Essays to Order 1: Shit’s All Up In My Brain

So Lance wanted me to write about viruses and zombies, which is actually pretty easy all things considered. I’m sort of in training to be a science fiction writer so if anyone should be able to handle kind of topic, it’s me.

We all know what zombies are, but in the interests of word count I’ll elaborate a little. The word zombie comes from an African word for Fetish (or perhaps from a Creole word for ghost). In 1937, an anthropologist named Zora Neale Hurston studied a Haitian lady who was up and walking around despite that fact that her relatives were all pretty sure she’d died. Zora hypothesized that the local voudoun (that’s voodoo sorcerer) used a type of psychoactive chemical to create zombies.

This was later confirmed by a Harvard ethnobotanist (ethnobotanists are people who like new drugs so much they got a degree in finding them) named Wade Davis. he found that the voodoo priests had a pair of drugs, one refined from the pufferfish (the one that nearly killed Homer ) and another from a disassociative drug related to datura.

While there is some controversy over this claim, it seems like there was some relationship between drugs and zombies in Haiti. However, this doesn’t get us any closer to Lance’s virus based zombie.

I mentioned before that there were three types of zombies. The drug zombie above is not really what we talk about when we think about zombies and is actually just the origin point for the term in modern conversation. Rather than dwell on them, I’m just going to skip ahead to the first type of zombie on my list.

We are a metaphor for consumer culture!


George Romero came up with these guys in the sixties and they’re generally known today as the ‘slow’ or ‘indestructible’ zombie. Zombies like this are generally slow, stupid and very hard to kill. They hunger for brains and you catch what they’ve got if they bite or break your skin. There’s no explanation for how they work aside from ‘something magical.’ These guys aren’t going to help Lance’s quest for a realistic zombie uprising either.

We are possibly a metaphor for man’s inhumanity to man or just a really neat idea someone got after reading The Hot Zone.

And here we have the latest addition to the zombie family, the fast or rage zombie. In the movie, showing monkeys CNN leads to the creation of a biological virus that makes you hungry, immune to pain, really fast and very contagious. While the monkey-tv theory of zombie creation is a little far fetched, the idea that a biological virus could lead to behavioral changes is not. In fact, it happens all the time.

You’ve probably been vaccinated against a virus like the one found in 28 Days later, or at least you have if you haven’t succumbed to the intellectual force of a former MTV dating show host. Rabies increases saliva production (where the virus lives) and increases the aggressive behaviors of its host. Rabies is pretty tame though, so lets take a look at some other viruses and bacterium that do the same thing, only better.

Toxiplasma gondi: this is a bacterium that generally infects mice, but reproduces in cats. Guess how it works? It makes mice less scared of cats, so they’ll get eaten. I’m serious. If a mouse gets this it essentially turns suicidal. Sucks, but only for mice, right?


Uh, maybe not. For those of you who are link-phobic, some scientists have noticed that high rates of toxiplasma gondi in human populations leads to some disturbing behavioral trends in those societies. I’ll let you check them out.

Then there’s hairworm and its ability to make grasshopper’s suicidal. And of course the bacterium that makes ants sacrifice themselves to birds like the mice to the cats for gondi. They do this by forcing the ant to climb to the top of a grass stem and literally paralyzing the poor little guy in the optimal ‘getting scooped up by a bird’ pose.

So the biological zombie is not only possible, but plausible. There’s one last type of zombie that I haven’t cover here (astute counters will have noticed this) but the final zombie is a philosophical one and deserves a whole bit on itself.

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