Z World Detroit and Doomsday Preppers
Perhaps it was only a matter of time before zombies attempted to lay claim to Detroit, haunted as it is by the specter of apocalyptic decline. In 2012 Detroit- area native Mark Siwak proposed the creation of Z World Detroit, a zombie theme park that would colonize two hundred acres of abandoned city land and derelict buildings. Throughout the night, zombies would chase paying customers, who, if caught, would also become the walking dead and help chase others. Offered as a way of revitalizing the city through entertainment and by creating jobs, Siwak attempted to raise the necessary funds to open Z World Detroit on the website Indiegogo. Atlanta, the initial setting for The Walking Dead, already has a zombie theme park on a smaller scale. Participants at Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse are given a paintball gun and enter a dark motel where they are chased by zombies, run up and down stairs, in and out of buildings and through woods, equivalent to about three city blocks. The Zombie Apocalypse website entices potential participants with promises to scare them witless: “You will be terrified, you will run for your life, you will feel like you are living in the zombie apocalypse as you play a role to survive. Will you make it? People have had heart attacks! Soiled their pants! Took the chicken exit after the first room! What will you do when the zombies come for you?”42 The terror, safely circumscribed, is the appeal.
Siwak’s proposal for Z World Detroit did not receive sufficient funding to be realized, and city leaders opposed the idea in any case. Perhaps they feared that turning two hundred acres into a permanent zombie theme park, even if successful as an entrepreneurial venture, would openly identify Detroit as an expendable symbol of a decaying capitalist metropolis, a zombie city that could no longer be revived in the ways that city leaders, business owners, and venture capitalists would like to imagine. Nonetheless, “zombie walks,” in which participants dress as zombies, often with elaborate makeup, have become hugely popular, including World Zombie Day Walk against Hunger in Detroit and its suburbs of Royal Oak and Ferndale, which has taken place annually since 2007 (figure зб).43 Zombie “fun runs,” races, and chases are popular across North America. In July 2013, 750 zombies chased 7,500 runners over a three- mile obstacle course on a Christmas tree farm in Medford, New Jersey, during a Run for Your Lives zombie-themed race. It began as a one-time event in 2011 in a Baltimore suburb and attracted 12,000 people from around the world. Run for Your Lives hosted twenty-two events in 2013 in the United States and Canada, while the rival Zombie Run hosted sixteen events^ Just as the ongoing crisis of poverty extends well beyond the United States to encompass
FIG. 36 Zombie Walk Detroit, 2012. Courtesy DeathByZombie.com.
the globe, zombie walks, races, and chases now take place throughout the world in cities such as Rio de Janeiro, Singapore, Brisbane, Nottingham, Dublin, and Santiago.
Two seasons of a History channel series, Life after People (2009 -10), speculated about what would happen to the environment after human extinction. No longer indulging the fantasy of a small band of survivors who manage against all odds, the series explores the question, “What would happen if every human being on Earth were to suddenly vanish?” The two-hour premiere in 2008, including footage of Detroit’s Packard Plant, was the most-watched program ever on the History channel.45 Tapping into zombie mania and survival- ist fantasies, the Centers for Disease Control produced Zombie Preparedness 101, a comic book on how to prepare for zombie attack, which coincides with preparedness for natural disasters. Zombie videogames bring in $2.5 billion in annual sales. Resident Evil, for example, originally released for Sony PlayStation in 1996, sold 25 million units by 2004 and inspired the eponymous film, the fiftieth-highest-grossing film globally, which was followed by two sequels. The Resident Evil media franchise, which also includes comic books, novels, and action figures, is based on scenarios of survival horror produced by recurrent outbreaks of zombies and other monsters caused by the release of an artificially created virus as a biological weapon. In literature, Seth
Grahame-Smith’s bestseller Pride and Prejudice and Zombies introduces zombies into Jane Austen’s 1813 novel.46
