Reading World War Z has got me thinking about a lot of different things, but the first thing I noticed was the way in which the modern Zombie tale has increasingly become a commentary on (and, generally, an endorsement of) modern public health and disease prevention principles. Of course, public health principles applied in the breach can ultimately lead to a huge dose of fascism, by which I’m not referring to the anti-smoking campaigns of the modern era, but the extremely draconian and almost-never used quarantine and control rules that governments reserve for the most severe disease outbreaks. And we see these being enacted in every zombie tale – or, if they’re not used, the society in question coming to regret it. In fact, the zombie tale can easily be read as a peon to the public health route not taken – on HIV, on SARs, etc.
In an interesting literary parallel, World War Z reminded me of the excellent oral histories of the early years of the HIV epidemic, which show a similar tone to the early parts of the book, with doctors and community activists trying desperately to work out what is happening before a previously unknown disease wipes out a community. Only the transmission method was a little different, though zombification and HIV show similar issues of incubation period and origin. We even have real life examples of HIV consuming societies, and modern history would have been very different if HIV had progressed through the West the way it did in Africa. I can’t believe that the modern resurgence of zombie stories is unrelated to our own recent development of public health consciousness, and a lot of that development stemmed from the HIV epidemic.