Monday, November 29, 2004

fear is a weapon of mass destruction

Every place I have lived for the last eighteen years or so, I have assessed for defensibility--against the zombies. I think about the exits, which windows will need to be boarded up, what I will use for that purpose. I have considered whether or not the staircase can be destroyed, and the fire escapes; I think about which routes to take through the city if we have to leave. I am not allowed to watch zombie movies since spook woke up one morning to find me staring at him and asked "What are you thinking?" to which I replied "I'm thinking, what in the apartment could I use to bash your head in if I needed to do that on short notice?" I used to, however, critique them ruthlessly. Why would you entomb yourself in the basement? Why would you shoot eight or nine rounds into the torso when this is obviously not effective? Why is everyone in these movies so impractically dressed--especially in the sequels? I don't know about you, but if I was the only survivor of a mass attack by the undead, I would never again sleep with my boots off. Aim for the head, people! Destroy the brain! Don't go into the subway tunnel after your puppy! I have a plan for what to do when the zombies come.

I know this is ridiculous, and I expect people to laugh when I tell them. What can I say? My brother described the plot of Night of the Living Dead to me at an impressionable age. spook bought me a copy of the Zombie Survival Guide for our anniversary this year, and even I thought it was funny, although I did find myself agreeing smugly with the author's instructions, and I did have nightmares after reading through it.

It's less funny that I found myself lying awake this week trying to plan what I would do in the event of a nuclear detonation in the U.S. I think things like we'll need a car, we'll need to head north, everyone will be trying to do that, I wonder if we need a gun. I wonder what use a gun would be since neither of us really knows how to use it. I wonder what will remain of civil order under those circumstances, I wonder if I could really bring myself to abandon my cats, I know I could not.
I am so, so, so pissed off that after three years of resisting all the right-wing fear-mongering that's been going on in this country and the one next door, they finally came up with something that scared me. Realistically, I don't think we're at any more risk of nuclear attack than we were five years ago, or fifteen. We invented the technology, and ever since, everyone has been at risk. But oh, god, lying there in bed I thought this is crazy, how is it that I'm afraid of the same thing I was afraid of as a little girl? How is it that things like blast radius are part of my consciousness, that I know the most important thing for the first little while will be which way the wind is blowing? How is it that we as people create these tools of despair for ourselves, why are we not creative enough to find a way out? I wish I believed in the kind of god who could show up and say "That's quite enough, all of you go to your rooms. I'm taking your toys away."

I saw an interview with one of my favourite monster creators, Joss Whedon, where he said "Villains never see themselves as the bad guy. In their own minds, their behaviour is entirely justified." Fear can make monsters out of all of us. Fear can make us elect monsters to lead and represent us. Fear literally does change the way we think, shutting down some responses and plugging into others, but we can find ways to calm ourselves in even dire circumstances and make a choice other than the ones that fear dictates.

I have a theory, not an especially original one I'm afraid, that our collective obsession with monsters is not because we are desensitized to violence, but the exact opposite. I think some of the people who are most interested in scary entertainment are people who live scary lives. Imaginary monsters--zombies, for example--can be made small, manipulated, put on fast forward, destroyed in satisfying explosions. We need some arenas in which we can win out over our fears, because our remote controls don't work on government policy. When I think carefully about where we are headed here, I experience a kind of terror that is like the terror of a physical threat, except that there's nothing to hit or run away from; what I'm trying to learn to ask myself is, what am I going to do each day that nothing catastrophic happens?

"We've got to find the courage to overcome
inaction is a weapon of mass destruction
inaction is a weapon of mass destruction
inaction is a weapon of mass destruction"

(Faithless, "Mass Destruction")


Kat said...

Zombies scare the shit out of me. Scott loves them - for his birthday I took him to see "Dawn of the Dead" - he loved it, I nearly peed my pants. I didn't see a movie in the theatre for 6 months after that.

Jeff said...

Go, at once, to see Shaun of the Dead! Even the casual zombie-movie fan would have to admit, it absolutely rocks. 'Cause romantic brit-comedy+zombies= total hilarity!

'col said...

uh...I saw the trailer for Shaun of the Dead through my fingers, on my tv at home, and still had the heebies for hours afterwards. nope, no zombies for me, too scary. even funny zombies.

geez, I am such a wimp.

Anonymous said...

anonymous being Martha,

'col, sometimes I think that at the end of months, when I need a hit of 'col editorial on the world, it's like you are waiting for your cheque to come in and everything gets really thin. All that to say, I'd love to read from.

And what's with someone thinking you were mean in the previous post? People like that... give me a stick any day!