you want the barbeque plate, you gotta donate five bucks to help Handy and his kids pay the final cost for his old lady. You want somethin else, I can see what I can do.”

“I meant the room too.”

“Oh, this ain’t a hotel. Sometimes a brother or his family needs a place to crash, and this is a safe place. I figure you need it tonight. As for food, you pay what you can and we’ll take care of you.”

“You got anything vegetarian?”

She laughs. “We don’t just eat barbeque. I don’t eat meat either. You like black bean burgers?”

I think she must see my face light up, because she just laughs and tells me she’ll be back in about fifteen minutes.

How fucking nuts is this shit? Of all the places I could have ended up tonight I end up at the one place I need to be. A cabin called Ink, meeting the sweetest accident anybody’s ever had. I wonder if my baby would get picked on if her name was Souvenir. Maybe if I have a girl, I’ll name her Sue.

Fiction – “Animal Abuse”

Content Warning: This one is a little gory and violent. Also, Language warning. Probably my whole blog needs a severe language warning though.
The three random words for this one were “Kangaroo, Comet, License”

 

Animal Abuse

 

The state of Texas requires a license to own “dangerous wild animals” like lions and tigers and bears, but you don’t need a license to own, say, a monkey or a kangaroo. They aren’t considered to be dangerous, but people are idiots, and idiots are, in many cases, quite dangerous. Especially the kind of idiot who owns a kangaroo in Texas.

My friend used to deliver feed to this exotic animal breeder in Lampasas…haha…Lamp Asses… Anyway, the Lampasas Ranch is –well, was– owned by a man and wife, Dan and Marge Lawton. Their walls were covered in those dollar-store motivational/devotional plaques with prayers or optimistic quotes in metallic gold script over pictures of clouds and shit. There were crosses and, appropriately, images of Noah’s Arc everywhere. There were rumors of animal abuse and beastiality.

My friend told me some second-hand stories about interspecies threesomes, but he also hated the Lawtons. They bred everything from tiny sugar gliders to fucking zebras. –Stop it. No. You do not want a zebra. Zebras don’t belong in America. And no, let’s not make this about immigration reform.– Anyway, in addition to zebras and sugar gliders, they bred exotic cats, lemurs, coatimundis, llamas, alpacas, emu, and two types of kangaroos.

A few weeks after a kangaroo was born, these self-proclaimed animal lovers would scoop the baby right out of its mama’s pouch and put it into a faux fur purse so they could bottle feed it in order to tame it. It would usually take a few days to get the baby kangaroos to latch onto a bottle. Sometimes they starved to death before learning to drink from a synthetic nipple.

The mama kangaroos were understandably upset at the loss of their joeys, and often became aggressive, but their aggression was nothing compared to that of the intact males. Most of the males were neutered as soon as the vet would do it, but the ones they wanted to keep for breeding stock obviously couldn’t be.

Anyway, so one day my friend was late with the feed delivery. Dan Lawton was making the evening feeding rounds while Marge was stealing a kangaroo baby. Mama Roo got protective and kicked Marge right in the head. Her head flung back and hit the wooden post of the “cabana,” what the Lawton’s called the kangaroo cages.

She cracked her head pretty hard but didn’t lose consciousness. Instead, she screamed bloody murder while Mama Roo kept coming at her trying to finish the job. Dan heard the commotion and ran to see what the fuss was about, but he didn’t take the time to lock the sire’s cabana. He got there just in time to watch his wife’s head squash like a watermelon at a Gallagher show.

As he started for the cabana, the sire seemed to think, probably correctly, that Dan was threatening Mama Roo, so Papa Roo kicked Dan square in his back. Dan went down just as my friend pulled up with the feed order. My friend called 911 and lured the sire back to his cage with treats. He sat with Dan while they waited for the ambulance. Dan tried to explain what had happened, obviously blaming it all on the kangaroos. He got so worked up that he had an actual heart attack right there.

My friend swears he saw a comet right after Dan exhaled his last. Autopsies showed that Dan’s back was broken and one kidney was basically ruptured, and Marge’s injuries were pretty much limited to her head and neck. The kangaroos and other animals were transferred to zoos and licensed exotics facilities. My friend says the comet he saw was the spirit of Dan Lawton, but I think it was just the universe celebrating the timely demise of two animal abusers.