Fears of losing economic autonomy and independence perhaps most affect the young at the beginning of their productive lives, making them the biggest fans of the zombie genre, which mitigates the anxieties of bare life while aes- theticizing the apocalyptic. But people of all ages are apprehensive about the end times, partly in response to events such as 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. All over the nation, disaster “preppers” prepare for the collapse of civilization with “bug-out bags” containing basic survival gear such as compasses, iodine pills, and digital road maps as well as items such as dehydrated lentils, magnesium fire starters, and rat traps (for catching and eating). The massive flooding and destruction of Hurricane Sandy on the eastern coast of the United States in 2012 attracted new recruits to what has become known as the Prepper move- ment.47 Preppers are unexpectedly diverse, including, according to the New York Times, “doctors, doormen, charter school executives, subway conductors, advertising writers, and happily married couples from the Bronx,” and the movement is rapidly growing^8 The National Geographic Channel premiered the reality series Doomsday Preppers in 2012, which features people across the country extensively preparing for the end times, building hideouts and arks, storing provisions, creating perimeter security systems, and explaining their thinking as they go. At the end of each program, the preppers’ efforts are rated by the program’s experts, and their doomsday postulations are contextualized with statistics (that often undermine their apocalyptic assumptions). Doomsday Preppers is the most-watched series and highest-rated show in the history of the National Geographic Channel, garnering an audience that is 60 percent male with an average age of forty-fourJ9
As with other apocalyptic narratives, preppers tend to regard scientists and government leaders as corrupt or unreliable and ineffective, instead supporting the ideology of heavily armed survivalism promoted by figures such as Wayne LaPierre, the National Rifle Association executive vice president. LaPierre is the man who chillingly proposed putting armed guards in elementary schools as a way to protect children from mass shooters after the Newtown, Connecticut, school massacre; he also urges the accumulation of arms by civilians to facilitate a quick transition to a survivalist mentality in the event of social breakdown.50
Contemporary apocalyptic anxiety may be understood as being connected to the violence at the core of capitalism itself. The fact that the modern nation cannot exist without violence stands in direct conflict with the basic narrative of the state as seeking peaceable coexistence with others, a comforting fiction that obscures the nature of the state as perpetually militarized and focused on security and surveillance in order to protect the wealthy ruling elite. The global ruin imaginary may be understood as a response to global zombifica- tion, and as a pessimistic product of what British theorist Mark Fisher calls “capitalist realism.” Echoing Fredric Jameson, Fisher defines capitalist realism as “the widespread sense that not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system, but also that it is now impossible even to imagine a coherent alternative to it.”51
And yet, by depicting our technologically advanced civilization in states of ruination and decay, postapocalyptic narratives render our own society as other and encourage us to ask whether the empire of capital represents lasting progress or a road to decline—just as Detroit once represented the industrial powerhouse of the nation and now stands for an abstract postapocalyptic elsewhere. Zombie and disaster films exemplify and instantiate the fear of a dystopian futurity. Yet even as they seek to mitigate that fear by rendering the terror pleasurable, they also offer a radical critique of the status quo and the violence at its core, exploring the conditions of decline amid the debris of late capitalism.
As real-world conditions continue to deteriorate, so have the emergent behaviors of zombies in their postapocalyptic worlds evolved in response. Through their multiplying numbers, accelerating speed, and development of personality, zombies paradoxically are becoming more powerful, suggesting the possibility of rebellion. This combative potential harkens back to the Haitian origins of zombies and the late-nineteenth-century Haitian Revolution in which slaves successfully revolted against their French colonial masters and established a republic. Their battle cry was said to be, “We have no mother, no child; what is death?”52 Zombies become metaphors for the disfranchised masses that have nothing to lose and a world to gain. The destruction of the habitable environment and the dire conditions of bare life that characterize global ruin and its representation may be mobilized to serve emergent protest movements and anticapitalist struggles that would ultimately create a planned economy based on social need, not profit.