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  • This is my unsent letter in response to a New York Times editorial regarding zombies. (

    Dear Ms. Wilentz:

    I appreciated the background information that you provided concerning zombies. I find the subject rather fascinating. Now, I understand the historical context in which the walking dead arose.

    While I would never challenge your knowledge of voodoo and the colonial history of Haiti, I would like to correct a mistaken assumption that is contained in your article.

    Specifically, you wrote:

    Of course, the zombie is scary in a primordial way, but in a modern way, too. He’s the living dead, but he’s also the inanimate animated, the robot of industrial dystopias. He’s great for fascism: one recent zombie movie (and there have been many) was called “The Fourth Reich.” The zombie is devoid of consciousness and therefore unable to critique the system that has entrapped him. He’s labor without grievance. He works free and never goes on strike. You don’t have to feed him much. He’s a Foxconn worker in China; a maquiladora seamstress in Guatemala; a citizen of North Korea...

    Although I understand your general critique of industrial capitalism and the way in which it devours human beings and seeks to transform them into machines, I object to your facile equation of any human being as a zombie. The people you listed--the seamstress in Guatemala, the citizen of North Korea, the Foxconn worker in China--none of these people are walking dead. They are not "devoid of human consciousness." They are not "robots." They are not the "living dead." They are human beings.

    The fact that they are human beings makes their suffering even more horrendous and their exploitation (as well as our own culpability in the system) even more pernicious.

    I emphasize this rather obvious point because your editorial reflects a tendency in the West to view Others, as not yet fully human, as just faceless, nameless, mobs whose lives are interchangeable, whose deaths are anonymous, no million dollar memorials designed by star architects, not even names engraved on an obsidian wall.

    One final point: if we are to take your elastic definition of zombies at face value, I would submit that you do not have to travel to North Korea, China or Guatemala. There are zombies here among us. The walking dead surrounds us, everywhere in the United States, there is a world full of mindless patriotism, mindless consumerism, a world in which we are taught to cannibalize our neighbors, to elbow in front of the herd, trampling everyone at all cost, a world in which the size of a man's wallet is more valued than the size of his heart, a world in which compassion has almost become a corpse--a zombie.


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