In the previous series on the origins of zombies in America, I asked the question, Why zombies? I provided some possible answers, but I'm not sure that I hit the mark. There may be even deeper meanings than what I proposed.
There is something about zombies that has lodged itself in our imaginations. You could say that zombies have devoured the brains of our entire culture. Academics are especially interested in them. That's probably as it should be, for the power of the zombie story and the prevalence of zombies in our culture make the zombie a legitimate object of academic interest. So zombies serve purposes in our popular culture, but they also serve purposes in academia. My next question is this: Academics are watching us, but who's watching them? If zombie-ology, or zombology, is a study, why don't we have a meta-zombology, a historiography of zombies, or a zombography ? Academics study zombies, but why don't they study their fellow academics who study zombies? They are so ready to examine the rest of us and to look into the putative reasons why we like zombies so much. Why don't they examine themselves or their colleagues and ask the hard questions about the academic interest in zombies?
A long time ago, in Mr. Cisco's sociology class, we read a paper called "The Uses of Poverty: The Poor Pay All" by Herbert J. Gans, originally in Social Policy for July/August 1971 (pp. 20-24). The point of the article is that there is utility or positive function in poverty or in the poor. You can agree or disagree with Dr. Gans' thesis. That's not the point. The point is to ask this analogous question: What are the uses of zombies, especially in academia? Why do academics study zombies? What does it do for them? How does believing the things that they believe about zombies satisfy their needs, not only their needs for advancing their careers, seeking tenure, publishing papers, and so forth, but also their psychological needs? What does the study of zombies do for the self-esteem of the academic, for his or her need for recognition and for winning the esteem of his or her peers? How does the study of zombies or the academic's conclusions about zombies signal his or her virtue, political correctness (in both the contemporary sense and the original sense), or moral or intellectual acuity, if not superiority, again, among his or her peers? What opportunities do zombies provide the academic to carry out his or her own conspicuous moral preening before the rest of academia and before a larger society? What does it do towards confirming his or her preconceived notions about the world, human nature, human activity (including political and economic activity), and the meaning of human existence? Academics in the liberal arts tend to be caught up in Marxism and its offshoots, especially critical theory. Their focus is on a relentless criticism of capitalism. But what if we defeat their attempts at misdirection and shine the spotlight on them? What if we examine them under the microscope? Academics may see zombies as stand-ins for the supposed exploited peoples of the world and/or see the human beings in the zombie story as capitalists or fascists. But aren't academics themselves exploiting zombies and the popular interest in zombies? Are they not using both for their own intellectual, moral, economic, and political purposes? Far more significantly, are they not using zombies to satisfy their own psychological or emotional needs, especially for self-esteem? And if they are, what does that say about them?
Copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley