Zombies used to remove political impact

I was neither upset nor particularly surprised when– beginning a few days ago– the mainstream media began calling the Miami, FL cannibalism assault a “zombie attack.”  Certainly, it had all of the right elements.  (If you are reading this blog, I probably do not need to repeat the details to you.)  It was sort of amusing, yes, and helped to make news of an isolated instance of horrible violence a little less awful to think about.

But then Gawker.com posted a graphic picture of the faceless victim under the “zombie attack” header.

The photo, which I tried (unsuccessfully) to avoid seeing, is the sort of jarring medical-school image that the mainstream media (MSM) never shows.  I don’t know if Gawker “counts” as the MSM according to classical definitions, but I think it comes close.  (Certainly, there are news outlets– like VICE or The Exiled– where one can expect to see images of violence that are completely uncensored.  But tellingly and connectedly, VICE and The Exiled are pointedly political entities, and do not strive for detached objectivity the way, say, CBS News or The Chicago Tribune do.)  I think that Gawker made a rare exception to its usual editorial standards and showed horrible, actual gore because it was related to a story about zombies.  My thesis in this blog post is that this is a bad thing.

Scott Carney— the celebrated journalist (whom I know from college)– saw the image and did a post on his Facebook page wondering why an image like this was allowed to be circulated when images of dead people in war zones are not.  I decided Scott was on the right track.  I also decided– troublingly– that the answer was zombies.

Why don’t we show images of horrible gore in the news?  Just looking at it in terms of phenomenology, I think it must have something to do with being in a first-world country.  Major newspapers sometimes do show front-page images of disturbing gore…in places like Mexico and Nigeria.   Newspapers in first-world countries don’t.  Why is this?  One reason is the law.

In the USA, courts have consistently found that confronting someone with upsetting imagery they don’t wish to see is legally tantamount to physically assaulting them.  (For example, you know how adult bookstores don’t display pictures of naked people or sexual activity in their windows, but instead have covered-over windows [or no windows at all]?  There’s a legal reason for that.  One of the precedents established in the Larry Flynt obscenity trials of the 1970’s was that turning a corner and suddenly being “confronted” by X-rated material is, legally at least, like being punched in the face.  Thus, we now have safeguards to ensure that only people who desire to see these images actually see them.)

Another reason we don’t show graphic gore in the MSM is that it is deemed “too political.”  For example, many would say that showing a horribly killed soldier is– by its very nature– a way of arguing that war is bad.   The MSM believes– correctly, I think– that seeing gore is agitating to most folks, and that one has more difficulty maintaining objectivity when the results of graphic violence are displayed.

But in my opinion, sometimes agitation and political action are called for.  And that’s what’s been lost here (or is in danger of being lost).  Maybe seeing a man with a 80% eaten face should rile you up and should make you political.

What are potential “political” reactions to this Florida attack?  Off the top of my head:

  • “Bath salts” should be instantly made illegal everywhere
  • We should do more to protect our homeless from being victimized
  • We should do more to rehabilitate our troubled, drug addicted, and mentally ill citizens

These are just a few.  However, notice that they are all legal and policy “asks.”  They would require legislation and/or funding.  That means effort and political action.  (A conspiracy theorist might say that the government doesn’t want us seeing explicit things that rile us up because then we would be asking for changes and demanding that the government do more to improve things.)

What I didn’t like about Gawker’s decision to show this gory image was that Gawker tried–in the same breath– to say: “There is no appropriate political or policy reaction to a man rendered faceless by a drug addict.  It’s just zombies!  Ha ha!  You know?  Zombies!  They’re so silly!  They’re pretend movie monsters!  Isn’t this funny?”


Gawker used zombies to take away the political impact of a very horrible, very real thing.  And that’s lousy, in my opinion.

(Have I, as a “zombie writer,” helped to create an atmosphere where violence is automatically viewed as funny and apolitical when it is coincidentally similar to a zombie attack?  I certainly hope not.)

3 thoughts on “Zombies used to remove political impact

  1. Gawker runs along a pretty low current of the mainstream media: its runoff, its backwash. I haven’t seen its “coverage” of this story, but I’m not surprised it presented images of a brutalized Ronald Poppo alongside glib captions about zombies. While I agree with you that this sort of treatment is lousy, I don’t think we can hold some gossipy news-ish website to the same ethical standards that we would a newspaper or news magazine. For instance, the Miami New Times, our local weekly, also ran the photographs of Poppo, but in a link separate from the main article, which provided great coverage on the unfolding story. Had they, or any other news outlet, for that matter, splashed the photos on the front page without giving readers the option to turn away, alongside wacky zombie headlines, I think we’d have real cause for concern. As for Gawker: well, I guess they were just doing what they do, which I’ll largely continue to ignore. Thanks for a great, thoughtful post.

  2. I agree entirely. All too often the government and/or media (are they one in the same these days?) downplays certain situations by making them out to be unrealistic, or at least sound that way. “Bath Salts” have the potential to explode into society like crack cocaine did. I have not read up on its addictiveness, but it seems there is little to no consistency between one doses potency and anothers, so chances are we will see a lot more naked attackers in the news.

    I am a father of two and will not pretend for a single minute that they are safe in todays world. I have armed myself, trained myself, and planned for any number of instances that could occur at the house, while out in the car, leaving the car, headed back to the car from a shopping complex, whatever. I will be ready.

    If there is one thing I urge any and all parents to do, it is to be prepared for crazed people who try to inflict harm upon yourself or your children. Just last month here in Texas, a woman stalked a pediatrician’s office because she wanted a child. She waited in the parking lot until she saw one she liked, waited for the mother to come back out with the child, then emptied a 9mm into the mother and took the child. In broad daylight, at the damned pediatrician’s office! She wasn’t on bathsalts, but things happen every single day that could be prevented. Be alert people!

    I took my preparations so far, I actually opened an online store dedicated to supplying people with the tools they need. http://www.zombieprooftactical.com
    Even if you don’t buy anything, look at what we have to offer to get an idea of the things you should prepare for. I will be adding a blog with articles covering my preparations for all sorts of situations soon as well. Stay safe. Stay alive.

  3. Scott. great post! I think you tackle these issues with your usual mix of eloquence and practicality. (Is “practicality even a word??”). See you in San Diego. Schloz

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