American’s fears of the Ebola virus and the ISIS terror group are similar to those of a zombie apocalypse, and those fears could be just as dangerous as the threats themselves, according to Glenn Stutzky, creator of the acclaimed anthropologicalzombie survival courseat Michigan State University.
“With Ebola and ISIS, they represent fears of the unknown and evil,” Stutzky told Business Insider. “It feels like we’re moving into apocalyptic times.”
He’s not the only one to make the link between current threats and fears of the undead. As English Professor Sarah Lauro noted last year, “we are more interested in the zombie at times when as a culture we feel disempowered.”
Fear of Ebola in particular has strong similarities with historical nightmares of the living dead, especially when it came to visual impressions and the fear of infection, according to Stutzky.
“[You can see the similarities] if you see some of the video footage coming out of West Africa, you see some of these victims moving around and stumbling around,” Stutzky said.
ISIS militants have also tapped into traditional deep-seated fears, Stutzky noted, presenting a narrative of an inhuman enemy which can only be defeated through death.
“Setting mothers on fire in front of their children, chopping people’s heads of in front of their children — it’s like they’re not human.”
“It almost seems like the only response is to kill them,” he said.
But despite tapping into our primal fears, Stutzky believes current fears of Ebola in particular are exaggerated. He noted that organisations like Doctors Without Borders had been dealing with Ebola for years, and had been working in conditions more challenging than would be the case in the US.
“We know the science, we know how to [treat Ebola], but my biggest fear is managing the reactions, managing the people, and managing the consequences which will come out of that,” he said.
In his course, Stutzky teaches that sometimes panic and hysterical over-reactions can pose greater risks than underlying threats themselves, and he’s worried about potential reactions should several more cases of Ebola be diagnosed in the US. In both zombie fiction and real life, dealing with panic and other people can be a major part of any catastrophe.
“In many ways, that’s far more difficult [than the catastrophe itself],” he says.
But disasters and catastrophes have always been a part of human history, Stutzky explained, and they will always be a part of the future.That’s why he believes the appeal of the zombie-genre will continue.
People feel like they have a stake in the survival of characters in zombie fiction, Stutzky said. “In a way — ‘The Walking Dead’ — they’re like our apocalyptic family,” he said.
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