I was asked to say a few words at The Event, a two-day conference about the many ways in which the world might end.
For reasons best known to the organisers, I was put on a panel about the impending zombie apocalypse. Zombies tend to get a bad press, so I thought I’d present the opposing point of view. Here’s the text of my opening remarks – including a few digs at Naomi Alderman, who had kicked off the day with a brilliant (if prejudiced) talk about the history of zombie culture.
I’ve sat here patiently for the past 20 minutes – well, all afternoon really – and I’ve stayed silent. But now I have to say it: I have never heard such intolerant and frankly zombiphobic rhetoric in all my life.
Naomi called zombies ‘brainless’ but I think we all know that if anyone’s brainless it certainly isn’t zombies… for very long.
But there are so many misconceptions about persons-of-very-little-colour that I shouldn’t really be surprised. Personally, I blame computer games. But let me try to explain to you the truth of the situation.
I recently became an uncle. And holding my nephew in my arms and seeing my brother and his wife so happy, it brought home to me the importance of family.
Family is what binds this country together. And in times of crisis – indeed, in the face of an apocalypse – it is family we will turn to.
It’s a sad statistic that 37% of all projected zombiphobic violence will occur in the home. It seems that those closest to us really are the ones we hurt the most.
But just remember that zombies are people too. That zombified person with the bad skin, banging on the bathroom door, panting and howling – that’s your mum.
Those persons of undead extraction shambling down the middle of the street – that’s your brother-in-law and his kids, the ones you played Swingball with at the barbecue last year.
Naomi said that the horror of zombification is realising that ‘People just like you are trying to kill you’ – but I’d turn that frown upside-down and say that ‘The people trying to kill you are just like you’.
Zombification is a disease, ladies and gentlemen. These people need our help, not our headshots.
When you pull out your shotgun or decapitate a zombified person with a hedge trimmer, you’re not just ending the story of that member of your family. You’re giving up on hope. You’re giving up on your family and you’re giving up on humanity.
Because if zombification is a disease, then there must be a cure. Even if it’s only a vaccine or a temporary treatment or a 12-step programme, we must retain our faith in the human spirit and believe that a solution will be found.
The apocalypse doesn’t need to be the end. But if we believe that there’s no solution, if we think that there’s no hope of a cure, if we lose ourselves in a cycle of violence, then we will have truly been defeated.
Non-living people must be treated with restraint – well, restraints.
Violence is not the solution. We should institute a policy of containment and compassion, keeping our zombified brothers and sisters in quarantine until a cure can be found. (I’d also like to see this backed up by proper counselling, but I know there’s a lack of trained practitioners in this area.)
If your first instinct is always to sever the head, then you’re worse than the disease. You lose your humanity and you lose the moral high ground.
I’ve been called a zombie sympathiser, but who are the real victims here? Is it the sufferers of a debilitating disease or you lot with your guns shooting zombified people in the head and taking potshots at them with your vinyl collection? Why should I feel sorry for you?
And this all-too-common violent attitude isn’t based on fact – it’s based on fear. These sensationalist movies and games and comic books are just reflections of basic human fears which these unimaginative ‘artists’ paint with a zombie face. “The Evil Dead”, “Resident Evil” – these poor revenant victims are being demonised in popular culture by people who frankly are in no position to make moral judgements.
They portray zombified people as monsters to be feared. And it’s understandable that we should want to destroy what we fear. That’s instinct, that’s human nature.
But perhaps, rather than fearing the reanimated community, we should try shuffling a mile in their shoes. I want you all to close your eyes…
Go on. You’re in a safe place here.
Put yourself in their position for a moment. You’re hungry. That’s all you know. You just want to feed and perhaps, when you’ve fed enough, you might finally find some kind of respite for a while. All your energies go into seeking food. You have no need of language beyond a wild scream. You have no control over your bodily functions. Your hair is thin, your bowels are like an open tap – and your only thought is to feed.
Does any of this sound familiar? Yes…
You’re my baby nephew.
When I was holding little Andrew in my arms and he reached out to me, screaming, his gummy maw only ever satisfied when it was chewing down on human flesh, I thought: is this tiny child of nature really so very different from a our zombified cousins?
Like a newborn infant, a zombified person’s desires are simple and guided purely by instinct.
Think of that next time you’re setting about the delicate skulls of the so-called ‘zombie menace’ with a chainsaw.
So I hope that now you’ve glimpsed the pro-Z side of the story, you’ll think about whose position would you rather be in when the apocalypse comes?
The childlike zombie, with their simple, innocent needs?
Or the sweaty zombie-killer, always fretting about whether they’ve got enough ammo to get them through the day and where they’re going to flee to next, living in fear, up to their knees in blood as they massacre their way through till dawn? And then again the next day, and the next…
I know who I’d rather be.
It’s about peace of mind.
So relax. Listen to your conscience. Keep faith in the great family that is humanity. And gaze without fear on the sweet, baby face of the zombie.