Much has already been said about zombies, and the relevance to the current ethos of our era. The collection of essays entitled Zombies and Sexuality (2014) edited by Shaka McGlotten and Steve Jones contain analyses from necrophilia to queer studies, and subjectivity to sex work. There has also been scholarship done in racial studies, political science, immigration, and even religion. But thus far, little has been said about the commentary zombies signify in terms of moral responsibility. I don’t mean moral choice generally, a lot has been said about that too. Protagonists in zombie narratives often face difficult choices, and the audience is asked to reflect on what choice they would have made in that situation. Would I kill an infected loved one to ensure my own survival and that of our species?

The kind of moral responsibility I’m talking about is associative, the kind that makes you culpable for the choices you didn’t make. If I know people are starving to death on the other side of the world and I don’t send aid, am I committing a moral wrong? I didn’t directly participate in their deaths, but intuitively it seems that neither do I come away with a clean slate. Peter Singer addresses this issue in his essay “ Famine, Affluence, and Morality” (1972). We typically think of morality in terms of what we ought to do, and not what we ought not not to do. Especially with regard to charity and the global community. Societies value giving in forms of philanthropy, but don’t usually condemn those that don’t. Reasons are typically one of distance and numbers, but this shouldn’t be the case according to Singer and he uses the example of saving a child drowning. Just because there may be other people around doesn’t lessen his moral obligation to save the child, and regardless of whether he is ten feet away or ten miles away he ought to save the child. Neither lessens his moral duty. Yet the wider American society rebels against this type of moral paradigm because it makes us more culpable. If I buy a $10 latte instead of donating that money to organizations that help refugees in the Sudan, then I’m in the wrong. Choosing not to help is not a morally neutral choice, it is the wrong choice. In a rich, capitalist society where privilege is often seen as an entitlement, pointing to the good not done and casting blame tends to ruffle feathers.

Globalization has increased the range of culpability. Before the industrial revolution propelled the world into an era of colonization, the types of evil I could do and the amount of wrong I could commit were limited. I could kill my partner, refuse to help a neighbor, and buy shoddy goods from a traveling vendor that might have been stolen. Furthermore, the amount of good I can do was limited. By the time I heard about an event occurring on the other side of the world, the window of time for aid may have passed. With limited means of travel and communication, my ability to help was likewise limited. But now, I can buy a cell phone with a silicone chip mined with child labor and engage in morally questionable behavior without leaving my home. Or I could read about a disaster across the ocean and instead of wiring money to an aid group, I can buy a third car on Ebay. That is a wide net to cast and it is daunting. How can I possibly know what kinds of good I’m not doing, and how can I make the best choice when faced with so many?

Perhaps zombies represent our anxiety regarding moral responsibility, and the refusal to acknowledge our culpability in withholding good action. Resident Evil (2002) has capitalistic overtones with the villain Umbrella Corp. whose greed rooted in consumerism destroys the earth. Did my economic choices gave authority and power to this machine that lead to the apocalypse? It’s interesting that in World War Z (2013) the weak and diseased are spared by zombies. In a manner, they are already victims neglected too by their human counterparts. In every zombie film, no matter how far away the infection starts, it spreads and races closer to our protagonists. Maybe zombies reflect our indifference and indecision coming back to haunt us. No matter when the outbreak occurs, eventually the virus will spread and find me where ever I’m hiding.

Bibliography

McGlotten, Shaka and Steve Jones, eds. Zombies and Sexuality: Essays on Desire and the Living Dead. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2014.

Singer, Peter. “Famine, Affluence, and Morality.” Philosophy & Public Affairs 1.3 (Spring 1972): 229-243.

As a dancer, I know every second counts. One second determines whether you’re behind the music, ahead of the beat, or right on cue. Additionally, I know that training here and there can add up. Every morning while I brush my teeth, I perform extension exercises like these from Claudia Dean.

The mundane life can give a false sense of eternity — that there will always be a later, or that an even better opportunity will arise. Monsters remind us that nothing is guaranteed. A common zombie trope is when survivors talk about how suddenly the zombie epidemic occurred, how unbelievable it was at first, and how they still somehow believe it’s all a dream; that everything will return to the “time before”.[1]

So whether your a computer engineer writing poetry on your lunch break, or the next Vaganova doing relevés behind a Starbucks counter, cling to every moment as though you might not get another one and make every one of them count; because they do.

Works Cited

Siriusmistake. Runner Five, Report! Tumblr, 24 April 2017. <www.zrtranscripts.tumblr.com>

Zombies, Run! Dev. Six to Start and Naomi Alderman, 2012. Smartphone application. <www.zombiesrungame.com>

[1] Season one of the running application “Zombies, Run!” plays such dialogue of survivors in Town Abel while you run on various missions outside the town gates:

SAM YAO (Season 1, Mission 7): Yeah, before all this, I bet you had a pretty good life, eh. Someone like you, yeah, I can see it – people you cared about, job you didn’t hate. I know, lots of people don’t like to talk about that stuff. “Think forward,” the Major says. “Rebuilding is key.” But, yeah, I feel like… We have to remember what it was like, so we know what we’re building, don’t we? Now, I don’t mean escalators, and shopping malls, and frozen yogurt… ooh, although I could really go for an ice cream roll right now. Do you remember those things? Cake outside, and ice cream in the middle… or was it… was it the other way around? I don’t even remember anymore! Hang on, wait, wait, hang on – I’ll go and check (www.zrtranscripts.tumblr.com).

MAXINE MYERS (Season 1, Mission 13): Do you know what I mean if I say that a person can keep on having an instinct, even long after the reason for it is gone?

It’s like, um… my parents had a dog – Buddy. A little mutt, half spaniel, half something else, but real smart, you know? He was a great dog, Buddy, and even after I left home, he used to come and greet me when I came for a visit. So excited, like I was the best thing he’d ever seen! He died in the end, of course, but even ten years after he was gone, I used to walk into that house, ready to crouch down with my hands on my knees, so he could jump up and lick my face… Even ten years after he died.

We should go easier on ourselves, Runner Five. It’s only a few months since the world ended. Stands to reason we’re going crazy. Us against New Canton… the world’s split us into fractions. Oh, I still miss that damned dog. Some part of me still believes I’m gonna see him again, and some part of me… I guess I’m still keeping Paula’s secrets because some part of me believes that the old world is coming back! Have you even had time to grieve for anyone you’ve lost, Runner Five (www.zrtranscripts.tumblr.com)?