Fiction – “The Job”

The random word challenge for this piece was “Sailer, Clippers, Chair”

 

The Job

It was supposed to be an easy job– well, two easy jobs, for two different employers, that could be made to overlap. For Midnight Phonecall, I needed to get the cops inside 8th St. Pub in a big way, and make sure they found their way to the basement. For Note In The Pizza Box, I needed to collect some DNA and end a “potential problem.”

Look, I don’t ask questions about my assignments. That’s a big part of the business of a Problem Solver. Anonymity is the first concern, and minding my own business is the second. But maybe, just this once, I needed more information.

The plan came together literally in my sleep. Easy peasy: strap the Sailor to the chair at the base of the stairs in 8th St. Pub; use the tweezers, scalpel, and clippers to collect the requested DNA; execute the Sailor; leave a trail; call the cops; get outta Dodge. Leave a padded envelope in the trash can outside the pizzeria. It was no more complicated than a hundred other jobs I’ve done this year. Except that it was.

It was easy enough to find the sweet Sailor using the picture and information included in the yellow envelope taped to the lid of a pizza I hadn’t ordered. The first half of the offered pay was stuffed in between the photograph and the detailed request letter, and it was a generous amount. I followed her for a couple of days to see what I needed to see. I guess I gradually formed the plan without realizing it until I had that dream.

On the day before she was supposed to return to active duty, I followed her out of the bar. As she passed the Everyday Cleaners van, I chloroformed her and dragged her into the van, zip tying her ankles to each other and her wrists to the rail on the wall. So far, things were easier than I expected. I injected her with anesthetic, and waited for closing time at 8th St. Pub.

It was no big deal to pick the lock or shut down the alarm.  I’d hacked the security network weeks ago to get footage of the code and bonus footage of the grow room in the basement. The Sailor was small and light. Getting her down the stairs and into the chair was a breeze. I should have noticed that everything was too easy, that my luck’s not that good.

She was strapped down good. I had pulled a few hairs from her scalp, getting a little patch of skin as a bonus. Swabbing her inner cheek wasn’t hard, but when I brought the nail clippers up to her hands, all hell broke loose.

I swear to God, the screech she let out was not human. Her hand came up like it hadn’t even been zipped down, and she took a chunk of my face with her when she leapt out of the chair.

“Who Dares To Deface This Vessel?” a hollow voice asked from The Sailor’s throat.

I grabbed a dirty bar rag from a basket and pressed it to my bloody jaw as I tried to crawl up the stairs. The tiny woman ripped flesh from my ankle as she threw me against the wall like a dog shaking a rubber chicken. Her face inches from mine, pupils expanded as far as they could go, she repeated the question.

I crabwalked up one step as I tried to get something, anything, to come out of my mouth. In the end, it was vomit, spewing as if it were being sucked out by a vacuum. The stench of rum and coke and bile choked my nostrils, and I couldn’t take a breath without inhaling puke.

“You DARE Attack Me?” the creature roared. I swear the bitch was hovering in the goddamned air.

The vomit abated and I choked in a burning breath of toxic-smelling air.

“I’m sorry,” I coughed, “I didn’t know!” Even I thought that was lame. The she-bitch grabbed my shirt, nails cutting into my chest, and lifted me off the stairs. Drool hung from her lip. I don’t know what she was going to do.

The door at the top of the steps slammed open. Incense swept into the room. Footsteps pounded behind me, and I tumbled down the stairs, disregarded. Scrambling as far back as I could get, I turned to witness my salvation.

“Most glorious Prince of the Heavenly Armies,

Saint Michael the Archangel,

defend us in our battle against principalities and powers,

against the rulers of this world of darkness,

against the spirits of wickedness in the high places”*

A massively obese priest stood where I had been, splashing something from a flask onto the screaming, hovering Sailor. I crouched, slackjawed, waiting for an opportunity to escape. If you think I would have hesitated to leave a defenseless priest with that monster, you don’t know me at all. Besides, he didn’t seem defenseless. As his soft words grew more vehement, the creature thrashed about as if enclosed by invisible walls.

“We drive you from us,

whoever you may be,

unclean spirits,

all satanic powers,

all infernal invaders,

all wicked legions,

assemblies and sects.”*

The priest continued, drawing cross-shapes in the air with the flask, scented smoke floating from a pendulous contraption hanging from his wrist. The creature in a woman’s body started to shrivel. Her cheeks hollowed and wrinkled as I watched. Her breasts sagged like deflated balloons, and her spine curved and hunched, while her screams became moans and her moans became silence.

