Monday, November 12, 2012

Our Zombie Reality

The apocalypse has come.
If you have power, chances are you’re spending Monday nights watching NBC’s hit drama “Revolution.’’ In it, a savvy band of fighters wrestles with the chaotic loss of electricity, cellphones, American Express, heat and hot water, plus the collapse of government (though glamorous survivors appear to retain working blow-dryers).
But, hold your horse and buggy! The fiction is real.
In the post-Sandy Rockaways and Staten Island, overnight we’ve turned into futuristic survivalists. Only, the future is now. The government response is feeble. In hard-hit areas, the machines on which we depend for everything, from ordering Chinese to communicating with people under our own roofs, don’t work. We’re on our own.
At least since the terror attacks of 9/11, Hollywood has been on a horror binge. Shows like AMC’s end-of-the-world romp, “The Walking Dead,’’ and Brad Pitt’s upcoming undead epic, “World War Z,’’ reflect the anxieties of people who feel as if modern life is but a slim veneer on the verge of meltdown. Flesh-eating zombies are hot. Blood-sucking vampires are cool. Villains no longer are German, Muslim, Russian or French, but vague monsters that live at the edge of consciousness, ready to pounce.
And the terror one feels looking into the abyss has seeped from the abstract and has landed, with a thud, in real life. Consider:
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last year released “Preparedness 101: Zombie Pandemic.” It’s a guide to making it through a zombie attack, or pretty much any hard-to-kill emergency.
Now, since Hurricane Sandy, terror course work has spiraled to flesh-devouring levels. Next month, REI camping gear in Framingham, Mass., offers a class in zombie avoidance.
“You learn valuable survival techniques that could save your life,’’ reads the company’s Web site. “These same techniques could be invaluable in the event of any natural disaster in an urban environment.’’
Lest you think threat-mania is a commercial ploy, note that on Oct. 31, two days after Sandy struck, the HALO Corp. of California put on a national conference for law-enforcement types and first responders, partially funded by the Department of Homeland Security. It featured a workshop on, you guessed it, overcoming the zombie threat.
“We have to prepare for a mass chemical or biological attack,’’ said Kit Lavell, executive vice president of Strategic Operations Inc., the Hollywood-affiliated firm that produced the flesh-chomping workshop. Such an attack “could produce serious medical and psychological effects, even mobility.’’ That is, it could create actual zombies.
The message to zombie aficionados like me, said Lavell, is, “Don’t shoot your neighbor in the head.’’ Decapitation might be the key to defeating ghouls. But chemically infected humans should be decontaminated first. Good to know.
Dr. Simon Rego, director of psychology training at Montefiore Medical Center in The Bronx, said people are hard-wired to be scaredy cats. Evolution weeds out those who take threats lightly, whether it be from monsters or weather.
“The person who thought a saber-toothed tiger was a cute, little kitty didn’t live to see the next day,’’ Rego told me. “You get these episodic group phenomena. Space aliens. Demonic possession. Vampires versus zombies. These themes could be where we are at the moment.’’
Dr. Alan Hilfer, chief psychologist at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, blames it on global-warming hysteria. Add in freak-outs over a recent face-eating attack in Florida.
“Fantasizing and imagining about worst-case scenarios, I’ve heard it come up more than once,’’ said Hilfer. “We’re fascinated with it because we’re experiencing some of it. The bad weather and what it might mean.
“It comes up, from tree huggers to Tea Partiers.’’
Science fiction or fact? I think climate change is rot. But in the minds of many Americans, the apocalypse is real.

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