After reading this today, I can’t let it go without a brief notice. Fox News medical pundit Dr. Manny Alvarez warned in a column last week that The Walking Dead is government propaganda aimed at turning children into socialist zombies. I don’t usually watch or read Fox News, so I wasn’t aware of this until the Onion’s AV Club shared the story.
Alvarez claims that even though he may be “paranoid and misinformed,” he fears that zombies are desensitizing children to violence and serving as government propaganda to ease the transition to socialism.
This obsession with the undead in television and other media is quite puzzling. The concept of zombies has been around for decades, and their mythology has even been studied by scientists to prove that such an outbreak can never occur. Yet, whether it be in books or film, zombie popularity has only increased after having originally been popularized by the 1960s film, “The Night of the Living Dead.” […] With this country heading towards a socialized system of government, in which officials don’t want you to think or focus on what is important for your own personal growth, I’m sure they’re more than happy to let you obsess over something as stupid as zombies.
Alvarez’s illogic is astonishing. He does not want a socialist nanny state yet is concerned that the government is “letting” us watch zombie fiction. He also is terrified that The Walking Dead is teaching mostly white children to experience the “thrill” of using “firearms” to take out legions of brown-colored zombies with an “uncontrollable rage to kill” while completely oblivious to the resonance this scenario has for the wish-fulfillment fantasy promulgated on Fox News whereby mostly white men are praised for using their personal firearms to take out perceived hordes of brown-skinned invaders, be they illegal immigrants, Muslim terrorists, or inner-city hoodlums—all of whom are perceived to have an uncontrollable rage and a desire to kill “real” Americans. I have previously discussed the disturbing racial angle of zombie stories like The Walking Dead, which derive from imperialist and colonialist narratives where white heroes survive against irrational hordes of primitive non-white savages.
Leaving aside the politics of it, regular readers will recall that I hate zombies. They are the newest and least interesting of horror’s monsters, capable of little more than serving as symbols of body horror, almost never rising to the level of actual terror. Nevertheless, they are works of fiction and should be granted the same respect as any other fictional creation.
Alvarez is quite upset that fiction would dare to depict something that is impossible: “When you’re dead, you’re dead. Our brains should be less focused on imaginary zombie hordes and more focused on harnessing the tools that we need in order to enhance our lives, whether it be music, education, science or the classics.” Note that art does not fall into his list. Since Dracula and Frankenstein do as acknowledged classics, is Alvarez’s argument that zombies are bad because they are product of the hated, liberal 1960s and not old enough to be respectable? (Invasions of the dead have been a staple of literature since before Babylon, if that is old enough for you.)
I am astonished to find a Fox News commentator telling us to bend our taste to the will of science, but let me be clear: Fiction does not need to conform to scientific laws, nor should fiction be limited only to the possible. When you start excluding areas from art on the grounds that they cannot be, you negate all fiction, for every story that is fictional is by definition not true and therefore invalid, even the “classics.”
In Alvarez’s youth (he was born in 1957), there was a “monster culture” spawned by television stations’ decision to air the 1930s Universal horror films (Dracula, Frankenstein, etc.) in cheap syndicated packages. Children everywhere embraced these monsters, leading to such pop culture phenomena as “The Monster Mash” and The Munsters. Would Dr. Alvarez argue that his peers were forever scarred by these monsters? Or were they OK because Dracula was a titled noble, the Wolf-Man a plutocrat, and the Mummy an Objectivist self-interested actor? Is the trouble the monsters, or the changing face of Western culture they represent?
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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