The sweating priest jerked his chunky arm one last time, yelling “Begone, Satan, inventor and master of all deceit, enemy of man’s salvation.”

The creature screamed. The crone that had been a youthful sailor only hours ago dropped to the floor, wide-eyed and frozen in a look of terror that probably matched my own. Slowly, its head sagged, and the body slumped down the stairs before puffing into a cloud of ash.

Nodding his head, the priest hefted his cumbersome form back up the steps. At the top, he turned, and said, as if in the middle of a conversation, “Confessions are received on Saturdays from twelve-thirty to one, and any time after five o’clock mass.”

Then he was gone.

I don’t know when I realized that I should get a move on, but, eventually,  I packed away the samples I’d taken and took a bit of ash for good measure. I made the call to the cops as planned, saying that I’d seen a man carrying a woman’s body into the building. The jobs hadn’t gone the way I expected, but I guess the cops found what they were supposed to, and Note In The Pizza Box must have found the padded envelope, because the next day I received another pizza and the rest of the cash for the Sailor job. At midnight, I got another phone call with directions for where to pick up the rest of the money for that job too. All’s well that ends well, I guess, but it’s sure as hell going to leave a mark. And who the fuck eats anchovies on their pizza?

 

*The Exorcism Prayer was found on Catholic.org and it definitely does not belong to me. Apparently, it is called “Prayer to St. Michael The Archangel” by Pope Leo XIII. https://www.catholic.org/prayers/prayer.php?p=682 

Fiction – “The Interview”

I used to participate in a monthly flash fiction challenge based on three words plucked from a word generator. The stories I wrote always felt like someone else wrote them. Like someone else’s stream-of-consciousness was flowing from my hands to the keyboard. They’ve all just been sitting in my Google Docs with file names like “September Challenge.” Anyway, I hope no one minds that I’m going to post some of them here on a blog that was intended for rants. This one was called “The Interview.” I can’t remember all three random words, but I know one was Baboon.

 

The Interview

 

Hank grimaced, baboon-like in the mirror and checked his teeth for chunks of bread from his burger.  Years of dealing with crooked teeth had left a paranoia that braces had never resolved. Scooping a handful of water from the tap, he rinsed his mouth and spat. He puffed out his pale cheeks, licked his teeth, and wrinkled his nose, trying to loosen up the muscles in his face. His smile needed to look authentic.

Straightening first his shirt and then his shoulders, he picked up his portfolio, left the men’s room and traversed the short hallway to the receptionist’s desk.

“Can I help you?” the pretty black girl asked, as she looked up from a chart she’d been drawing.

“I’m here for an interview with Mr. Daniels,” Hank’s voice wavered.

The girl raised her eyebrows and scrunched her nose and lips together. “Ms. Daniels is a woman. Chris is short for Christine.” Somehow, the girl looked embarrassed enough for them both, but that didn’t stop Hank’s freckled ears from turning red.

“I’m so sorry. Thank you. I… um… I’m Hank,” he stretched out a long arm to shake her hand. “William, I mean. I mean, I go by Hank, but it’s William. William Pike.”

The girl tried to hide a grin as she looked up at him through her eyelashes. “Don’t worry about it. She probably does that on purpose. I’m Mildred. There’s coffee on the table, but it’ll only make ya nervous. Why don’t you grab some water, and I’ll let her know you’re here. Be prepared to wait. She likes to make interviewees squirm a little. You can have a seat on that couch.”

“Thanks. Oh, man, I hope I get through the interview better than I got through this.”

“You’ll do fine,” Mildred winked and pushed a button on her keyboard. “Ms. Daniels, your two-o’clock is here. Yes, I’ll get him situated… Yes, ma’am. You’re welcome.”

Hank walked to the sideboard. There were a few bottles of water, some ceramic cups, a Keurig with a selection of pods, some tea bags, and all the usual coffee accessories. He reached for a tea bag, then imagined spilling it all over himself. After a moment’s hesitation, he grabbed a chamomile tea bag, tied the string through the handle of a mug and set the Keurig to add hot water.

The first sip burned his tongue, and he looked up to see Mildred smirking and shaking her head. As he sat waiting, hot cup in hand, he couldn’t help feeling like the receptionist was stealing glances at him. He smiled at her when their eyes met, then traded his tea for a Healthy Living magazine on the table. None of the cover stories interested him, so he flipped through the pages slowly, hoping it looked like he was reading. In reality, he was going over interview tips in his head.

