Musings: The CDC and Its Zombies

Thursday morning at the office I’ve been assigned to until my library reopens. It’s still early, nobody looking for SAC or the Relief Society or even the Education Office, so I’m trawling through Reality Hunger looking for quotes to engage in one-sided conversation with. One of my new officemates, reading the previous day’s paper as he waits for his first appointment to arrive, bursts out, “What?!” It turns out he’s reacting to the CDC’s graphic novel on zombie pandemic preparedness. The freakout? That the government is spending money on getting people ready for a disaster that doesn’t exist. The timing, given the nature of my own reading material, seems entirely appropriate; I’m just shocked that I can’t find an appropriate quote anywhere in the book.

I suppose one of the reasons why the framing doesn’t bother me is that I know what they’re doing. It’s easier, sometimes, to motivate oneself with something that isn’t true, cannot be true, than with something that’s possible. I’ve imagined myself battening off the hordes of Ignorance Personified as I closed up the library; have from the wrists down been slotting DVDs into their designated places while from the neck up been the tender of an ancient machine fueled by its precise organization and by the immersion of its patrons in its materials. And creating learning situations from clearly impossible premises is a staple of children’s media—talking animals may not exist, but it doesn’t prevent them from teaching lessons. Is the fact that the expressions in the board book are on the faces of drawn versions of animatronic puppets enough to invalidate what those expressions mean? Are the truths about family life any less so because they are demonstrated by the fictional travails of talking bears, or the lessons about friendship invalid because the friends in question are technicolor fantasy equines? Heck, one of my primary reasons for reading fiction in all its forms is to better understand the ways of people.

This returns me to the CDC and its zombie plague, this work of government fiction. It seems to me that a fictionalized disaster is almost better for getting people prepared than a real one, to people who have not yet experienced a proper disaster (I’ve known people who have, and they really don’t need to be told). To those of us who haven’t had to deal with them, disasters are things that happen to other people, like winning the lottery or romancing celebrities. I live on the Ring of Fire, and always have, but I’ve never seen an earthquake so much as empty a bookshelf. One long weekend when I was in college, a large part of San Diego was burning—one of my friends sent me a description of being a refugee from the fire (he, at least, had been flying out of state anyway) and from my front yard one could see Mount Miguel looking like a volcano in a disaster movie, but I’ve never dealt with a fire as anything more than recess indoors (I was in elementary school at the time) and ominous smoke towers in the distance. I doubt I’m alone in this. We don’t want to believe it would happen to us—fire, earthquake, pandemic, someone finally coming through on the dire prophecies of the science fiction creators and nuking San Diego—so we feel like we need to suspend our disbelief just to be prepared beyond what it would take to survive, say, a power outage. (Those, at least, are in our frames of reference. It made the recent one a whole lot easier to get through.)

But zombies? That’s another story. Prepping for the zombie uprising, unlike prepping for the other eventualities, doesn’t give quite so much of an impression of tempting fate, or priming Chekhov’s gun, because the zombies could never happen. It’s not about an actual threat to life and limb, but bragging rights: “If we had a zombie pandemic, I’d SO be ready!” It just happens, as the CDC happily discovered and capitalized on, that surviving the zombies requires preparedness steps that encompass most of the other potential disasters. It’s a pandemic, it’s a riot, it spreads like wildfire, destroys like an earthquake… if you’re prepped for that, you’re probably prepped for anything.

I think that’s worth a little government-funded fiction, don’t you?

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