Are You an American Zombie?
Millions of Americans spend their lives semi-conscious, unable to awaken from the darker version of the American Dream – an endless parade of office buildings, meetings, shopping malls, and television commercials.
Instead of pursuing purpose, we pursue material things: plasma televisions, new cars, and granite countertops. We work at jobs we hate so we can buy things we do not need. We exchange our souls for empty production and consumption.
When I think of popular American culture, I am reminded of two quotes from George Romero’s 1978 zombie movie, Dawn of the Dead:
- Dr. Millard Rousch, Scientist: “These creatures are nothing but pure, motorized instinct.”
- Flyboy: “They don’t know [why the zombies keep coming to the mall]… All they know is that it used to be a very important part of their lives.”
Romero’s classic horror movie was a social commentary on American consumerism. Personally, I find it impossible to watch a zombie movie without relating to the zombies. There we are, still wearing our Sunday suits, shambling toward the shopping mall, shuffling toward office buildings, a massive army of the undead, casting a million shadows at sundown as we head home from work. We can neither understand nor articulate the longing inside us, so we moan, and perhaps we find comfort in the fact that so many others moan with us. The tragic irony is that zombies do not know they are zombies.
Master of the Zombies
According to Haitian tradition, a bokor, or Voodoo sorcerer can resurrect a zombie. The sorcerer controls the zombie, since the zombie has no will of his own.
The media controls the modern American zombie. We come home to our nice warm houses and plop down on our comfortable sofas, where the single eye of the television flickers in the darkness. Our electronic sorceress orders us out into the world to bring back more of everything: cosmetic surgery, shiny appliances, expensive meals, weight-loss pills, hardwood floors. The messages sent are simple and menacing:
- You are not pretty enough.
- You are not good enough.
- You do not own enough.
We slowly rise from our comfortable sofas and leave the flickering darkness, stumbling into the streets to satiate our hunger. We shamble through the isles of Home Depot and Lowes because our 3-bedroom homes (quite large by global standards) just aren’t nice enough. In the harsh lighting of the Gap and Aeropostale, we search for clothing to make us feel better. We shuffle mindlessly through car lots searching for a vehicle to reflect our identity. Are we Ford tough? Are we Lexus smooth? But the zombie has no identity, for the zombie is a shell, identical to all the other shells in Sunday suits with wallets thrust forward, mouths hanging open.
When my grandfather was in his prime, consumption was an unpleasant word associated with disease. Every person throughout history has had to consume to survive, but to consume more than we need has traditionally been considered vulgar. We have forgotten what our grandparents knew: Beyond a certain point, possessions do not increase happiness. Of course, it is better that we should live in a land of plenty than in a hovel; abundance is good. Excess (not abundance) is the true evil, since excess eschews purpose.
At campuses everywhere, we can easily imagine two long lines of students — the inbound line is scattered and disorganized, the outbound line, single file. Kids in the inbound line wear loud colored shirts and messy haircuts, adults in the outbound line wear identical blue suits and matching black briefcases. You can see the beginning stages of the disease in the graduates – dark eyes, shaking hands. Their first few years on the job will destroy what little soul they have left.
College can be wonderful, enlightening. It can help us find satisfying jobs. But all too often, college is a means to an unfulfilling end. This is not because college is bad (it is not), but rather because we are focused on material wealth at the expense of deeper meaning. If you let it, college will process you to death (or undeath), and a million corporations will eat what’s left of you.
The Working Dead
We work in tiny, climate controlled cubicles, sacrificing human contact in exchange for electronic communication, real smiles for emoticons, humility for rudeness. Our only purpose in the belly of the beast is maximizing profit, increasing GDP. Forty, fifty, sixty, seventy hours a week, we work. Working in such antagonistic environments removes our soul, leaving us to fill the void with possessions. Because the zombie has no soul, he cannot comprehend any fulfillment beyond his own terrible hunger.
The Zombie might say, “I don’t need to buy a Lexus, but I want one. That’s why I work so hard.” But he has not fully considered the meaning of his words. He spends the vast majority of his waking life doing work that does not fulfill him so he can afford things previous generations would have considered extravagant.
The Protestant work ethic is no longer ideal (if it ever was), but it does prove people can exist without devoting themselves to material wealth. This is important because material wealth is no more the answer today than it was yesterday. The modern world presents us with a million choices; to maximize personal fulfillment, we must navigate those choices with intention, willfulness, and purpose.
Wade Davis, author of the Serpent and the Rainbow (1985), claims that a person can be turned into a zombie by administering two powders (detrototoxin and datura) into the bloodstream.
For the modern American zombie, we have Paxil, Prozac, Zoloft, and benzodiazepines. We are quick to recognize the benefits of such drugs (benefits which do exist), but seldom speak of the way they perpetuate meaninglessness. Why does it not occur to us that our ever-increasing anxiety and depression might actually be trying to tell us something? Many people have a legitimate need for medication, but many others (myself included at one point) seek medication when they should be balancing their lives.
What better way to embrace American consumer zombification than to detach from our feelings?
Destroying the Zombie Within
The modern American zombie’s greatest victim is himself; therefore, the zombie is responsible for his own awakening. Have you become a zombie? If you’re not sure, ask yourself these questions:
- Does your job fulfill you?
- Do you understand and approve of the reasons you live your life the way you do?
- Do you find yourself on a quest for more material things even after achieving a comfortable lifestyle?
If you answered no to the first two questions and yes to the last one, you may have joined the ranks of the undead. The only way to reclaim your humanity is to begin living your life with purpose. You can start by reading my six part series of articles on living a synergistic life. If you disagree with my methodology for finding purpose, pioneer your own. The clock is ticking, my friend. Every day we spend undead brings us one day closer to a real death from which our present form will never awaken.
May 17, 2007 Thursday at 11:41 pm