The following post comes from regular guest and RIAH blogger Mark Edwards. He is author of The Right of the Protestant Left: God’s Totalitarianism (Palgrave, 2012) and co-chair (with Cara Burnidge) of the 2014 S-USIH conference committee.
I saw World War Z and I liked it. Well, I liked the Muse score, the movie was alright. I realized why it was just alright when I read Kelly Baker’s wonderful post about the film at the Christian Century‘s new “Then and Now” blog (see also Baker’s new e-book on the general subject, The Zombies are Coming!). Baker’s main point was that the “Nordic-saves-world” narrative of the film really has nothing to do with the Max Brooks novel it was inspired by, which was really about what the war against “zack” ended up costing those who survived. I decided it was time to do something I hadn’t done in decades: read fiction. I know, criminal for an ex-English major. And, strange choice to get me back into reading, but, then again, I became an English major in the first place because of Stephen King. Overall, I loved Brooks’s several reversals of literal fortune and misfortune, but I won’t give any away just in case I’m not the LaMOE to finish the book. I will say, though, that the “Good-byes” left me wondering what tropes Brooks was trying to say hello to.
Near the very end, Mrs. Miller from Troy, Montana (pp. 410-411) muses:
I wonder what future generations will say about us. My grandparents suffered through the Depression, World War II, then came home to build the greatest middle class in human history. Lord knows they weren’t perfect, but they sure came close to the American dream. Then my parents’ generation came along and fucked it all up–the baby boomers, the “me” generation. And then you got us. Yeah, we stopped the zombie menace, but we’re the ones who let it become a menace in the first place. At least we’re cleaning up our own mess, and maybe that’s the best epitaph to hope for. “Generation Z, they cleaned up their own mess.”
I hadn’t thought about World War Z as a jeremiad, a cautionary tale, until this point. However, is that what Brooks is trying to tell us through Mrs. Miller: “Let’s clean up our mess NOW, America, before the zombie apocalypse (or, something far worse, sitting though Elysium) causes a Great Panic!” Or, is Greatest-Generation-Ever-Spokesperson Mrs. Miller just one voice among many when trying to assess the damage of the war?
A few pages later (pp. 412-13), Joe Muhammad picks up where Mrs. Miller left off:
I’m not going to say the war was a good thing . . . but you’ve got to admit that it did bring people together . . . Anywhere around the world, anyone you talk to, all of us have this powerful shared experience . . . I’m sure that as things really get back to “normal,” once our kids or grandkids grow up in a peaceful and comfortable world, they’ll probably go right back to being as selfish and narrow-minded and generally shitty to one another as we were.
Suddenly, Joe took me back to Teddy Roosevelt and the “Strenuous Life” critique of over-civilization. Is the kind of zombie preparedness Baker writes about in her book the new “Moral Equivalent of War” so badly needed to break us of our feeble Ikea existence?
Perhaps I need to read Brooks’s “survival guides” to answer better these questions, but first I need to survive a weekly onslaught of freshman discussion papers–and buy property in Cuba. In the meantime, I’m wondering what others make of Max Brooks, World War Z, or Zombie fever in general?