Everyone always tells you not to be nervous: it makes your sweat stink, makes your voice shake, makes you seem like an idiot. Knowing all of those things made Hank, and probably everyone else, nervous as hell. Hank resisted the urge to sniff his armpits. Instead, he tried another sip of tea and burned his tongue again.

He pulled a pad and pen from his portfolio and began to sketch the receptionist’s dark eyes. Something about the way they turned up at the corners intrigued him, and the process of drawing relaxed him. Her black eyelashes curled tightly instead of the subtle blonde sweep of his own lashes. When he was satisfied with the glinting quality of the irises he’d drawn, he moved on to her long, thin nose. When he tried to put an image to the phrase “Nubian goddess,” that was the kind of nose he imagined: with gently flared nostrils, and a slender, shallow bridge. She had a long, narrow face with pecan-colored skin. Her eyebrows curved just a little higher than expected above her long, dark eyes. Her narrow lips curved as if designed for regal smiles. A dozen small, platinum hoops decorated the curves of her ears, contrasting with her velvety black curls.

Hank’s pen moved constantly about the page, adding a shadow here, perfecting a curve there. So deep was his concentration, he jumped when the door next to her desk opened with a creak.

“Mr. Pike?” an authoritative voice asked. A short, stern woman stood waiting with raised brows.

Hank dropped his pad and pen, grabbed his portfolio, and hurried to shake her hand, stumbling over his huge shoes on the way.

“Th– thank you for meeting with me,” Hank stuttered.

“I’m sorry to have interrupted your doodle,” the tiny woman glared up at him. “I had thought that you’d be eager for this interview. I’ve had multiple applicants, you know.”

“I’m sorry, Madam. I was just passing the time. Working helps me think.”

The corners of her mouth turned down and she stepped aside to hold the door open. Hank thought he saw Mildred smirk as he slipped past her tiny boss and into the sparse office.

“Have a seat, Mr. Pike” Christine Daniels gestured to a black chair that faced an immaculate wooden desk. The only items on the desk were a slim computer monitor, a keyboard, mouse, and a monogrammed pen. Ms. Daniels lowered herself into the stately chair behind the desk. Hank couldn’t imagine this rigid woman as a “Chris.” He sat.

“Your portfolio is adequate, and you have some impressive letters of recommendation, but your practical experience seems wanting. What makes you think you’re the most qualified candidate for the position?”

Hank sat straighter, torn between a snarky, bridge-burning retort and a humble apology for wasting her time A surge of irritation incited an acute case of verbal diarrhea.

“Madam, I am not so arrogant as to assume that I am the most qualified candidate for this position without knowing the qualifications of the other applicants,” he began. “What I am able to tell you is that my observation skills are above average, and my attention to detail is one of my strengths. I may not have the most impressive social skills, but I take pride in everything I do from taking engagement photos of my best friends to stocking my bathroom cabinet with neat rows of toilet paper. I firmly believe that everything I do should be done to the best of my ability, and that my ability should improve with every attempt. I may not have the practical experience of your other applicants, but I’m willing to bet that they won’t have the inherent dedication that I have. Failure is not something I do.” As he finished, he realized that he hadn’t broken eye contact through the whole speech. He hoped, belatedly, that the prolonged eye contact and abrasive tone of his speech hadn’t completely blown the interview.

Ms. Daniels sat back, pursed her lips, and steepled her fingers under her nose. Hank waited. Sweat tickled his side as it rolled toward the waistband of his pants. A parade of thoughts started, stalled, and died before reaching coherency.

“You realize,” Ms. Daniels said as she sat forward again, “that this is an unpaid internship. The best you can hope for is to expand your portfolio and leave with another letter of recommendation.”

“That’s not true,” Hank grinned. “I can hope that you find my talents so invaluable that you hire me on.”

Even Ms. Daniels was taken by surprised when a bark of laughter escaped her throat. It transformed her whole demeanor. “Be here at 7am on Monday.” She stood with her hand outstretched, and it seemed to Hank that his first impression of her as a tiny, threatening creature had been incorrect somehow. Hank shook her hand as he stood, thanked her, and let himself out of the office.

“Don’t forget your notebook,” Mildred said as he passed her.

