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
And assuming that some type of zombie-esque lifeform might exist, why, for instance, do they favor brains? Are brains more calorically dense, and thus, especially delicious? (“They’re almost 100 percent cholesterol,” Dr. Carol Miller, chief of neuropathogy at USC/L.A. County Medical Center, said in this very newspaper a few weeks back.)
To get metaphorical about it, do the doomed creatures crave the very thing they now no longer possess? Or, could zombism be the result of an infectious agent, a parasite or a virus, as so many sci-fi books and movies have lately suggested?
One popular explanation rests with the parasite toxoplasma gondii. This urban myth gets a lot of traction online. Toxoplasma gondii is a common parasite — roughly a quarter of the human population carries it. One Oxford study observed that rats infected by the parasite will actually run toward places where cats (their sworn enemies) hang out. Toxoplasma gondii breeds within the gut of cats. The cat poops out the parasite’s eggs, the rats eat the poop, another cat eats the rat, and the cycle is complete. If it can alter the behavior of an organism, making a rat seek out something it would ordinarily fear, is the parasite demonstrating evidence of mind control?
Examples of a parasite taking over a host and controlling the host’s behavior do exist in nature. There’s a tropical wasp that turns a cockroach into a zombie by injecting venom into its brain. The cockroach loses the will to walk around, and becomes the wasp larvae’s baby mama. And don’t even get me started on the barnacle that zombifies crabs. The poor crabs become slaves to their dastardly barnacle masters.
I contact the California Department of Public Health. They send me to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Healthy people infected with toxoplasmosis, the CDC Web site says, tend to exhibit mild, flu-like symptoms. But immune-compromised people “may experience severe symptoms,” including “fever, confusion, headache, seizures, nausea and poor coordination.” So, essentially, if the myth is true, your cat will turn you into a zombie, but only if you’re already sick and feeling like death warmed over. Also, you get toxoplasmosis by eating undercooked meat. (Rare brains, anyone?)
“There is no scientific evidence to support the ‘urban myth’ that humans infected with toxoplasma gondii become zombies, or even act like zombies,” Dr. Patricia Conrad, professor of parasitology at UC Davis tells me. “If that were the case about 14 to 25 percent (depending on the study cited) of the population in the USA would be displaying zombie-like behavior. Pretty scary to imagine!”
Phew! Pretty scary, indeed. But not half so scary as other things. Things like zombie strippers.
Porn star Jenna Jameson, now retired from the skin trade, debuted in her first “mainstream” film late last year. Its subject? Zombies. A virus created by a secret government agency to reanimate dead soldiers accidentally gets loose. It infects a Marine, who then infects Jenna Jameson, the strip club’s best pole dancer, whose interests include French existentialism and being a stone-cold bitch. Zombification only increases her stripping power. Soon, all the other strippers want to become zombies, too.
“Oh, she won’t do it,” says the guy on the other end of the line, when I call Sony Pictures’ publicity department asking if they might be able to put me in touch with Jameson’s people so I can ask her what it was like being a flesh-eating corpse.
“Why not?” I say.
“Because,” he says. “She’s Jenna. She doesn’t have to do shit.”
He hangs up before giving me his name. But not before relaying the name of her talent agency. “Can I ask if the publication is prepared to pay a fee for the interview?” Chrissy (no last name) of Intrigue Management writes me back. “If you can let me know, I will then forward the request to Jenna and let you know if she’s interested or not.” With no fee available from this alternative publication, I am still waiting for Jameson’s response.
In the meantime, luckily, or unluckily, Jameson’s movie airs over the weekend on cable TV. It’s the first film in which she doesn’t have actual sex with anyone in front of the camera (men are fine, women are fine, but she draws the line at fornicating with the dead). I happen to have also purchased the DVD — for research purposes.
The zombie strippers hurl insults at each other. “Zombie whorebitch, prepare to die!”
“Been there done that, loser.”
“Too bad you couldn’t reanimate your personality.”
“I see your skin didn’t get any worse.”
“We’ll destroy them,” says one of the two remaining human strippers when asked to come up with a plan of attack. “No wait. We’ll join them. No. Kill them and everything they stand for. No. Join them? Destroy them? Fuck! Why can’t I decide? Am I no longer human? Have I no soul? This is all your fault, existential bitch!”
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