This isn’t going to be as focused as I want it to be, as I’m going to both discuss why people believe that “more” cannibals = Zombies, and why cannibalism may or may not be increasing in popularity.
I’m pretty sure that I don’t need to link to the various crazy incidents going on that have caused a media “frenzy” about the coming zombie apocalypse. There was the guy in Florida who are a homeless man’s face off while high on “bath salts.” Then there was a mother in Texas who ate her baby’s brains and toes. The guy in Maryland who murdered his roommate and ate his heart and brains. And don’t forget the guy in New Jersey that cut open his stomach and threw his own intestines at police who were trying to detain him. The media discussion has gotten significant enough for the CDC to issue an official report detailing the fact that there’s no such thing as a virus that turns people into Zombies, and that there is no known “Zombie Threat” at this time.
Most of those who read my blog are sufficiently intelligent to know that the talk of Zombie Apocalypse is largely meant in a tongue in cheek fashion, but just like there are some people who believe that if they kill themselves they’ll go on a spaceship to heaven, there are some that genuinely believe the Zombies are coming. Here are a few examples of why.
1. It’s 2012: Regardless of whether you actually believe any of the 2012 crap, there are many people who do. One in ten, in fact, and this isn’t just an American belief. Despite the common belief that apocalypse theories are confined to Christianity because of similarities between current world events and the Book of Revelations, 20% of Chinese people believe the end is nigh – a significant portion of the population. A Google search on the prevalence of Christianity in China suggests that 5-10% of the population may be Christian. Of course, this isn’t a solid figure by any means, but its probably the best we’ll get. Regardless, a lot of people believe that 2012 is the end, and the mass media is more than willing to cater to those who are afraid. And really, what’s more terrifying than things raising from the dead? Not a lot. The fear of being eaten is a primal fear in nearly every mammalian species – that’s what makes the gazelle run away from the lion, and what makes the human run away from the raging bear.
2. Mass Media: I recently read an article about all the various things we fear, and it’s pretty extensive. Fear is particularly strong in election years – think of all the people who’ve told you that they voted for a candidate simply because they feared what would happen if they voted for the another candidate. Mass media is ultimately powered by influence – you want your news to reach as many people as possible in order to bring in advertising dollars. When 10% of people believe that the world is ending, content is already geared on fear mongering, and 50% of the geeks out there will watch/read the stories just for kicks, it only makes sense to try to promote “End of World Zombie Stories.” Cracked did a relatively good story on the matter of the media’s influence on these Zombie stories.
There are some who argue that the focus on Zombies in television, books, etc. is causing more people to become cannibals. I think it’s important to note that in the instance where the person being eaten was still alive, the guy eating him was under the influence of a really bad drug. To quote Scream: “Now Sid, don’t you blame the movies. Movies don’t create psychos. Movies make psychos more creative!” I think that mass media isn’t specifically causing people to murder for the purposes of eating human flesh, but instead is giving people who have already murdered an inclination towards eating the recently deceased.
3. Twitter: This is an extension of the Mass Media, but it’s a very important example of the media. Even with the advent of the Internet, it still takes time to write a full news story. Facts need to be checked, stories need to be typed or recorded, news teams need to get on the scene. Twitter news spreads extremely quickly. Someone can take a video of an accident right after it happens, and have it posted and tweeted before the police and paramedics can even arrive. During last year’s East Coast Earthquake, news about the quake traveled quicker than the quake itself. Twitter not only makes it possible for news to get out quicker, and to an audience that might not watch the news, but it also makes it harder for news teams and press releases to blur the details of what’s happened.
4. Frequency Illusion: Frequency Illusion is a Cognitive Bias – basically, poor judgement that we are consciously unaware of, that results from the way the human brain functions. Essentially, frequency illusion is when you hear a new word or concept for the “first time,” and then suddenly see it everywhere. You see the word schadenfreude and learn it’s meaning, then suddenly it’s everywhere. Television shows like Walking Dead are opening up the Zombie mythos to a whole new audience. Zombie references, pictures, merchandise… it’s everywhere. You see one Zombie news story, and then there are suddenly Zombie news stories everywhere. Really, only the story of the man in Florida is genuinely a “Zombie” story, and this guy was completely out of his mind when it occurred. The rest of these news articles involving the consumption of human flesh are just cannibal stories. That’s not to say that cannibalism is “better” than Zombies, but to say that it’s important not to blur the line between the two.
5. Cannibalism Isn’t as Uncommon as we Hope: The simple, disturbing fact of the matter is that cannibalism is nowhere near as uncommon as we would like to think. Take a look at this list of examples and you’ll see that cannibalism happens several times a year. That, coupled with the fact that Mass Media tends to relate one story to others to get more viewers, makes people believe that there is a surge in the number of cannibal incidents. Even if there is a present increase in cannibalism, historically it was quite common. Modern social taboos generally prevent us from eating other humans, but with social rules becoming more lax, and with information about cannibalism becoming more easily accessible, it’s likely that there will be those who are willing to ignore that social line.
6. Less and Less things are Taboo: We live in an age of information, an age where more and more people are driven by science and not religion. While in the past, we wouldn’t – for example – have an incestuous relationship because many religions frown upon in, we are less governed by these things. People are more independent, more likely to ask why it’s wrong. Rather than rejecting sin on principle, they consider options. Why is it wrong, if both parties are consenting and adult? What if there will be care taken to make sure that no children come from it. There will always be people who believe that being independent involves rejecting social conventions and norms. When less and less things are unacceptable, these people will have to go to further and further lengths to “be independent.” Cannibalism has often been regarded as the one universal social taboo, because nearly all modern cultures believe in it. It’s also a taboo that is very poorly understood, and that few studies have been produced about. Cannibalism is one of the few taboos that hasn’t been touched by the media. Jerry Springer has aired episodes on incest. The show “Taboo” has aired many episodes on issues ranging from people who love inanimate objects to people that run black market organ markets. Pedophiles are often on “To Catch a Predator.” There is no “To Catch a Cannibal.” Profiles on criminal cannibals aren’t particularly common and generally don’t gain a large audience. Cannibalism draws on our primal fears of being eaten.
7. Even Cannibals By Necessity are Harshly Judged: There have been several cases where people have eaten human flesh to survive, and even in those cases, those who performed these acts were viewed as monsters. Because of this, most people who are cannibals would likely do everything in their power to hide what they were. As criminal investigations get better, and technology makes it easier for blood to be identified, etc. it only stands to reason that more cannibals will be caught before they have time to hide what they did. It’s only logical that we will fear cannibals. There are very, very few people who want to be eaten, and who’s to know whether a cannibal will sit around and wait for natural causes to take you?
Those are my thoughts on the matter, at least.