In a daze, he collected his belongings, bid the girl a good afternoon, and headed for his car. After buckling his seatbelt, he glanced at his sketchbook. The latest drawing was missing, but a phone number was written in a crisp, careful hand on the first clean page.

 

Why The Kissing Booth is Dangerous to Teen Girls

I’ve been mopey AF, so I’ve been watching a lot of RomComs, and Netflix told me I’d like The Kissing Booth. And I did. It was sad and sweet, and fucking infuriating. And I personally think it was irresponsible to make this movie obviously marketed to teen girls.

I mean, it’s been happening for years. Sixteen Candles has that awful storyline where sober Ted has sex with severely inebriated Caroline. Danny’s friends jokingly ask if Sandy “put up a fight” in Grease. Twilight romanticized a controlling stalker who literally snuck into a girl’s house to watch her sleep. But we’re supposed to be getting better as a society, aren’t we? So do better, movie makers.

I know The Kissing Booth is meant to be a light-hearted movie about an awkward girl’s first love, but it brings up some pretty messed up stuff without actually handling it in a responsible way.

  1. Harmful stereotypes abound.
  2. It brings up teenage drinking and fails to properly address the seriousness of alcohol poisoning.
  3. It takes rape culture way too lightly.
  4. It glorifies peer pressure in a way that kind of freaks me out.
  5. It normalizes some serious red flags for an abusive relationship.
  6. It promotes the theory of The Magical Healing Vagina.

Harmful Stereotypes

  • The popular girls are stupid, shallow, drunk cheerleaders who are malicious unless they need something from you. Aside from being lazy writing, this contributes to teenage girls thinking that it’s okay to be a mean girl because that’s how popular girls are meant to behave, and it also makes sure that girls see each other as adversaries. Girls need to support each other. You find that out more and more as you get older. Also, the popular girls in my school were smart, highly social, and talented. They were also nice. That’s how they got popular. Can we stop with vilifying women? I’m not convinced that it’s realistic.
  • There are exactly two gay characters, and two black characters in this enormous school. Representation matters. The “minorities” aren’t as minor as screenwriters seem to think.
  • The protagonist is constantly showing off her boobs. I mean, you do you: I won’t judge, but when you get older, you feel less cool about how many times you flashed your boobs for shock value. I’m speaking from personal experience: Yours may vary.
  • The protagonist is awkward and weird and doesn’t know she’s beautiful. Gag me with a spoon. (Are my 80’s showing?) It is totally fine if you are aware that you are attractive. Just sayin. Also, she falls for the most sought-after popular jock at the school. I mean, I was a weird, awkward girl too, and you know who I had crushes on? The band geeks. Hubba hubba.

Alcohol Poisoning is Serious Shit

I got alcohol poisoning once. Okay, maybe more than once. My vision was blurry for days… oh, and I was raped. But I was actually super-lucky. Underage drinking is linked to about 4,300 deaths and 119,000 emergency room visits per year for kids between the ages of twelve and twenty. When the protagonist drinks until she blacks out and strips on a table in front of the whole school, the situation is treated like no big deal. In reality, drinking that much could have killed her.

Alcohol poisoning quickly affects the bodily functions that sustain life. As a depressant, alcohol slows breathing, heart rate and blood pressure. If blood alcohol levels rise sharply in a short time, the areas of the brain that control these functions can be sedated—literally put to sleep. When that happens, people lose consciousness and can die. People who poison themselves with alcohol can also die from choking on their own vomit.

Rape Culture

She was also lucky that a strong, tall hero swooped in to take her to safety (though it should have been the ER). Many girls in similar situations experience some form of sexual assault, but she takes that all in stride. Her undies are still on when she wakes up in some dude’s bed, so nothing could have happened, right?

Conservative estimates of sexual assault prevalence suggest that 25 percent of American women have experienced sexual assault, including rape. Approximately one-half of those cases involve alcohol consumption by the perpetrator, victim, or both.

There’s also the scene where some dude grabs her practically bare “lady bump” and almost everyone thinks it’s hilarious. So they follow that up with a brief, pathetic conversation about how it’s sexist to say wearing a skirt that short is “asking for it.” YOU HAD SUCH AN OPPORTUNITY HERE, AND YOU DROPPED THE BALL. Yeah, dudes need to be held responsible for their own self control. This should be put into words. Shame those butt-gropers into behaving better. Put the blame exactly where it belongs.

Also, can we talk about the fact that the love interest is raised like her brother and keeps telling her she’s like his little sister, but takes the first opportunity to kiss her while blindfolded? What if she legit thought of him as a brother? She would have felt so betrayed.

