A system that breeds horrors

June 7, 2012

Brit Schulte and Matt Camp comment on the roots of some horrifying incidents.

RECENTLY, TWO gruesome incidents have sparked a tongue-in-cheek debate about the outbreak of a "zombie apocalypse."

In Miami, Rudy Eugene was shot and killed by a police officer while chewing the face of 65-year-old Ronald Puppo, a homeless man who survived the attack, although he sustained severe injuries. According to Miami police, Eugene is suspected to have been under the influence of a synthetic drug euphemistically referred to as "bath salts," which acts as a strong hallucinogenic when used as a narcotic.

In Hackensack, N.J., 43-year-old Wayne Carter allegedly disemboweled himself in front of police and then cut, ate and threw pieces of his flesh and entrails at the officers. The police were responding to a call from a witness saying Carter had threatened to harm himself. Carter, who has a history of mental illness was subdued and hospitalized.

Still other stories have been fueling the "zombie" hysteria. A mysterious disease has been affecting children in Northern Uganda since the 1960s. Dubbed the "Nodding Disease," some 3,000 children are suffering under a strange affliction that leaves them "zombified," unresponsive and prone to extreme acts of violence such as arson.

Treatment of the Nodding Disease is nonexistent. Desperate parents are binding their children by their hands and feet in an effort to keep them under control. According to the World Health Organization, specialists are baffled as to what causes the sickness, though some experts speculate a microscopic worm carried by the Tsetse fly causes the disease.

More thoughtful commentators have pointed out that these incidents are not connected to a "zombie outbreak" at all, but are endemic examples of deep-seated sociological problems where people turn to drugs as a means of escapism, access to mental health is a social privilege, and the imperialist rape of the African continent has left millions without access to sanitation and clean water.

But in a larger sense, these events are indicative of a zombie outbreak indeed. They are the characteristics of a vampyric economic system, refusing to die, remaining undead to plague the barely living: This is capitalism in no uncertain terms.

THE RELATIONSHIP between zombies and capitalism is not new. The most formidable films of the zombie-horror genre have exhibited strong allegories to capitalism and social crises. Director George Romero filmed four seminal zombie classics Night of the Living Dead (1968), Dawn of the Dead (1978), Day of the Dead (1985) and Land of the Dead (2005) that are expositions on racism, consumerism, militarism and classism respectively.

The film 28 Days Later (2002), a more contemporary rendition of the zombie meme by director Danny Boyle, profiled militarism, pharmaceutical giants run amuck and genetic modification. Still another, Dead Snow (2009), a cult hit by Norwegian director Tommy Wirkola, featured Nazi zombies rising from under the snow of Scandinavia in a clear nod to the disquieted ghosts of fascism in Europe.

Perhaps the most relevant theme was driven home in the 2004 film Shaun of the Dead, in which the protagonist spends the first hours of the zombie apocalypse stumbling through his daily routine, oblivious to the catastrophe around him until it confronts him directly. The film begs the question of whether the audience is aware of its own social setting, and what it may take for them to react to it.

So who then are the real undead? Those gnawing away at the productive living in new and terrifying ways. The ruling class of the world spreads greed, alienation and terror much like a disease; infecting the world with their profit wars and draining the planet of its vitals. If pop culture teaches us anything, it's how to deal with a zombie.

The recent "zombie" incidents drive home the absurdity of the system we live under. The tragic case of Rudy Eugene not only underscores the insanity of abusing bath salts as an escapism, but also the unqualified failure of the drug war that proffers bath salts as a easily obtainable alternative to illegal narcotics. Eugene, who according to those who knew him was mild-mannered, could have been subdued using non-deadly force to interrupt his attack, but instead he was shot in the head, another victim of lethal police force.

Wayne Carter is a victim of a social safety net left threadbare by decades of neoliberalism in the United States. Carter, clearly suffering from mental illness, remained unnoticed until his act of desperation brought him to the headlines.

Shouting at police officers, "I'm going to die today...I'm sorry but I'm going to heaven," Carter stabbed himself as many as 40 times during a two-hour standoff before a SWAT team subdued him. In Carter's case, violent self-harm is only the mirrored response to the systematic and equally violent treatment that the poor and working class are subjected to daily by an economic system prone to crisis.

Likewise in Uganda, where the bloodied rags around the hands of children reflect the bloodied flags around those who kill for profit, an inhuman system has plundered a continent and left swaths of humanity without healthcare, jobs, basic resources or amenities.

The reality is that, despite the hype behind these events, they are not unique. They are the alarm bells that sound daily in a world lashed by wars and austerity. A world crying out for an alternative, where the needs of all are met, and the abilities of all are fulfilled.

Aimless wandering children and adults inflicting harm on themselves and others without regard, personifying the system that created them. This is the hands of the dispossessed, reaching out and clawing for meaning in world that wasn't built with them in mind. Mindless, rag-filled, starved, infected, untreatable, without diagnosis, madness. These themes might make good fodder for this year's Halloween blockbuster, but are in fact the hallmarks of the capitalist system.

Capitalism breeds zombies. Welcome to the "apocalypse."

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