By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Why is Grahame-Smith’s book so popular right now? Professor Maniquis suggests it’s simply another instance of the constant tug-of-war between high-brow and low-brow art. “There was a point when someone was able to sell a lot of posters of the Mona Lisa with a moustache drawn on her, which breaks through what Walter Benjamin called the aura of art. Austen becomes something you can laugh at. The Mona Lisa needs a mustache drawn on her every now and then, and Austen, I think, would have smiled at our poking fun at her.”
There’s another place where Grahame-Smith is doing more than he knows, Maniquis adds. “He’s pushing horror up against the neat, structured decorum of Jane Austen. It fractures the Jane Austen world.”
Talk turns to a real-life event where Jane Austen is put up against the face of horror: World War One. She became extremely popular among the soldiers in the trenches. “They’re seeing guts and brains blown out and tens of thousands of people killed. When people in England asked what authors they’d like to be sent from home, the soldiers asked for Austen. She provides an island of sane order.” Back then, even as it is now, the smallness and ordered-ness of her world is comforting.
“Of course she herself is suspicious of that order, although she also insisted upon it. She lived in the midst of 20 years of nearly constant war. Her countryside was green and pretty, but it was also haunted, as were the cities and the villages, by returning soldiers dazed, some insane, and often with amputated limbs.”
As he speaks, I feel a chill in the otherwise warm, sunshiny day.
WEIRD SCIENCE: KITTENS OF THE DEAD, HAITIAN VOODOO AND REALLY MAD COW
The best way to dispel fear is with science. Cold, hard fact. Against warm, mushy decomposing flesh. For scientific explanations for zombies, I once again turn to my alma mater, where I spent many a mindless late-night hour shuffling between library and laboratory.
“I don’t know of an expert on zombies,” says Stuart Wolpert, public information officer for UCLA’s College of Letters & Science. “I hope you’ve been well.”
I have not in fact, been well. This is because the vast majority of my messages have not been returned. Not the ones to the Safar Center for Resuscitation Research at the University of Pittsburgh, where doctors plunged several dogs into a state of clinical death before bringing them back to life. Not the ones to the Zombie Research Society, “a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising the level of Zombie scholarship in the Arts and Sciences,” a group whose tagline is “What you don’t know can eat you.” Which leaves me with a more than sneaking suspicion that (1) scientists do not want to be associated with fringe disciplines like zombology; that (2) fringe zombologists are wary of being made fun of by their mainstream science counterparts; and that (3) both groups think I am insane.
There is a school of thought — of which controversial ethnobotanist Wade Davis is the acknowledged master — which holds the opinion that zombies aren’t supernatural. They’re just people poisoned with a special powder whose contents include ground-up toads, tree frogs, lizards, spiders, glass, human remains and the puffer fish neurotoxin tetrodotoxin. Tetrodotoxin paralyzes people, making them appear dead.
Davis’ explanation, essentially a pharmacological one supplemented with a bit of voodoo-induced hypnosis (the poisoned people believe that voodoo sorcerers have turned them into zombies, and thus behave like zombies), enjoyed its greatest popularity in the decade renowned for its zombie-like behavior, namely the 1980s. Davis’ exploits in Haiti procuring the recipe for the zombie powder are chronicled in the bestselling book and cheesy movie The Serpent and the Rainbow.
The true home of the walking undead isn’t Haiti, however, but the Internet. There are any number of theories floating around out there as to how a zombie might be created. Creutzfeldt-Jakob, otherwise known as Mad Cow disease, is a potential culprit. You get it by eating infected brains. Its symptoms include progressive dementia, personality changes, hallucinations, speech impairment, jerky movements, balance and coordination dysfunction, rigid posture, and seizures. Sound familiar? A sort of Super Mad Cow disease could evolve (or Really Mad Cow, or Madder Cow, as one blogger puts it).
Or how about fetal stem cells injected into the spinal column? These might reanimate a cadaver. It’s worked on coma patients, if you believe the article published by doctors from Russian Academy of Medical Sciences in the August 2, 2005, Volume 59, Issue 7 edition of the Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy journal. The near-dead literally got up and walked.
Could. Would. Might. Each lead is more tantalizing and far-fetched than the last. Crackpot, yes. But retaining a whiff of truth strong enough to still smell the sweet stench of decaying flesh.
Many of my questions remain unanswered. How did those reanimated dead dogs do after being brought back to the land of the living? Any weird behavioral ticks? Any, say, unusual thirst for flesh? Human clinical trials were supposed to begin sometime right around now at the Safar Center.
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