Peer Pressure

Dude, Tricking and pressuring people into making out with strangers while blindfolded (and pressuring them into drinking something that “tastes like green”) is not cool. Don’t make that seem cool. WTF.

Normalizing Red Flags

Okay, if I’m honest, most of my other points feel like nit-picking, but this one is a doozy. I think we need bullets for it.

  • dude is known for getting into fights
  • dude has threatened all of the other guys at the school with physical violence if they date our protagonist
  • dude actually hits some guys over their interactions with protagonist
  • when confronted and told his days of controlling her life are over, dude replies, “We’ll see.”
  • dude gives protagonist commands like it’s his fucking job
  • when protagonist runs away in anger after he gets into ANOTHER fight, he hits his car and demands that she get in
  • dude takes her to a favorite hook-up spot in the rain when she’d be trapped

All of these are incandescent red flags for an abusive relationship, but they are treated like they are somehow romantic. They are used to feed into The Theory of The Magical Healing Vagina. The guy is controlling AF, and violent, but the script uses his violence to make him seem like a concerned tiger with a thorn in his paw. There’s a scene in which he confesses that he’s even been to therapists for his violence, to which the protagonist replies that she believes he can change. Suddenly, he never throws another punch. The only other fight he gets into is with his little brother, and he only acts defensively. At this point, the characterization is flipped on it’s head, and the dude has become this sad, broken, misunderstood creature that everyone else is being mean to. It’s unlikely at best, and harmful at worst, not only to girls who think their love should be able to cure deep-seated emotional issues, but to boys who have deep-seated emotional issues that can’t be cured by some girl believing they can change. Normalizing these red flags only encourages girls to think they just need to try harder, love better, take more shit. It opens girls up to abusive relationships at a delicate age, and I can’t forgive that kind of irresponsibility.

If you pull the thorn out of a wild beast’s paw, he’s not going to suddenly become a pussycat. That’s why zoo’s sedate those animals before they perform even the most routine procedures. That tiger will still kill you.

Ladies, if he hits other people, controls your life, and hits objects while yelling at you, it’s only a matter of time before he hits you. No man worth being with will feel the need to control your life. It isn’t romantic. It’s narcissistic. And you are (probably) not equipped to treat that. Not even with your vagina.

The Innate Theory of the Magical Healing Vagina, and How It’s Unhealthy

I swear I’ve already written this one, but I can’t find it. It’s a theory I came up with when I was about sixteen, so really long time ago. I started reading romance novels when I was about eleven or twelve. When my mom would finish a book about some wealthy merchant’s daughter falling for the handsome pirate holding her for ransom, she’d pass it along to me. Aside from giving me incredibly unrealistic expectations for sex and love, I think it also contributed to the notion that a woman can fix any man… with her vagina.

I think all fem-types have this romantic notion that they can love the broke out of someone, and at puberty, we start to equate love with sex.

Is the man in your life crotchety and withdrawn like Jane Austen’s Mr. Darcy? A little sex can clear that right up. Is he sad, traumatized, or otherwise broken? Fuck him. Literally. Is he angry and abusive? That’s right: cure him with your Magical Healing Vagina (MHV). Dipping his penis into your spectacular secretions is a cure-all for anything that ails him. (I mean, it works for headaches, right?)

WRONG.

This notion, which has been promoted in love stories for girls since the beginning of time, is dangerous AF.  Beauty and The Beast? Abusive monster needs to get laid, is cured by the beauty’s kiss and stops being a monster. Pride and Prejudice? Guy’s a complete jerk until he falls in love. Twilight? Dangerous, blood-sucking stalker tamed by autistic girl’s vajayjay. (Okay, that’s not canon, but if she could complete the ADOS, I feel pretty confident she’d be diagnosed with ASD.) Pretty much every romance novel ever written is about some broken dude saved by the MHV. So? It makes for a sweet story of redemption and healing. What’s wrong with that?

Well, for starters, romanticizing abusive behaviors encourages girls to stay in dangerous situations because they think they can love someone enough to change them, to tame the beast. With their booty. The notion that you can love someone enough to cure their depression or trauma opens girls up to manipulation by abusive or narcissistic lovers.

