Thursday, October 20, 2011

To Be but Not to Be

I’ve noticed that each passing television season brings a greater number of shows dealing with the question of those who cannot die.  
First it was HBO’s True Blood with its Southern Gothic vampire culture. Then it was my personal favorite from last spring, The Walking Dead, a tale of survivors surviving a plague of zombie-ism.  Then Torchwood.  In the world of Torchwood, people suddenly stopped dying. They still suffered wounds and disease and the attendant pain of their wounds and disease but they do not suffer death.  They just go on – in pain.
So what is with all the un-death and un-dying on cable TV these days?  Are our greatest anxieties in the 21st century now spurred not by death-too-soon but by life-too-long?
What is behind this anxiety?  In a post-Cold War America have we created a new foe – the undead? Without an H-bomb wielding, Totalitarian Other, could it be that our greatest fear is now not death but un-death?

When I was a kiddie going to catechism class once a week, we worried about death by mushroom cloud and Everlasting Life meant you went to Heaven to live with Jesus and he stood by your side with his arm around you and you carried a little lamb in your arm and everything was nice for all eternity. 

Now, everlasting life means a Hell in which we all just keep living with each other.

In the vampire tales we fear the eternally beautiful.  In the zombie apocalypse, we fear our own neighbors.  Like the vampires, they feed on us and they make us like them but there is no eternity with porcelain skin and daytime hours spent in repose.  There is only decay and mindless feasting on flesh and plodding, stumbling locomotion.  Mindless motion.  Always mindless.  Always in motion.

But it seems to me that the key difference is not beauty vs. decay or stumble vs. flight or gruesome vs. elegant.  The key difference is stranger vs. neighbor.  The vampire always first comes to us as an exotic stranger.  The zombies are always our neighbors and if not our immediate neighbors then they are people who were once so very much like us – ordinary people who lived ordinary lives until one day they found themselves in the path of a zombie swarm and now they populate a zombie swarm and threaten us and our way of life.

It seems to me that that is exactly what we fear most now in the second decade of the 21st century.  We fear our own neighbors. They are like us but they are not like us.  If we are Blue, they are Red.  If we are Red, they are Blue.  If we own, they rent.  If we rent, they own.  If we are native-born, they are immigrants.  If we are immigrants, they are native-born.  If we are hourly, they are salaried.  If we are salaried, they are hourly.  If we are employed, they are jobless.  If we are jobless, they are employed.  If we have health insurance, they are uninsured.  If we are uninsured, they have health insurance.  If we are the haves, they are the have-nots . . .

The list could go on endlessly. 

Is that where we are?  We fear that life has become an everlasting hell and the source of that hell is the Others among us. Not only do we fear their very “otherness” but we fear that we will become them.  We fear they will feed on us and turn us into them.  Cannibalize and convert.

So who are the Others we fear?  Maybe this person – Melissa Brookstone – a Tea Party blogger and a business owner who has resolved that “I will not hire a single person until this war against business and my country is stopped. I hereby declare that my job creation potential is now ceased.”

Really?  Her plan is to destroy the President by refusing to hire.  She could potentially provide employment to someone in her community but she won’t, even to her own detriment, just to strike a blow against the current administration. 

Wow.  Sounds like cannibalizing to me.  This woman scares me.  In reading the comments of her supporters on her blog, there’s a whole swarm of them out there who scare me.  They’re in mindless motion.  Mindless, completely mindless. 

In ten years we’ve gone to being the most united we’ve ever been to perhaps the most divided we’ve been in a long, long time.  

We fear the divide.

Even Fed Ex is worried -

1 comment:

Jayne said...

Great post. The division in this country does seem to be getting angrier and wider, and the number of strident voices with what I consider a mindless viewpoint seems to be getting larger, too. I told my son last night, "People amaze me...and not in a good way."