Published on April 20th, 2014 | by Julie Finn3
No Escape from the Zombie Hordes: World War Z and the Lesson of the Common Good
You may be fighting zombies, but the government is your worst enemy.
That’s the lesson of the first two-thirds or so of World War Z, at least (yes, the book. Brad Pitt is something special, but even he couldn’t save that movie adaptation). In World War Z, if the government isn’t making sure you become a zombie, then it’s getting in your way while you try to fight the zombies. And if it’s not getting in your way, then it’s actively sacrificing you to them. In this book, you’d be better off barricading yourself in your root cellar and living off of a year’s worth of canned corn and applesauce than trying for a military safe zone or a government-run survival camp.
You’d think, in World War Z, that the governments of the various nations would get a head start on prevention and protection, because in this book, every possible conceit to catching the zombie plague is one that actually happens: getting bitten underwater, getting bitten on land, getting bitten in a medical facility, getting bitten in a cave, tainted blood getting in your eye, contracting an unknown form of “rabies”, etc., and there are even a couple of totally new conceits, such as contracting the zombie plague from a tainted black market organ transfer.
But, of course, the bloated, profit-hungry governments of the world are deathly, horribly, miserably slow to react to ever-more-obvious threats, which merely encourages yet more spread by means of private selfishness. Coyotes pass infected illegals to new regions for the profit they present. Politicians suppress crucial documents to avoid blowback. Corporations market placebos. Governments indulge in massive, useless propaganda campaigns. The military sacrifices its soldiers in poorly conceived operations.
This bad government business, while it used to be no surprise, is an interesting turn in a contemporary work, because for a long while after 9/11, most fiction, even plague fiction, tended towards the patriotic. Civil servants and soldiers have been portrayed as selfless heroes, more likely than not. Governments have been portrayed as striving for the best for their people. Politicians have been portrayed as brave moralists (WHY is Olympus has Fallen one of my favorite movies?!? I don’t KNOW!!!). So it’s nice to have the cynicism back in World War Z. Cynicism is more realistic. Cynicism we can work with.
Cynicism means that the best you can hope for is that the government will finally, just almost but not quite too late, re-learn how to embrace the common good. Of course, now that it’s just almost too late, the common good apparently involves sacrificing random segments of the civilian population to the zombies, both because they can’t now be properly safeguarded on little resources with no preparation, and as zombie bait to keep the hordes away from the lucky few who DO happen into the survival camps that are actually, you know, intent on surviving.
In apocalyptic fiction, the common good never means safety for everyone. Sometimes we get a lottery, as in Deep Impact. Sometimes we trade on wealth and political power, as in the Moon Crash series. Sometimes we just get the total random luck of happening to hear about a survival camp and then managing to make our way to it, as in I am Legend. But rarely does the common good venture so matter-of-factly into eugenics as it tries to in World War Z–but even then only with certain governments, and only the governments that we’re already a little suspicious of. The Redeker Plan really only wants you, personally, to be saved from the zombie plague if you’re a) a skilled labor and b) a likely breeder.
Does a critical essayist and eco-crafter count as the former? Well, at least I have wide hips…
One could say that the Redeker Plan is so eugenics heavy because it must be so, so late in the game, to ensure the survival of humanity. The notion of the common good, when arrived at too late, must be one of sacrifice. It would have been better, in World War Z, if all governments had acted on the Warbrunn-Knight Report, which came well before the panic, and which would have ensured a much greater survival rate. But… bloated, profit-hungry governments. Greedy corporations. Selfish politicians.
So here’s our lesson: some sort of world disaster is threatening, and the government has a plan? Sure! Let’s all do just as they say, and we’ll all get through this just fine.
However… some sort of world disaster is right on top of our heads, anyone with half a brain could have seen it coming a mile away, and only NOW, after many, many bad things that could have been prevented have already happened, does the government say it has a plan?
Well, you *could* go with the rest of the survivors of your town to clog up that nice, wide bridge that’s the only major artery into the otherwise well-fortified mountain base–hey, what are all those bombers doing flying over towards us?–OR you could just double-lock the door to your root cellar and hang out with your canned goods until it all blows over.