  • Guy: Calls girl every thirty seconds. Accuses her of cheating because she went to lunch with his best friend’s girlfriend. Calls her a slut and a whore. Punches the wall. Breaks her stuff.
  • Girl: I don’t like the way you treat me. We need to break up.
  • Guy: But I’m sad. I’ll die without you.
  • Girl: Okay. We can stay together even though neither of us is happy in this relationship. It’s probably that I’m not applying enough vaginal secretions to your emotional wounds.
  • Repeat forever until she has to run with the kids in the middle of the night because he turned on them too.

We need to change the stereotype love story. Finding love is great, but we shouldn’t allow pop culture to teach our kids that mental health problems are best cured by romantic love. That’s what therapists are for, and have you ever noticed that therapists aren’t allowed to sleep with their patients?

Anyway, I think I’ve gotten off track, but the point I wanted to make is that girls shouldn’t allow themselves to feel compelled to fuck the sadness out of boys. Don’t feel like it’s your duty to make someone feel loved by giving them access to your genitals. Don’t ever feel guilted into sex, and never ever believe that you can fix someone’s flawed attitude. You can barely control your own attitude: don’t take on theirs as well. Also, Stockholm Syndrome isn’t romantic. That’s why it’s called a syndrome.

Relationship tips. Hahaha

Sometimes people ask me if I have relationship advice. Why the fuck they think my theories on relationships would have any value is beyond me, but I do think I’ve got a few nuggets of wisdom. (They may turn out to be highly polished goat turds, but they’re shiny either way.)

 

So here they are:

 

  1. Don’t go to bed or part ways angry, and always treat every parting like it could be the last time you see that person. Because it could be. If you can’t reconcile before bed, don’t bring the fight to bed. Leave it somewhere else (like your shoes), and snuggle until you fall asleep.
  2. If the fight is escalating to the point that you’re becoming vindictive or you think you might say or do something that will cause permanent damage, leave the room. Go outside. Cool off. When you come back, hug. Hug for half a minute. Seriously, do this all the time.
  3. Always fight fair. Keep all comments to the matter at hand. No personal insults. Try not to call names. Don’t dredge up every problem you’ve ever had. If you’ve already discussed it, it’s done. If you haven’t brought it up before, it wasn’t a big enough deal to confront before and it shouldn’t be used as ammunition now.
  4. Don’t let little annoyances get big. Little peeves sit like a pebble in your shoe. If you keep letting them rub you the wrong way, they’ll cause resentment like a blister, and just like a blister could get infected, resentment can poison a relationship. You may have to amputate. So don’t let it go that far. Handle it calmly while the irritant is still just a small pebble in your shoe.
  5. Be considerate. Try to be thoughtful and generous while maintaining any boundaries you need (don’t be taken advantage of, that’s going to end with resentment). And sometimes, for no particular reason, go out of your way to make them feel loved.

That’s it. That’s what I’ve got. Sometimes I suck at following my own rules, but life is a hell of a lot easier when I stick to this playbook.

How Bacteria Have Altered My Religion

This may be the most scattered thing I will ever write, but it makes sense to me. Maybe it will make sense to someone else too. I consider myself an agnostic. I believe that the truth of the universe or the divine is something we don’t have the senses to really “know.” We aren’t physically equipped for it. It’s not provable or verifiable. I’m not an atheist. By definition, an atheist believes that there is no god. I just believe that I don’t know, can’t know, and refuse to spout utter BS insisting that my untenable idea is true and correct, while someone else’s equally untenable idea is definitely wrong.

Here’s the thing, though: I spend a lot of time praying now that I’m a parent. I didn’t do a lot of that before I saw two blue stripes on a urine-soaked panel, but, especially with school shootings and alligator attacks in the news, I find that I can no longer cope with a reality in which we have no pull. The interesting part is that I’m not sure to whom I am petitioning for my son’s safety. I still don’t believe in the bible or a creator god. In fact, the more I learn about microbes and viruses, the less I believe in the concept of an individual at all, be it human or divine.

Did you know that, depending on which expert you ask, scientists think about half or more of the cells in our body may be bacterial? Did you also know that, when sequencing the human genome, the Human Genome Project found that about 8% of our DNA isn’t even ours: it’s viral? Before I get too confusing, please don’t think of viruses as living organisms with intentions. From my admittedly limited understanding of what a virus is, it’s basically like a loose code fragment (DNA or RNA) that, when it gets into a living host cell, changes what our cells do. Instead of producing new, healthy cells, they start producing copies of the viral code fragment, sometimes causing dysfunction and illness, and other times causing nothing noticeable at all, or even being beneficial. If I’m understanding the findings of The Human Genome Project, viruses can even become part of our own DNA.

