October 12, 2010
I’m not really supposed to be here. On the internet, I mean, and not just right now – I’m not meant to be here at all. The problem is that I’m not greatly interested in zombies, vampires, bacon, cupcakes or socially inept cats, and a fascination with one or more of these is a basic requirement for going on the internet and doing internet things. My presence here is only tolerated because I usually exceed my daily tweet quota by over 100%, and also thanks to a nice semantic loophole; I update my blog regularly. Regularly. Twice a year. It’s not frequent, but it is, technically, regular. They had to let that one through, but it’s under investigation.
So, in the time I have left, I’d like to address one of the internet’s fundaments: Zombies. Specifically, a major statistical misconception regarding one of the internet’s accepted truths.
It is a universally (internetally) acknowledged fact that something called the Zombie Apocalypse is approaching. What will trigger this event is unclear, but the fact that it’s on its way, and there’s nothing we can do to prevent it, causes much online excitement. There’s no end of speculation and advice out there, even diet and exercise plans to make you lighter, leaner and stronger so you get better at fleeing and/or fighting the zombie hordes while becoming less appealing as a food source. But while I’m sorry to rain on the parade, somebody has to, and actually I’m not sorry at all. I’m going to switch to second person address now, and explain to you why, if you are, or have ever been, one of these excited speculators, you’ve got things totally wrong.
First of all, forget the traditional, strictly defined zombie. Those chaps, the dead rising from their graves, offer little threat. How many of them will even have enough structural integrity to walk? Without visiting the Tennessee Body Farm I’m not sure, but I’m guessing that anyone who died more than twenty years ago (and wasn’t cremated) isn’t going to hang on to their feet for more than a couple of steps. We’ll have a fully functional, heavily armed military and police force to deal with them, and if any of them even make it past the cemetery gates, gun enthusiasts, chainsaw owners and 4×4 drivers will have a field day. It’ll be a massacre and, frankly, not very apocalyptic.
(Similarly, the first computer program to achieve self-awareness and become a genuine artificial intelligence will probably just open a Twitter account and surf hardware porn sites, but that’s another essay.)
The truly epic OMG ZA won’t be the work of the traditional undead zombie. No, this is a job for Zombie 2.0, a whole different kettle of fish who doesn’t really like being called a zombie, preferring the more politically correct “Infected”. You’ve seen these folks in 28 Days Later, Resident Evil and I am Legend; they’re fast and furious and unwilling to just chill. They don’t dick about; they want to infect you, or kill you and eat you, or kill you by eating you.
The nature of all ZA talk is as follows: “In/after the Zombie Apocalypse, I’ll…”, followed by things like where you’ll live and with whom, how you’ll fortify the place, your weapons of choice, preferred fighting partners (Batman, Robocop, Hello Kitty etc) and who will be your primary assistant in rebuilding the human race (Jake or Maggie).
And here’s the problem, the crux, the rub: You’re assuming that you will survive and that you will be human.
(Warning: The following passage contains statistics unsuitable for those of a nervous disposition (around numbers).)
As we’ve established, I’m no expert. But I’ve seen a few films and even though I’m not a particularly heavy or wide-ranging internet user, I’ve absorbed a few bits of zombie lore – like Dog the Bounty Hunter and Kim Kardashian, it’s inescapable. Zombies, or The Infected, don’t come from under the ground or out in space, they start off as humans. The infection – usually the result of an Experiment Gone Wrong, but sometimes attributable to space vegetables – spreads rapidly and unstoppably. Let’s quantify: Taking a wild stab at a figure, something like 99.9% of the human population gets infected, or zombified, or replicated by a large marrow.
How do the remaining 0.1% avoid contamination? There are a few options:
1. You live somewhere so geographically remote, or climatically extreme, that the infection doesn’t reach you. (Unless you’re in John Carpenter’s The Thing, in which case you’re still fucked.)
2. You are in a sealed environment such as a military research establishment, hospital isolation ward – or (just thought of this one) a submarine.
3. You are temporarily dead (The Quiet Earth, 1984, New Zealand – not a zombie film but it’s a nifty apocalypse-dodging trick.)
4. Your DNA displays a rare aberration, based on tightly researched and referenced pseudoscientific bollocks.
5. You are Will Smith.
6. Or Milla Jovovich.
So, what are the odds of you being a survivor? Using my totally made-up stats, which I’m keeping simple for my benefit as much as yours, 1 in 1000. And that’s the optimistic 28 Days Later model; if we’re taking I am Legend as our standard, well, you’d better be Will Smith. Are you Will Smith? You are not.
Stop looking at crossbows on eBay. It ain’t gonna happen. I’m being a bit cavalier with the numbers, but the truth is, when the Zombie Apocalypse comes, you’re going to be a zombie. So now you can stop worrying about it.