Back to my theology: I’ve always had this wistful image in my heart of a universal soul or some cosmic connection between all living things, but I recently started feeling like it may be more reality than fantasy, or rather that individuality may be more of an illusion, when I found out about Horizontal Gene Transfer (HGT). Basically, on the microbial level, it is not uncommon for one species to share genetic material with another species. A bacterium can actually donate some of its DNA to an entirely different species. (Dr. Betsy Dexter Dyer likes to say that bacteria are “promiscuous” with their DNA, which makes me laugh.) Humans and other mammals can only pass our DNA vertically, that is, to our biological children, but  microbes are asexual. They typically create exact copies (sometimes with mistakes or mutations) of themselves, but it’s also possible for them to take on genetic material from other species in a way that I imagine is similar to the way that we are infected by viral material.

So what’s the connection between horizontal gene transfer and my skepticism about individuality? It’s tenuous, I admit, but thinking about how every life form on earth, and some non-lifeforms (like viruses), are made up of basically the same DNA material arranged in remarkably similar patterns that can be added to or changed without changing the “self,”, and then thinking about how every macro life form (any living thing that can be seen without a microscope) is made up of a combination of their own cells and cells of microorganisms, brings to mind Russian stacking dolls.

The Earth is our home world, and the city you live in is your greater environment, with your home being your ultimate habitat. You are the home world of your bacteria and fungi. The various parts of your body (your skin, for instance, or your gut) are environments full of bacteria and other microbes. The specific places on your body (your colon, your sweaty armpits, your crotch) are habitats for microbes: bacteria, fungi, etc. Most of these microorganisms are non-pathogenic, either harmless or helpful, sometimes even necessary. (Did you know that E. coli in our intestines produces our Vitamin K? Most E. coli strains are normal parts of our microbiome, and we would not do well without them. When we kill off the normal strains, we allow the super-bacteria like E. coli O157:H7, a strain that causes diarrhea, to cause infections. When we have our normal, healthy E. coli, they hog the real estate, preventing the pathogenic  E. coli from getting a hold. An interesting note: certain strains of streptococcus thermophilus, a type of strep, can ease the symptoms of diarrhea caused by taking antibiotics.) But I’m digressing.

Back to Russian stacking dolls. Imagine this: The universe holds the solar systems, which each hold the planets. One of those planets, Earth, holds macro life forms, which each hold microbes, which each hold viruses and bacteriophages, which are made of the same DNA and RNA chemicals as all other life on Earth, and we can’t even see or experience anything smaller than that. It takes an electron microscope to see a virus, and it takes incredible machinery to sequence DNA. As in all stages of history and the future, at this point, we don’t know what we don’t know. But what we do know is that the continued existence of all life on Earth is dependent on every level of those stacking cups to be just so.

Are animals self-aware? I think they are. Are microbes self-aware? There isn’t even a way to test that, and even if there were, we wouldn’t ever understand the results of the test because the life experience of a bacterium is so far removed from our own that we have no common ground to facilitate communication. So what about our cells, those little DNA factories that also perform vital functions allowing a creature to exist as such? A bacterium is a single cell, but it is an organism. How can we know for certain that our cells aren’t… individuals? We are a colony of cells. What if our cells are as self aware as bacteria, whatever that may mean. If you take a human cell and use the right chemistry and procedures, you can make it grow an ear on the back of a mouse, independent of the human it came from. You can transfer organs from one human to another, or even from an animal to a human, and those organs continue to function independent of their original host. So, if (and that’s a huge if) each of our cells sees itself as an individual in a community, but we see our cells as part of our human whole, it seems to me that  it isn’t a giant leap to think that we may be parts to a greater whole.

And you know what? I find that comforting. Because we don’t cry when we lose a skin cell. In the greater scheme of things, everything goes on much the same afterward, and that skin cell is digested by microbes and returned to basic chemicals used by some life form or other to become part of a self again, and I’d like to think that the soul is just great cosmic electricity, or energy, and you can’t create or destroy energy, you can only change it. So when a person dies, I like to think that their cosmic energy goes on to some other stage of existence. You can call it heaven or reincarnation if that’s what comforts you, but I’m just happy to think that death is an illusion, and that the only reality is change and evolution.